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First-person account

First-person account of being an Indian student in Australia

It’s where summer is winter and winter is summer, where the shops close at 5 PM but the pubs are crowded even at 5 AM. It’s Aussie land and it’s become a favored destination for Indian students seeking a foreign degree.

G’Day Mate! I just returned from a one-year post-graduate journalism course at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). And while Australia is every bit as beautiful as it looks on those travel shows, you never really know what a place is like until you’ve lived there. So this is my attempt to give Australia bound students the low down on living down under.

Oz B’coz?
During the past three years, students from India wanting to go abroad for studies are increasingly opting for Australia instead of the US. Why? On account of the war in Iraq and the economy being in a state similar to that of Abhishek Bachchan’s acting career, most people are flying back from rather than going to the USA.

Australia’s economy was one of the few to beat the global slump last year. Then, there’s the Vitamin M factor. A two-year MBA course at UTS would set you back about AUD 31,000, which is approximately a little over Rs.9 lakhs – relatively cheap for an overseas post-graduate degree. (A good website to check MBA course fees at other top Australian univs.- http://www.whichmba.com.au). The third reason for the influx of Indian students in Australia is the fact that getting one’s Permanent Residency (PR) in Australia is a relatively quick and simple process. Most international students apply for PR a year into their course so that by the time they graduate, their papers have been processed. In case your application is still pending when you graduate, you can apply for a bridging visa and stay in the country till your fate is known.

Uni Life
Those going to do an MBA or IT course will meet plenty of Rajeshes and Nileshes on arrival. Official statistics for the UTS MBA put the international student population at 35%. However, when I was there the student mix seemed more like 30% Indian, 35% Asian (which to Australians means Chinese, Filipino, Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean, Thai, Vietnamese, etc.) and only 35% Australian! In fact, as UTS is right next to Chinatown, I initially found myself thinking I’d landed in Shanghai not Sydney!

The most popular course at the moment seems to be the MBA Professional Accounting. This is because accounting is currently a profession in demand and will get you 65 points out of the total 115 points you need to score when applying for Permanent Residency as an inter-national student.

The most popular course at the moment seems to be the MBA Professional Accounting. This is because accounting is currently a profession in demand and will get you 65 points out of the total 115 points you need to score when applying for PR as an international student. (An MBA in any other stream will get you 55 points.) A friend who worked at IDP Education Australia’s Mumbai office told me that as many as 35 students from Mumbai alone have gone to do the MBA Professional Accounting course at UTS this autumn semester. However, immigration rules are known to change every six months and those starting their programs in 2003 may find the points for the course have been reduced when they graduate in 2005. This happened with stu-dents who specialized in IT two-three years ago. A majority of those IT-MBAs lucky enough to get their PR are either still unemployed and have therefore returned home or have taken up whatever job they could find e.g. even working full-time at a gas station.

Timely tip
Classes are held in 3-hour blocks. You can opt for a morning, afternoon or evening class. Evening classes are the toughest to get into so make sure you arrive in time for the enrollment sessions, held a week before classes begin. Attending evening classes means that if you get a part-time job, you could work mornings. If you’re doing your MBA, it also means that you’ll have a better chance of meeting Aussie students who work full-time and can provide some insights about corporate life in the country. Some friends who attended only morning and afternoon classes felt that 70 % of the students were Indian and so naturally the cultural exchange experience they were expecting was considerably limited!

Part-time jobs
Part-time jobs are plenty but so are the applicants. Be prepared to work at a McDonald’s or at a car wash; and even those jobs aren’t easy to come by. Telemarketing is another common job that a lot of desis take up, but it’s strictly for those with a real thick skin. Aussies, laid back as they are, don’t take too kindly to being disturbed at home. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get a job in the first few weeks of trying as it can take a month or two to find the right kind of job. Try getting a job on campus (no extra traveling) or at a local supermarket chain such as Coles or Woolworths (decent pay and employee discounts!).

