Your first year at university as an international student is usually dominated by adapting to a new environment, understanding the local teaching style, and not getting lost on campus. But, for some, it includes a funded overseas experience in Italy.
In the first year of her undergraduate program, Anousone Sengmanikham, an international student from Laos, was given the opportunity to travel to sunny Tuscany as part of Monash University’s Global Immersion Guarantee study abroad experience. Insider Guides spoke to Anousone – known as ‘Minou’ to her friends – about her incredible journey to Italy, studying in Australia’s most liveable city, and her hopes for the future.
MOVING TO MELBOURNE
After completing high school in Laos, Minou was awarded the Australia Awards Scholarship by the Australian Government, given to students bringing in the next generation of global leaders for development. Having never travelled to Australia before, Minou looked to the internet to search for the perfect city. She settled on the Victorian capital of Melbourne.
“They call it the most liveable city and it’s a safe place to study,” she says. “When thinking about lifestyle and living expenses, I went for Melbourne.”
After choosing the right location, it was time to find the best university with a course that would suit her interests. Although she knew she wanted to study geography and the environment, Minou was keen to avoid a more technical degree and instead focus on human aspects. So, in 2017, Minou began a Bachelor of Arts double major in Human Geography and International Studies at Monash University (following a one-year Diploma of Arts).
“I tried to find a university that had an environmental degree about development. I found Monash [University] really interesting because I can do a double major that I can finish within three years, and there are subjects like human geography that study climate change and the impact of human activity,” Minou says.
Outside of her studies, Minou found it easy to adjust to Australian life, especially when good food is around every corner.
“I was surprised at just how multicultural Australia is – especially in Melbourne,” she says. “It’s really diverse; you can find the food from your home country – for me, Thai food or Lao food.”
But Minou’s favourite Melbourne eats are a little different.
“I love Korean barbecue or Chinese dumplings – not the food from my home country!” she laughs.
THE GLOBAL IMMERSION GUARANTEE
Upon completing her Diploma of Arts at Monash, a course advisor introduced Minou to the Global Immersion Guarantee program – a funded overseas experience for first-year Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Global Studies students that offers the opportunity to travel to China, India, Indonesia, Italy or Malaysia.
“I knew I would love to do an exchange program, so I followed-up on the Global Immersion Guarantee and asked when it was open, how to apply, and if am I eligible,” she says. “I definitely knew that the Global Immersion Guarantee was going to be one of the most unforgettable study tours ever because we go abroad with a purpose.”
Minou applied for the tour to Italy, as it would be her first trip to Europe. So, along with other Global Immersion Guarantee participants, Minou travelled to Monash University in Prato, Tuscany.
“The [program] definitely fit into what I wanted to learn because it was about sustainable tourism,” she says. “Italy is really famous in terms of food, culture and their historic buildings. The country experiences a massive amount of tourists from around the world and this has positive and negative impacts.”
Over two weeks, Minou attended workshops, excursions and guest lectures across Italy, including visiting sustainable textile factories, exploring the Australian Embassy in Rome, and meeting members from Enel, a multinational energy company started in Italy that focuses on sustainability and innovation. Minou then travelled to beautiful Cinque Terre to begin intensive fieldwork.
“In Cinque Terre, we learned about mass tourism and the impact of mass tourism,” she says. “We tried to understand the local context – what were people doing there? What are the environmental challenges that they’re experiencing now? After we finished, we came back to Prato and did a group presentation to talk about the solutions.”
When asked about the highlights of her time in the Italian Riviera, Minou talks about her experience hiking through the five villages in Cinque Terre.
“We had a local guide who talked about the history of that place, what people are doing, the problems the locals are facing now,” she says. “Along with the hiking, I learned a lot about that place and I realised that I wouldn’t have done that if I came here as a visitor.”
Since returning from Italy, Minou appreciates how much the Global Immersion Guarantee experience has developed her studies.
“We did practical study. We’re not only learning from the classroom but we’re also learning from real life experience,” she says. “At least we understand the real problems, not just imagining them or listening [to them] from your lecturers.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Excited to pursue a Masters or PhD after graduation, Minou ultimately looks to return to Laos, using her experience to improve the country’s sustainability efforts.
“I found that the more I travel, the more I realise that there are a lot of things in Laos to be done to help people,” she says. “I want to use the knowledge that I learned from here or what I learned from my travelling to facilitate the development in Laos.
“I would love to work with an NGO or governmental office in Laos in the department of development or environmental development. I would like to help the local people in Laos to improve their quality of life and to get an education.”
ADVICE FOR FELLOW STUDENTS
For international students looking to study in Melbourne, Minou suggests finding employment that you can balance with your studies, so you can enjoy as much Korean barbecue as possible.
“Melbourne is a place where you can work part-time while you’re studying,” she says. “You can do part-time for 10-20 hours a week and you can still maintain that with your studies.”
For first-year undergraduates interested in the Global Immersion Guarantee program and the potentially overwhelming choice of countries to visit, Minou’s advice is simple: “Forget about the destination; just think about the unforgettable experience you will get from that place.”