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Edgar - Canada - University of Tasmania

A second-generation international student, Edgar moved from his home in Canada to complete high school in Tasmania and move through to an Australian university. Now, with a family of his own and settled in the capital city of Hobart, Edgar and his wife are aiming to support fellow international students wherever possible.

#InThisTogether with Edgar Fergus Ho

Two generations of international study

Unlike the vast majority of international students that come to Australia, I definitely do not look like where I am actually from. I was born in Canada and grew up in a little town called Newmarket, which nobody has heard of, so I usually just say I'm from Toronto.

My family were international students from Hong Kong. They arrived separately and met while studying in Vancouver and decided to make Canada their forever home. Fate would end up repeating itself as I met my wife (from South Korea) while we were both studying internationally at the University of Tasmania over 10 years ago. We now have two young boys.

Moving to Tasmania and finding my calling

In high school, I spent some time travelling around Tasmania and my parents ultimately decided that it would be an enriching experience for my brothers and I to study overseas. In 2003, I enrolled in a Tasmanian public school and afterwards I studied at the University of Tasmania where I triple majored in sociology, international affairs and Asian studies. I then pursued a research career in understanding human relationships which evolved into the international student experience.

It was during my PhD candidature - conducting interviews with international students - that I found myself increasingly concerned, at a very personal level, with the challenges and difficulties these international students were going through. It reminded me of my own hardships. That's when I found my calling - to work with students from overseas, giving them the best possible experience, support and service that I am capable of providing.

Life as an international student advisor during COVID-19

I started my current role as an international student advisor at TasTAFE in 2016 and it is absolutely my dream job. Every morning I get to wake up and go to work to support and assist amazing people from other countries in achieving their goals in Australia. All the while learning about their languages, cultures and beautiful journeys to Tasmania.

I'm also extremely fortunate to work in a fantastic organisation, with innovative and intuitive colleagues, who proactively responded to COVID-19 concerns in early January. This meant only a small handful of our international students at TasTAFE were unable to continue their studies while stuck overseas. I continue to keep in contact with them through social media, regardless of the time difference. For those international students who commenced their studies, we were in a great position to provide them with targeted support and information prior to the Australia wide lockdown, and we continue to do so as the situation evolves.

The Tasmanian multicultural spirit

As it became more and more clear that Tasmania would enter a state of lockdown, my wife and I made the conscious decision to put plans in motion to support the international students of TasTAFE. It was the least we could do for those who walk the path we once trod.

Before campuses shut, I distributed rice and noodles to our international students, encouraging them to take what they needed. Week after week until the campuses shut, I would volunteer and liaise with community organisations to open their doors and services to international students. I did this while arranging food deliveries and doing some of the heavy lifting myself (while masked and goggled up of course).

Sharing positive vibes

Thousands of people employed in the hospitality and tourism industry were stood down during COVID-19. A vast majority of our international students lost their source of income and sense of hope for the future.

We made a conscious effort to support international student employment by searching for potential job and volunteer opportunities. We helped by cold calling employers on their behalf, and simply provided guidance on applying for government financial hardship grants.

After a month of sending out food hampers and gift cards, I could sense an air of despair among our international students during my welfare video meetings. So, my wife and I arranged for a couple hundred meals to be delivered straight to the doorsteps as a gesture of care, hope and love. ( Find these on Facebook using the hashtags #togetherfortassie #tasmaniandevilstrong #tasinternationalstudentstogether)

A single flame can kindle thousands of candles

As a devout Buddhist, I was raised with compassion, kindness and altruism… To put the needs of others before my own. If I could share an important message to my colleagues working in international student support, it would be to understand these are extraordinary times that require extraordinary measures on our part.

Consider keeping in touch with your international students through social media, arrange random video conferences and dinner parties and just pick up the phone to say hello. I have found great success in connecting with our TasTAFE international students and there is no doubt in my mind that it has served as a positive influence on their mental health. Simple things can go a very long way and the warm flame within your heart is capable of igniting a thousand more.

To my fellow international students…

The journey to your goals may be stressful, and will never be easy, however I have seen time and again the strength and grit you possess to reach your final goals. Having come to this beautiful, heart-shaped island almost 20 years ago, who knew that jumping over all those hurdles would lead to such wondrous fulfilment in my life!

Always believe in yourself because I definitely believe in you and from that belief you will ultimately unlock your full potential. My humble advice is to never give up, pursue your dreams and remember to reach for the stars because even if you fall short, you are still on top of the world!

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