In 2001 I moved into the Faculty of Arts at Deakin with responsibility for recruitment and support of international students, and outbound mobility of exchange and study abroad students. As the International Programs Coordinator, a new role for the faculty, I was employed to assist with marketing and recruitment due to my experience with the international students and my deep knowledge of the cultures from which they were sourced. This knowledge also provided self-confidence for entry into the off-shore markets with Deakin International, and for dealing with parents wanting to send their students to Australia. My background as an ISA offered reassurance to parents of prospective students, and my own experience as an exchange student meant that I could understand the challenges faced by those coming to a new culture and education system, studying in their second language. Alumni relations was becoming recognized as increasingly important and I had a large database of my own through the relationships that I had built over the years. This enabled alumni to reconnect with the university, and assist with marketing and recruitment and business development off-shore. My well-established network across ASEAN and North Asia facilitated improved communications with the target markets.
Initially, one of the difficulties I faced was working with those without Asian experience, and where resources, systems and processes designed for the domestic market did not suit engagement with the Asian market. The University had a one size fits all approach not only to marketing of programs internationally and in engaging with international students, but also in its approach to outbound mobility, where student exchange was predominantly with western partners. With more staff travelling abroad for recruitment events, it became necessary to provide staff briefings not only on the markets, but on cultural awareness and protocols unfamiliar to those whose international experience was largely with North American and European cultures. An example was where my Dean was taking her first tour of duty to SE Asia, to meet with prospective partners and speak at events, which created some anxiety for her as it was all very new. In addition to providing a cultural briefing, I “colour-coded” the gifts that are integral to these high level meetings in Asia in order to simplify the process! Over the four years in the role, I drew on my previous experience and on-going professional development, including undertaking a Masters in International Education from Monash, to assist the faculty to better integrate with the university international division, begin to develop study abroad opportunities for inbound students, have staff better engaged with the international students they were teaching, and to “internationalise” systems, processes, resources and student support.
A new opportunity at the University of Melbourne arose in 2005, as the Manager of International Programs in the Faculty of Education. The new role consolidated my previous experiences and provided the opportunity to manage a team, again in marketing and recruitment, alumni relations, student mobility, and this time the opportunity to work on business development in the form of new inbound and outbound programs, and off-shore teaching programs. The role was a huge challenge in that the group of eight university was far more bureaucratic and slower to accept change, yet I was able to draw on the accumulated experience and knowledge to not only make a difference to systems and processes, but it also provided the opportunity to train up and coach staff new to international education. The role only lasted two years before I made the major life change of moving to Kuala Lumpur to take a role in one of the universities newly created off-shore offices.
The role of Regional Director for the University of Melbourne in Kuala Lumpur, responsible for business development, alumni relations, recruitment and student mobility. I had wanted the job as I saw it as the culmination of the experiences, opportunities and learning of the previous 10 years. My familiarity with Asia through marketing and recruitment activities of the previous 6 years, the relationships that I had built over that time, the wealth of knowledge I had accumulated meant that I had no reservations that I could settle in. However this time would be very different from Bangkok in 1995. We now had the technology to facilitate communication with the main campus, and with family and friends, in fact without it I would not have been so keen to leave my twenty year old daughter behind in Melbourne! My cultural knowledge made it easier to recruit staff, and just the knowledge of how things work culturally made for a smoother transition than someone without prior experience of Asia. It was not as easy as it sounds, or as I had thought it might be, but the wonderful network of students from my time as an ISA at Deakin made sure I was welcomed, acculturated, acclimatized, re-homed and generally well supported. My experience as an exchange student meant that I was prepared for the homesickness, the excitement, the time difference, and I was able to negotiate a fairly smooth transition. Having the technology of skype, mobile phones, and email meant that I was able to maintain communication with loved ones regularly, which was no doubt a huge benefit to personal comfort.
However, having to negotiate the office opening, recruiting of staff, and the “translation” of all university processes and systems into a foreign environment was a huge challenge. I was constantly told that “this is the process” or “this is how its done” by people who had never set foot outside of Australia, and couldn’t understand that the systems and processes needed to change, not just for me, but for all those working in the off-shore office network across a myriad of countries and differing cultures. We were constantly hamstrung by the internal divisions of HR, IT and Finance as they struggled to accommodate the differences in a system that was designed for Parkville. Slowly but surely we were able to internationalise these areas that had largely been left unaffected by the university’s move into international education. Again my international experience was being brought home to educate professional staff to the new cultural requirements, and to realign university systems and processes that were sympathetic to those of us working remotely, and often alone, in the in-country offices.
This role, while perhaps the most challenging of my career, provided opportunities for personal and professional growth that I had not anticipated. It required a “step-up” professionally as I was required to work with more senior government Ministers, business owners and respected alumni than I had ever experienced. It brought me the most wonderful person to work with, Ng Chin Wei, who I not only had the pleasure of watching grow up, but the opportunity to mentor and encourage, but also to learn so very, very much from! She was my cultural compass, and I still miss her, and tell her so quite often, and am always trying to get her back J It brought so many opportunities and ideas and relationships, that when the time came for me to move on, I knew I couldn’t go back to a role in a university. I had seen that so many opportunities went unheeded, or fell over, often because of the mis-matched cultural expectations of the two parties. I knew there was a role for someone to fill that gap, to assist universities with their international strategies, and importantly, to internationalise their students through outbound experiences. And so, with much fear and trepidation, and with a great deal of excitement, and support from the people of my adopted country, I took a leap of faith. And so was born the Global Student.