Red alert
International students are only allowed to work 20 hours a week while at uni – not 21 or even 20 1/2. The immigration authorities are extremely strict about this and I knew of a few people who were asked to leave the country because they had worked just one or two hours extra during a particular week.

The Bare Necessities – Food, Beer and TV!!
If you’re vegetarian, you’ll be eating at home most of the time or alternating between the Indian and Italian stalls at all the food courts. No McAloo Tikki at the McDonald’s over there!! As one of my Aussie friends told me, “When a person says they are vegetarian over here, what they mean is that they don’t eat red meat.” There are plenty of Indian stores to buy rajma-chowli, etc. and if all else fails, there’s always the Veggie Burger at Burger King and of course, Taco Bell – the fast-food haven of all vegetarians.

Don’t foster any hopes of finding a Fosters in every bar or pub you go to. Considered a ‘tourist drink’, I hardly found any one drinking Fosters. However, there are many other local brands to choose from. VB (Victoria Bitter) and Toohey’s (pronounced Too-Hees) New are two of the most popular brands of lager.

Tasty tip
Learn how to cook before leaving or better yet, do what I did – find flat mates who can! Of course, you’ll have to become the resident dishwasher but hey, it beats slaving over a hot stove every night!!

Cricket may be Australia’s national sport but fans of the game should be warned, don’t expect to see a lot of cricket on any of the five free-to-air TV channels. Cricket gets limited coverage in the media and the amount of newsprint dedicated to it in the local papers is directly proportional to the number of runs the Aussies put on the scoreboard. Only Aussie matches are shown on telly and as a whole, cricket is less popular than Australian Football and Rugby League. However, die-hard fans can always get a cable connection that has Fox Sports as part of its package. At AUD 50 a month, it might be out of most student budgets but point-to-note – while a Foxtel connection gives you 31 angrezi channels (including music and movie channels), a Zee-Star Plus-Sony cable connection costs the same for just 3 channels!

Being Indian in Australia
I was the odd one out among all the desi junta in my uni as I was the only Indian doing journalism. As a result, I got to interact with a lot of Aussies and am happy to report that they consider Indians to be intelligent, well-read people. Aussies are quite interested in learning about other cultures and those who had actually visited India had only positive things to say. However, some of the questions I got asked on more than one occasion were: “So I heard you have a really strict caste system?” “How do you deal with all the poverty around you?” and “What do you think of this Cash-meer thing?”

The bottom line finding a job
Compared to local students, international students are at a marked disadvantage when it comes to finding for a job after graduation. This is because if you’re not a permanent resident, your visa will have to be sponsored by your employers who will have to prove to immigration that they are employing you because they could not find an Australian national who possesses the set of skills you have and are required for that particular position. (A bit hard considering the magnitude of Australian MBAs and engineers graduating every year.) Of course, if you’ve got PR, you’re as good as a home-grown Aussie when it comes to working rights and if you’ve got good grades, you stand a fair chance of getting yourself an excellent job. Strangely enough, there is no such thing as summer training in Aussie MBAs. However, while finding a job on campus may be rare, it’s not impossible.

If you’ve got PR, you’re as good as a home-grown Aussie when it comes to working rights and if you’ve got good grades, you stand a fair chance of getting yourself an excellent job

Overall, Australians are a friendly bunch of people who enjoy the good life. So, get out there, put your sunscreen and get ready for some fun in the sun, surf and sand.

