International Student, My Story

Tharsika Tharumalingam – Study Abroad/Exchange Experience


Tharsika is from Australia and currently studying a double degree in finance and law. She is completing a law exchange program in Hong Kong on the Endeavour Cheung Kong Student Exchange Scholarship. Once she completes her degree, she would like to work on international contracts between firms in the Asia-Pacific region.

How was your first day in the new country?

I was a bit anxious because it was the first time I had travelled overseas by myself and I was in a country where English was not the first language, so I was worried I might not be able to get to where I needed to go. Luckily there were many signs and friendly locals who helped me on my way. It was also a shock getting used to the weather as I had just come from the middle of summer where it was 35 degrees Celsius and now was faced with temperatures of around 10 degrees Celsius because it was the middle of winter.

What was the one thing that you grew used to in the new country within the first six months?

There were a few small things that I had to get used to. Firstly I had to learn basic Cantonese phrases such as Hello, Thank you, etc. and the naming of numbers from 1 to 10. I also had to get used to walking and travelling on the right side as it was the opposite of Australia. I had to learn how to use chopsticks as most eateries didn’t have any knives or forks. I also learnt to carry around an Octopus card which was similar to a transport card and credit card in one as many outlets and transportation required payment through this card.

Were you homesick? How did you handle it?

I did feel homesick at times when I felt alienated by some of the customs as I was not used to them yet, or sometimes make mistakes.During these times I would either talk to my family or friends back home to feel connected again. If they were busy, I also brought some food from home, so I would eat that whilst watching videos on Youtube or listening to music from my home country to make me feel connected again. I would suggest bringing something from your home country that reminds you of it or doing an activity that you would also do in your home country to help with homesickness. Once you feel that connection again, you’ll feel better.

What do you do to stay motivated and optimistic about your studies and future?

I try every new opportunity that comes my way, even if it doesn’t work out. That way I at least have the experience and can learn from my mistakes. I also look to motivating stories of people who are in the industry I like to work in, as most of them started from a similar background as me. I also try to plan out the next steps in my future and where I would like to be in 5 years time. It helps put things in perspective and understand that my future is a long term game, and its benefits may not be seen immediately, but can happen in the future.

If you could go back in time to the first day abroad, what advice would you give yourself?

Be patient with yourself. You’re in a new country with different customs and beliefs, and you’re not always going to get it right the first time no matter how much research you do beforehand. It’s okay to make mistakes, so don’t force yourself to try and fit in immediately. Learn from them, and especially from other international students before you! They are a wealth of knowledge and know what it’s like to be in a foreign country, so they are the best people to turn to help you on the right track.

In three-four lines, provide a suggestion/advice to the future international students.

Talk to as many people as possible and invite them out for a meal or a coffee. It’s the best way to make friends! If you don’t feel confident enough then that’s okay too, and you can fake it till you make it since most people will be in the same position as you and will be glad you made the first move.
If you would like to share your story with Yaarmate, please feel free to email us at yaarmate.com@gmail.com.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Yaarmate.
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