Reuben Cheow journeyed from Malaysia to Australia to study contemporary arts at the University of Tasmania (UTAS). Now, with a decade of experience as a drama teacher under his belt, he shares his experience as an international student in Tasmania, what he learnt along the way and how he has applied it to build a successful career back in Malaysia.
Where it all began
Reuben’s journey in the world of the performing arts was an unconventional one. He was a “mediocre student in school” and was not particularly fond of the school system, which he described as “archaic”. However, he had his first encounter with the Arts when the school introduced a speech and drama club, and it forever changed his perspective on learning.
“I joined the club specifically to skip academic classes, not knowing that it would be the singular most transformational experience I would come to have,” Reuben shares. “Fast forward somewhat, I was tasked with performing a short comedic skit in front of the school and was well received with roaring laughter and thunderous applause.”
He went on to pursue a diploma in the arts at Sunway University, Malaysia, but his path was not without its challenges. While Reuben’s mother was fully supportive of his pursuit of a career in the Arts, his father was initially sceptical.
“As most students of Asian heritage will understand, it wasn’t a complete walk in the park. My mother, an Irish woman who also practised the arts, had no qualms with my decision. It was my Chinese father, who grew up in a modest and humble home and worked his way up the corporate ladder to become successful in his own right, who was not convinced of my trajectory.”
Reuben knew he had to be determined and knowledgeable to win his father’s approval and assure him that he’d be able to find success in this career.
“I had to convince my father that this is what I wanted to do as a career and I would make it work no matter the odds because truthfully, it is my only love,” shares Reuben. “My father just needed to see that I completely understood what I would be setting myself up for and that I would be ready to handle as many curve balls thrown at me as possible. He was setting me up to be independent and it worked.”
Moving to Tasmania
As Reuben was approaching the end of his diploma program at Sunway University, his lecturers informed the cohort about a twinning program (a type of study abroad placement) that would lead to a bachelor’s certificate at either a university in Canada or the University of Tasmania (UTAS). He chose UTAS due to its unique character, and after speaking to UTAS alumni, he figured it would be the perfect fit.
“My reason for choosing Tassie was that I wanted to be somewhere relaxed and peaceful so that I could focus on my studies,” shares Reuben. “To this day I believe that is what gives Tassie its charm and why I go back as often as I can. It’s my second home.”
A day in Reuben’s life in Tasmania
Reuben’s first “real Aussie” experience was a brief encounter on the way to university with a pedestrian donning an AFL jersey, baggy track pants and a mullet.
“He was walking in the opposite direction, then turned to me and said, “Heya, how ah ya.” It took me a solid three seconds to register what he said and respond.”
15 minutes later in his first class, Reuben discovered the bizarre, inherently Australian custom of nicknames.
“Joe became Potty, Amelia became Mills, and I have absolutely no idea why,” he shares. “As a conservative Asian kid, these two events were life-changing.”
After overcoming the culture shock, Reuben found being a student in Launceston easygoing, yet fulfilling. A day in his student life involved attending classes, completing coursework, and working part-time as a barista at a local café in the city. He paid his own rent, utilities, and taxes, and even purchased a second-hand ute, which came in handy for helping friends move or going camping. He appreciated the newfound independence his international student life gave him.
Upon his graduation from UTAS, Reuben was contacted by a fellow alumnus who offered him a job opportunity. Over the course of a decade, he progressed from being a drama teacher to now managing a team of three schools.
Although he found adapting to students’ learning styles a challenge, he was fortunate to have mentors, including his former UTAS lecturer, who remained a friend and a valuable source of guidance. Reuben has harnessed the creative freedom he was given at UTAS to create a malleable syllabus for his students today.
“Using that same technique with my high school kids has proven fruitful. My graduating students always look forward to their final year in drama as they know it’s the year they get to put everything together and direct their own 10-minute play for a live audience. Not only do they get to walk the talk, but they also develop leadership and communicative skills along the way.”
Reuben has also brought a little Australian culture home with him – assigning his friends in Malaysia their own nicknames and, on occasions, cooking up a barbecue while reminiscing about “driving his ute and listening to Daryl Braithwaite.”
The importance of the arts
Reuben is a firm advocate for the transformational power of the Arts and believes that the survival of the industry begins with conservative governments acknowledging its importance. As a passionate educator, Reuben is proud to be part of a global community that gives access to students of all ages to explore and unleash their potential through classes and workshops.
“My dream is not to create thespians, per se, but to create enthusiasts. The Arts are not just for those wanting to be artists, but for everybody of all ages who want to see what happens when they throw themselves outside their comfort zone,” he explains. “You may not leave becoming an artist, but you will never be the same person you were when you first walked in.”
Learn more about how studying in Tasmania can unlock your dream career and visit the Study Tasmania website.