Trying Times for Internationals at the Till

It can be very challenging for international students to adapt to work in a big city. What field should they aim to apply for? How many hours are realistic? And also, what is their motivation? Is it simply to make some extra pocket money or are they in charge of their educational fees? One of the most overwhelming aspects for university students to grasp is the fact that with freedom comes the responsibility of their own choices. And that can be a huge burden if they are not sure what it is exactly that they want.


Melbourne is a huge bustling city full of opportunities. However, the expectations are high and the pace is fast. One has to be a quick learner and a determined worker if one is to climb the corporate ladder. A crucial part of Melbourne’s culture is coffee. It is the city’s life source, its indispensable elixir. Melbournians take their coffee making very seriously and are notorious for breaking down overly confident barristers. Therefore, unless you have previous coffee-making experience, starting off on that path could lead to failure. Students are usually more comfortable working as waiters or as shop assistants. The exposure to so many new faces can make a lot of people incredible shy and self-conscious so it is important to learn how to overcome those obstacles.


International students Ronald, Scarlett and Amy agreed to be interviewed in order to share their experiences and valuable advice.


“Well there was a very strict head chef in the kitchen. He loved to swear and call people names. He is the type who will destroy you if you make a mistake. Once, I was not even allowed to laugh at a joke because I was just a junior chef. Furthermore, the first time we met, he teased me because I shook his hand very softly. He said: ‘Are you a man? Then don’t shake my hand like a girl!’ laughs Ronald Sadha, 18, who is studying professional cookery at William Angliss Tafe Institute.


Indeed, kitchen dynamics are very high paced and stressful. Ronald’s story is a common one; with obscenities, yelling and emotional outbursts considered the norm in most, if not all, restaurant kitchens. He was even subjected to discrimination when he was first signed, overhearing the head chef exclaiming “another Indonesian!” Surprisingly, Ronald was quite understanding and did not take any offence. “I thought it was racist at first. Then, I went into the kitchen and realized that he was right! It was filled with Indonesians.” He chuckled. His age was also a source of ridicule, but he was quick to point out “That’s a normal junior senior thing.”


Amy Spencer, 19, studying music production at Trinity College shares a darker aspect of the work industry. “I worked as a waitress for about six months but had a terrible time. My boss would always imply or say inappropriate things. He would arrange that every single one of my shifts fitted with his. Not only that, it would only be the both of us so there would be no witnesses! He would say things such as ‘You are young enough to be my daughter, but old enough to be my lover.’ It was terrible, especially as he was a married man with children! To make matter worse, he would leave me alone to tend to things as he wandered off to the gym. It was really difficult as I received no support from fellow waitresses. They would exclude me from all their conversations. Overall it was a very bad experience.”


However, Amy went on to pursue her passion as a singer and began to play gigs in pubs along with the rest of her band “iSoh”. “I met so many interesting people this way! Most of my Melbourne friends stem from my work in music. Although I am Croatian-Australian, I did live in Bali my whole life. I used to think I was very cultured but I realized I never left my comfort zone. When I arrived in Melbourne and began to work, I improved my communicating and networking skills.” When asked what changes should be implemented to make life easier for working students, Tahlia commented on the absurd university lesson schedules “Why not fit all the lessons in one day instead of scattering them hours apart over many days?”


Scarlett Bauwens, 19, who is currently on the second year of her Double Bachelor Economics and Art (Major Politics) in La Trobe University, advises future employees to “Get the most experience you possibly can. Be hardworking. Your social life can wait. Working helps make you more wise and responsible. You learn how to prioritize. I have met people from all around the world in the workplace. Interestingly enough, I made my good friends at work and not at university! They taught me important life lessons and allowed me to become independent.”


For a positive learning experience in the workplace, students must ensure that they know their rights before jumping head first into deep murky waters. Important aspects to consider are the maximum working hours, the minimum wage and the need for a tax file number. It is common for students to be taken advantage of in the midst of their fear or ignorance.


Furthermore, international students must understand that they should leave the workplace if ever they are subjected to extreme verbal or any type of physical abuse. There is a huge difference between mere teasing and actually harming an employee’s moral. Ensure that you recognize when the fine line has been crossed. Serious sexist and racist remarks should never be tolerated either. It is crucial that students don’t feel isolated and trapped in a certain job position. Remember that there is always a place that can take you! Do not put yourself through misery.


On a lighter note, just have fun! This is an incredibly enriching experience for everyone. When you are starting off, focus on a comfortable, almost family-like environment instead of a high salary. It could be the difference between success and failure. You are lucky to be in such a diverse community with a wide range of cultures and nationalities. Luckily, the upcoming Christmas season is also looming ahead and promises a myriad of vacant job positions as permanent employees are whisked away on holiday. This could be your golden opportunity!

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