Here you will find compiled information, guides tailored to meet the needs of our international student members. Many thanks to the writers for kindly sharing their experiences.
- Advice for International Students
- Personal Job Finding Experiences
Advice for International Students (For when you have just arrived)
The feeling of helplessness
Hey, you’re in a new country. In many ways, it’s no different to walking into a new classroom filled with strange people. The moment you step through the doors you feel countless eyes on you, sizing you up and judging you. From here you either try to puff out your chest like you’re trying to prove a point or you feel a wave of uneasiness wash over you and your eyes scour across the room, trying to find something that resembles some form of familiarity to latch onto. Your choice of action doesn’t really change reality, though, which is that you don’t understand the simple things around you anywhere as much as you want to, and even thinking about it is terrifying.
But that’s okay — admitting and accepting this truth is half the battle.
Take charge of your life again and engaging your surroundings
One of the sights that sadden me the most is when I see an international student isolated in their own social group, speaking their native tongue and taking little effort in trying to assimilate into their new environment. I have engaged with some of these individuals (in their native language), and most often it is the fear of the unknown and the perceived safety and familiarity of staying with their friends that cause this behaviour, which is totally understandable. What is irresponsible, however, is when they blame it on not having been helped enough in their transition. You are in charge of this transition; you chose this path; that means you have accepted what comes with it as well, and that means you own it. If other people offer to help you along the way, it is very nice of them, but you cannot rely on charity if you want to do more than just scrape by.
So here we go step-by-step on how I moved through my transition:
- Admit to yourself that you don’t understand how your surroundings work anymore and that you need to learn it all over again starting from the basics.
- Throw yourself out there. Be open to new ideas, new morals and values.
Yeah, literally like throwing bait out to fish. You will make a lot of mistakes, but if you don’t make them and correct them now, you will make them when the consequences are a whole lot more serious. You are here at university — you are here to learn.
And yes, it means talking to strange people in their strange tongue with their strange slangs and doing strange stuff with them outside of class, potentially on a day you would prefer to be lying face down in your bed or just procrastinate. You are an international student, and that also means you have an extra homework called adapting to complete.
- Keep trying.
Remember that part when I said you will make a lot of mistakes? Yeah, it takes a lot of time too. I should add that there is one thing great about Australia: that it is always appreciated when someone genuinely tries, even if the results are at first disappointing.
- See Step 3.
- Okay, wow, time flies! It’s been a few more years now, and you actually understand the world again. You have made new friends, tried new things, and picked up new hobbies and interests as well as new values.
Not to be a cynic, but you will gather the woes that were your mistakes in your earlier years, put them in a massive pile, and bathe in them, because they are what made you.
That’s when you know you’re ready.
After all, “Man is defined more by his own mistakes than his achievements” (from a wise man).
Words of warning: At some point, you might feel like you’re beginning to lose yourself, and in your desperate pursuit to climb out of the pit you might lose a sense of where you are going. In this situation, consider practising meditation. By that, I mean sitting down alone in a quiet place and repeating these questions to yourself and answering them, out loud.
“Who are you?”
“What are you doing here?”
Yes, try new things, embrace the new world around you, but do not forget your roots. After all, “A man’s roots define him just as much as his mistakes” (same wise man as before).
At some point, you might doubt yourself, and in that doubt I want you to ask yourself whether you think what you’re doing is wrong. It doesn’t have to be the absolutely most correct thing to do in that situation, but as long as it’s not wrong, keep doing it, and if you fail, learn from it and try again. You will get there… eventually.
*pat on the back
Personal Job finding experience – Garvin Tso
Before you read my personal job finding experience, please read my guide Advice for International Students for hints and tips for adapting to Australia.
Who am I?
My name is Garvin Tso and I am currently a second-year student studying actuarial studies and finance. I am an Australian citizen, but I lived the first 14 years of my life in Hong Kong, and only moved here for the start of Year 9. I am also the Sponsorship Officer of the society.
Where have you worked at?
I worked at Big Datr, which is a small data analytics startup, during the winter break of my first year; and PwC Hong Kong, where I worked in transfer pricing (tax consulting) during the summer break of my first year.