PR paane ke teen tareeke
1. Learn a second language and take the NAATI (National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters) exam. The test is really tough and you to need to be so good that you can translate official government documentation. Get through this to score 5 additional points.
2. Become a qualified plumber/ electrician/ tradesperson by doing a 6-month TAFE course to add some points to your application.
3. Get married! A joint-application by spouses gets 5 extra points.
Amit Gurbaxani

THIS JUST IN On 31st March 2003, the Australian Department of Immigration changed the rules for international students applying for skilled migration. You now need to have completed 2 years of full-time study in Australia to receive points for an Australian education in your PR application

The Road To Oz
1. Choose the unis that you want to apply to. Before you apply, you’ll have to take the IELTS exam (a test of English proficiency).
2. Download an application form from the internet and apply directly or alternatively, apply through an education agent such as IDP. Along with the completed application form, you will have to send:

  • Attested copies of all your mark sheets from Std. X onwards l A copy of your IELTS score sheet l Certificates of work experience l A statement of purpose
  • A demand draft of Rs.9,300/- in favor of the Australian High Commission, payable at New Delhi
  • Your CV
  • References
  • Your portfolio (e.g. A set of your published work in case you’re applying for a journalism course)

3. If your application is successful, you will receive an Offer Letter. The next step is to submit a Pre-Visa Application. This is the tricky part. The PVA has to include a statement of finances – a piece of paper that says you’ve got enough moolah to study and live in Australia. Those going for post-graduate courses will have to show evidence of liquid assets (Savings bank deposits, Fixed deposits, Post Office accounts, withdraw-able amount of Public Provident Fund, Bank loans) to cover the tuition fees and living expenses for the first year of the course. (If you’re going for an under-graduate course, you will have to show funds for the entire duration of the course.) Expect to make multiple visits to the banks and the running around will take a month at least.
4. After your PVA has been approved, you will have to:

  • Pay your first semester fees and the Overseas Student Health Cover by an Australian Dollar Bank Draft
  • Undergo a medical test, the results of which are sent directly to the Australian High Commission

5. After the institute has received your draft, they will send an electronic Confirmation of Enrollment. Next, submit your passport to the Australian High Commission for the issue of your visa.
6. You should get your passport back within two weeks. With your visa in hand, you are good to go!

Choosing A UNIV
Unlike in the US, there is no official ranking of universities in Australia. So how do you decide which univ is the right one for you? Aside from course content, location and cost are two major influencing factors. A representative for IDP Australia’s Mumbai office says: “Most students from Bombay go to a university in Sydney or Melbourne because those cities offer a city lifestyle. Some of the best universities are in Western Australia. University of Tasmania and University of Northern Territory are also excellent universities. Yet, very few people from here tend to go there because they are in quieter locations and are less known.

Then, there are some who simply choose to study at the cheapest university offering their course.” With no rankings, students are often at a loss when it comes to finding the best university for a particular course. The IDP representative says: “The government of Australia does not issue any rankings. Therefore, it would be illegal for our office to say to a student, ‘X is the No. 1 university for…’. However, there are indicators to determine the relative standing of a university, e.g. the number and size of research grants and the qualifications of the faculty. Also, every university has an alumni page on their website. I would advise students to get on to the internet and do independent homework.”

Check out the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Universities Guide. It ranks universities on a variety of criteria, each of which are given scores on a scale of one-to-five stars. Business publications have also occasionally taken out lists of the top B-schools in Australia and in the Asia-Pacific region

The Top 10 Oz B-Schools:
1. Australian Graduate School of Management, Sydney, New South Wales
2. Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Sydney, New South Wales
3. Melbourne Business School, Melbourne, Victoria
4. Bond University, Gold Coast, Queensland
5. Brisbane Graduate School of Business, Brisbane, Queensland
6. Curtin University of Technology Graduate School of Business, Perth, Western Australia
7. University of Technology, Sydney Graduate School of Business, Sydney, New South Wales
8. Griffith University Graduate School of Management, Gold Coast, Queensland
9. Monash University, Victoria
10. Mt. Eliza Business School, Melbourne, Victoria
(Source: The 2002 Australian Financial Review Boss Survey of MBA courses)

A two-year MBA course at the University of Technology, Sydney would set you back about AUD 31,000, which is a little over Rs 9 lakh – relatively cheap for an overseas post-graduate degree.

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