#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
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