How did you find these jobs?
I found all of my internships so far in my first year. To first understand the landscape, as a first-year student, you are restricted from applying for most internship programs, which in that aspect is similar to being an international student. So I turned to places where such restrictions do not exist or are not strictly enforced.
For Big Datr, I was fortunate enough to be one of the two first-year students to be accepted into the FBE Careers Mentoring Program. With time, my mentor was kind enough to introduce me to his old friend who worked at Big Datr. And after a brief coffee chat which doubled as an interview, I was offered a voluntary (unpaid) internship at their office over the winter.
For PwC Hong Kong, I first contacted my former maths teacher, whom I was close to, from my old high school in Hong Kong to ask if she knew where I could find possible work experience. She was a great teacher with many years of experience, and many of her former students have found success in many different industries, and still keep in contact with her. She was also the careers mistress. With a fourth degree recommendation, I applied for PwC’s winter (our summer) internship program. The person who actually wrote my recommendation was not very high up on the corporate ladder, and I had to go through the same application process as everyone else, but the recommendation helped recruiters view my application more favourably. I originally applied for a position in their actuarial team, but being their winter season, they had no such position open, and the recruiter asked if I would like to work in transfer pricing instead and I took it.
So as you can see, networking can make a big difference. The more important takeaway though, is that you should always be networking, consciously or subconsciously – I met that maths teacher before I came to Australia aged 14.
Were you worried that the internship you did was unpaid or wasn’t in the traditional actuarial field?
No. At the end of the day, you are a student who should be trying out as much as possible and improving on your employability. Even internships for local students are low in supply, and being picky will only restrict yourself and harm your interests in the long run. Mark Joshi would go as far as to argue that your even first job doesn’t matter that much. The importance is that you get your foot through the door. You can explore your options and move on from there.
Personal Job finding experience – Ruby Huang
Ruby works as a senior associate in PwC Melbourne actuarial team. The majority of her work has a focus on general insurance or data analytics, with broader exposure in banking and health industries. She has thoroughly enjoyed the variety of exposures and learning since she started working and is on her way to becoming FIAA of the Actuaries Institute.
Ruby moved to Australia in year 10 high school and completed International Baccalaureate in MLC in 2008 with a bilingual certificate in both English and Chinese. She then graduated from the University of Melbourne Honours degree in Actuarial Studies in 2012. During her university life, she completed two summer scholarships, one with mathematics and statistics department at the University of Melbourne and the other with the finance, actuarial studies and statistics department in Australian National University, after her second year and third year of university respectively. She has gained many skills from these experiences, including SAS programming, problem-solving from first principles, independent research, collaboration and communication. She became a tutor in Financial Mathematics in her Honours year, through which she has developed skills in public speaking, active listening and time management. She also joined PwC as a vacationer and part-time in her Honours year of study. Ruby was on the Actuarial Students’ Society committee in her third year and has actively involved in the society and leadership activities throughout her university.
In regards to her job finding experience, all of these have contributed to it. At the start of her Honours year, she applied for multiple graduate positions and accepted the offer from PwC. The job application and interview process is never easy and her advice is that:
Be prepared and be confident
Interview skills can be practised
Be proactive – get help from university career counseling and friends
Be comfortable in your own skin
Don’t be afraid to raise your opinion in a big group (know that your opinion is valuable and project your voice nicely)
Show your interests and what you are passionate about
Start early – internship and any relevant experiences are extremely valuable and be aware of application deadlines
Smile leaves a good impression!
Personal Job finding experience – Pardeep Kumar
Who am I?
My name is Pardeep Kumar and I am currently a second-year student studying Bachelor of Commerce in Actuarial Science. Currently, I am treasurer of International Commerce Students’ Society (ICSS). I am a Pakistani citizen and moved to Australia for university.
Where have you worked at?
I worked at EFU Life Assurance Ltd., biggest life insurance company in Pakistan, during my summer holidays of first-year. I worked there as an Actuarial Intern.
How did you find these jobs?
