International students making ends meet

Cheap ( $6.90) lunch suggested by Dany. Photo by Carmen May.
Melbourne was voted the world's most liveable city for a sixth consecutive year. But it can be a different experience for international students. Carmen May reports.


Hundreds and thousands of international students flock to Melbourne every year hoping to complete their education and some even to stay on for a new lease on life. Statistics by show that international students make up of 32 per cent of the universities population.

“The reason why it was voted most livable city is because, as long as you are employed you can live a meaningful balanced life,” says Dany Che, a part-time student from Malaysia who has been living in Melbourne for the past six years.

Dany lives with his three brothers in an upmarket Melbourne city apartment they can barely afford. All three are students and apart from the youngest one and himself, the middle brother is the only one who works part-time as a dish cleaner at a popular Indonesian restaurant in Hawthorn.

The bulk of their allowance goes to their rent, which Dany says was not a problem until he stopped working 18 months ago to focus on his studies. Now rent is something of a burden that he and his brothers struggle to afford. Very soon they will have to move to a cheaper accommodation, possibly in the next few months.

Dany says that he is counting pennies. He already had to stop spending money on coffee, and makes it at home to take it to his university classes. Thankfully, he lives in the city and the trams are free within the area and he walks to university as he lives 10 minutes from campus.

According to, one of the main criteria to be accepted into the country, as an international student is that you are required to show proof that you have enough money to survive without having to rely on a job. But the visa also allows you to work a maximum of 20 hours a week.

Dany says he hopes that the restaurant, where his brother is currently working, is a good start.

The hospitality industry in Melbourne is one of the main sectors that most students work in when they come in from abroad. Dany says that students should probably focus on their hospitality skills such as basic waiting, which they can get qualified for, and it is one of the first things he did when he first got to Melbourne.

He was quite fortunate that he managed to get a job at a known cafe immediately after high school that gave him experience as a barista which made it fairly easy for him to secure a part-time job at a café.

“I started working as a kitchen hand in a Malaysian restaurant. It was only later on that I got promoted to breakfast chef. And that’s how it starts. You do what you can I suppose. They will essentially hire anyone that is qualified for the job.”

Sarah, a full-time student from Indonesia is living off a month-to-month allowance sent by her father. She is one of the lucky few who does not have to rely on a part-time job to secure a comfortable living.

Though she says she gets a substantial amount each month, she envies her peers who have a regular part-time job.

“I am currently undertaking a double degree in Psychology and Performing Arts. So even if I wanted to work, I just would not have the time. But I feel like if I did get a chance, it would help me with my confidence,” she says.

Studying full-time and not having to worry about juggling a job on the side does have its perks such as having the freedom to go about your day as you please. As a regular at her local coffee shop, she has witnessed numerous students walking in inquiring about potential job openings.

Dany warns about cash-in-hand jobs offered to avoid tax and mostly taken on by international students who are desperate for fast and easy money.

The operators of a Malaysian restaurant in inner Sydney were reportedly fined almost $300,000 for under paying workers in August.

“I used to get paid $8 an hour under the table. Which was still better than not being paid at all. It was well below the minimum wage in Australia, and I am pretty sure it was illegal, but sometimes we don’t really have a choice,” he says.

Sarah says she believes that too many people arrive just to inquire about the job and hand in their resume before leaving immediately without saying a word.

“Be chatty,” she advises students who intend to work and study in Melbourne. “The talkative ones usually get the job. It is really easy to dismiss a resume. But if you want to work in a place here, chat with them and get their names. Don’t be afraid to check in two to three times.”

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