I’m Daniel Kang, an international student from Singapore who’s currently in his 4th semester of Law/IR.
I must admit that my intentions behind writing this piece are not entirely altruistic: beyond possibly providing some food for thought and hopefully helpful advice, writing this has been an invaluable form of catharsis for me. I wanted to write this as a statement that it is only a half-truth that my life as a law student has been one of incessant difficulty and suffering– a more accurate assessment would highlight that it has been one of endless opportunities and in essence a journey of growth.
Finally, I would like to especially thank my Australian hosts, especially the friends and staff from Burgmann College where I currently reside: They’ve have been an immense source of support, life and learning for me.
A concession/disclaimer must be made. I speak out of personal experiences, and what works for me. As I’m still working on my imperfections – I am grossly unqualified to speak for all international students. Still, it is my ardent desire that my experiences and reflections may offer some value and food for thought.
After 3 semesters chock full of hard lessons learnt and challenges overcome, I’d like to share 3 pieces of advice for all international students, both new and old.
Be consistent with your work, your relationships, and most importantly – your self-care. Your time at university, especially with law, will see periods of overwhelming workloads. Stay afloat with consistency, and it’ll help a lot of navigating through life.
Consistency for me academically entails investing the same amount of effort across all my subjects: something I strive for particularly if I find myself starting to be disinterested with any part of a course.
Consistency relationships-wise is something I’m quite terrible at – I slip up with a lot of interactions, and sometimes struggle to take time off to catch up with amazing people. However, I still strive to invest in and care for people consistently, and the friendships forged from this indubitably enriches my life.
Consistency with self-care entails small commitments: a daily mixture of reading something non-academic, some quiet time to myself to pray and reflect to sort my mind out, and a good breakfast which has been proven to help with combatting anxiety.
Last semester, I occasionally took night walks with a friend down to Lake Burley Griffin to soak in the skyline. Self-care for me was mostly making sure I ate well and kept healthy, and finding small spaces of time daily to settle my mind, reorganize, and keep a healthy perspective on things.
Find your support networks
Every international student is estranged from home in varying degrees, and perhaps this physical and emotional distance makes it incredibly easy for us to subconsciously fall into self-reliance out of necessity or primordial survival instincts in a foreign country. It is similarly easy for international students to feel voiceless – often an amalgamation of both differences and difficulties, cultural and linguistic in nature, leads to opinions, feelings and even the person feeling unvalued. There may be similar difficulties in raising problems and struggles with family, to whom you instead assure with a curated representation of life to shield them from worry.
With this in mind, I would exhort readers to seriously consider their support networks within Canberra. I recognise the difficulty in this, especially for those staying off campus which may make it difficult to find and forge close social circles. Still, I would like to highlight our vibrant campus community with many different interest groups you can always explore – I’ve found that a majority of people here are extremely welcoming and often sympathetic to the difficulties international students face.
Moreover, do consider the mental health resources provided on campus. To say that mental health was a huge struggle for me last semester would be an understatement, and I struggled endlessly with the discomfort of talking to a counsellor or a psychologist, and different cultural nuances may shape this discomfort in various ways. At the very least, do check out ANU health and the Counselling Centre: they have tons of leaflets that are good guides on facing and addressing different issues. Also check out ‘headspace’ – an app that really helps with mindfulness, a discipline of finding calm and cultivating inner peace.
Also do consider reaching out to the leaders in the ANU Law Students’ Society (LSS), ANU Students’ Association (ANUSA), and ANU International Students’ Department (ANUISD) – I’m not intimately acquainted with all of them, but I can attest to the good character of many of them, and am confident that all of them would love to extend a loving hand.
Avoid Obsession with the Law
While the Law is most certainly a huge, and vital concept, I would really caution against obsession with it in any form.
My upbringing in Singapore has socially engineered my thirst for excellence – I suspect many other international students are the same, particularly those attracted to law. After all, we (or our familial beneficiaries) aren’t investing an astronomical financial expense for mediocrity. Still: if I may paraphrase a quote from East of Eden – you don’t have to be perfect, focus on being good. This isn’t to dismiss aspirations at achieving excellence, or to suggest that this aim is meaningless. Allow me to instead suggest a different perspective – excellence and achievements don’t have to be predicated on numbers or a letter (or two), but instead centred on assessments of growth and a process of improvement. Your degree doesn’t have to be a rat race, and neither does it need to necessarily dictate your future. I would encourage instead immersing in the opportunities to develop, spaces to explore, and the process of charting your life forward.
In sum, I’ve found consistency, forging of firm support networks, and a balanced approach to the law to have helped immensely in my personal journey through law – it is my hope that anyone who reads this may find some value to add in theirs.
I’d also like to part with a sharing of some reflections: you’ll start being a much happier, and overall better person once you abandon an obsession with hope for a better past, and start cultivating small habits for a better future. Also, happiness can be an exercise in adopting celebration and cultivating a good state of mind in moving forward towards goodness. Lastly, in looking to save the world, it’s perfectly fine if you save one person, and it’s still amazing if that person is you.
Ultimately, I have huge hopes for more international students to enjoy the many offerings available here. With winter coming, I also hope that more people can start hunkering down for warmth, not alone in solidarity, but together in the company of valued friends.