I realised that very few firms in Australia have internship programs for international students and since I am in my first year, that make it less likely to get an internship at the end of my first year. Hence, I applied for unpaid internships in Pakistan. The main issue in countries like Pakistan is that most of the companies do not open internship applications on their website and the same case was with EFU Life Assurance Ltd. Hence, I asked one of my relatives who work at the company to ask HR about internship opportunities in the company. After following up from my uncle, I sent them my CV and Cover Letter. Afterwards I went through two interviews, one with HR and other with Actuarial Department and eventually, I was selected.
This shows the importance of networking and hence, I would advise everyone to network whenever given a chance. Though I got my internship through my relative, it can be noted he knew how committed and hardworking I am which made him contact HR department.
Were you worried that the internship you did was unpaid?
No, since I believe that you cannot give the experience a price tag especially when it’s your first work related to your field. It helps one in understanding the corporate environment and taking most of it. At the start, I was not given much specialised work since they do not know about my capability. However, at the end, I was given task on analysing the monthly performance of different policies and write a report to justify why the mortality table used by EFU Life was relevant to its customer base.
How useful are the AIAA qualifications in other countries?
Associates (part 1 and 2) are normally just recognised as actuaries in their own countries. Once you are a fellow, you can practice as an actuary in most overseas countries.
Where can you sit relevant exams overseas (part 1)?
Part 1 exams occur twice a year in April (bookings open January) and September (bookings open July) provided by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries based in the UK. They cost £215 at the full rate.
Exam centres are all over the world. A link for all exam centres is available via: https://www.actuaries.org.uk/studying/exam-bookings/exam-centres-0
Part 2 and part 3 exams with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries are also taken in the same exam block as part ones (at the same locations)
How to become a student member of the institute as an international student?
An international student that has completed the IB (International Baccalaureate) and completed Higher Level Maths and English of any level can apply to be a student member.
Any student that has gained entry to an accredited Actuarial course in University can also be a student member.
English language requirements to apply for graduate positions?
For most large companies (such as the big 4), you need an 8.0 overall for IELTS. It is strongly encouraged to study and take these language tests during University.
What are the major differences in the actuarial industry between Australia and other countries?
In the USA, UK and China, the actuarial profession is mostly related to auditing (validating other people’s models). In Australia, you are more focused on consulting and innovative work (making your own models). Actuaries have more freedom and discretion in Australia given the small size of our economy.
In China, the actuarial profession is also not as established and well known. Client education and informing others about the value of actuarial services is also a big part of working in China. The culture in China is also a lot more bureaucratic with a focus on overheads and reporting. However, the structure is flatter and you get to interact a lot more with partners.
Which companies have taken interns/graduates in the past?
am actuaries, Taylor Fry, AIA, Suncorp, CGU, IAG, Quantium, Finity, Russell investments have recently employed international students.
It is highly encouraged for international students (and locals) to do any internship for the experience even if it is not actuarial work. Some students have even done research internships with the University of Melbourne Maths and Stats department.
As graduate positions are difficult to obtain, it is suggested that international students build their professional network during University. Many international students have found employment by previously knowing people working in the firms they are applying for. They can then directly send their CV/resumes to HR instead of going through the process as a relative unknown.
It is also a tip for international students to look at other similar fields such as data analytics, financial services and trading and in other cities (especially Sydney!).
What should I do to get work experience in the industry before I graduate?
Many international students in the past have found work experience through firms and contacts in their home country. Make the post of your family, friends and past peers.
As it is less common for people studying in Australia to be applying for roles in your home country, there are fewer people to compare with making it relatively easier to obtain employment. Don’t give up searching in your home country and just keep applying. It is an advantage to be studying in Australia compared to other applicants so make the most of it!
How should I build a professional network when I am struggling with the language barrier?
It is difficult to be noticed in the employment process if you are an international student and it is obviously a lot easier to get a job if you already know people in the workforce. As an international student, the communication barrier is obviously a challenging and usually leads to students being very conservative and quiet in a group setting.
The general advice from past international students is to just practice speaking to locals and always challenge yourself. Regularly come to networking events in University societies (especially contact night, trivia night, pool night, poker night with the ASS) and actuaries institute events. Most of the time, remember that locals will not judge you based on your language skills so don’t let a few tough encounters stop you from going out of your comfort zone.