Humans of CSE Feb

Humans of CSE Feb

Getting into university and making it through can be hard no matter what your circumstances. But for international students who are a continent away from their support networks of family and friends, the unfamiliar challenges they tackle become a greater obstacle to overcome.

To delve deeper into the experiences of international students within the UNSW CSE community, CSESoc Outreach has conducted interviews with fellow international students:

Diego, 2nd Year Computer Science student from Manila, Philippines

Introduce yourself!

I was born and raised in Manila, Philippines! Home for me will always be there. Luckily I already had friends and family here in Sydney so my transition to moving here wasn’t incredibly difficult. I definitely feel like there’s such a rich and vibrant international community here at UNSW that it’s really easy to find somewhere to fit in, even as someone from Southeast Asia.

I had great first impressions of Sydney as a whole! While not exactly friendly for the wallet, the city is gorgeous and the people here are nothing short of amazing.

How was your first year experience?

The first year of Computer Science in any university is already daunting in and of itself. Add in being an international student moving to a new country and living alone for the first time and it’s quite literally a recipe for disaster.

Personally, I tried right away to put myself into communities with people that shared common interests with me. Think of cultural societies and hobby societies. The society culture at UNSW is fantastic, with a huge variety of active societies there’ll definitely be at least one that suits you with people that you can vibe with.

One thing that definitely helped me transition a LOT was joining a subcom. Although not necessary for a good first year experience, it allowed me to really form a lot of close bonds with other people and develop a ton more lasting friendships than I otherwise would have on my own. I joined CSESoc’s Outreach subcommittee in my first year and I don’t regret it at all.

I met a lot of my closest friends through CSESoc and I personally really appreciated the sheer volume of people that a society as big as CSESoc would allow you to meet. The opportunity to work with others as a team on really impactful projects/events is also definitely an added bonus to the experience. I would highly recommend any first year looking to make new friends at uni to try their hand at joining a subcommittee. It doesn’t have to be a faculty society like CSESoc, any society would do as long as you’re genuinely passionate about what you are doing.

I will be honest. My first year at uni was not easy at all and I doubt that yours will be either. Going through so many substantial life changes all at once can easily be really overwhelming, but I promise you that it is going to be so, so, so worth it in the end. I wouldn’t trade my first-year experience here at UNSW for anything else.

What’s a unique challenge that you face as an international student?

One of the biggest gripes I have with being an international student is that we can’t be flexible with our course allocations. We have to be full time students (48 UOC) and graduate on time or else we risk our CoE and subsequently our visas getting cancelled. I really wish I had the freedom to take the degree at my own pace to give me more time for other commitments like societies and to do work outside of uni, but now we’ll have to take a taxing 3 COMP courses in one trimester which I find really doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else.

Favourite part about studying Computer Science at UNSW?

I particularly enjoy all the lab work that we do! Compared to other unis in Australia, UNSW puts a really strong emphasis on practical work. It definitely helps me learn a lot more and allows me to more effectively engage in the content! It’s really cool to solve actual problems and have a small taste of the real world applications of the funny little concepts that we’re learning.

How do you stay connected with family back home?

I call my parents almost daily, and I really try hard to stay connected with my highschool friends back home. Sometimes it feels like the pandemic trained all of us to have long-distance friendships haha. Homesickness for me struck really hard. The longer I’m away, the more I find myself crying at night with the only thing on my mind being when I can come back home. I found myself coming home every term break. Don’t be ashamed about that, I know a lot of other people that have done the same thing and eventually learned how to cope with being away from home for such a long period of time.

What really helps is that you’re definitely not alone at all when you feel this, try talking to another international/interstate student about it! You’ll be surprised how similar your guys’ experiences can be.

What was your experience with finding accommodation?

I currently live off campus. I feel that the most influence it had on my university experience is the added independence that was thrust on you, it's a really humbling experience especially having to do it alone in a foreign country. Really helps you grow though! I find applying for suitable and affordable accommodation in this day and age is particularly challenging, especially if you aren’t able to land a spot on campus.

What food do you miss from back home and what have you found to enjoy in Australia?

I would kill for a really good sinigang. I unironically really love fairy bread. It looked repulsive when I first saw it but wow my mind was blown. Struggle meal for the really tough times would probably have to be a couple of slices of bread with kewpie mayo and pepper dashed on top… Something more nutritious would be making Japanese curry from the curry cubes you can find at the supermarket. It's really easy to make and you can prepare a humongous serving for such a low price.

Looking back from when you first arrived to now, in what ways do you feel you've grown or changed as a person and as a student?

I’ve grown so much as a person during my first year at uni! Living alone in a foreign country quite literally forces you to leap straight out of your comfort zone. Definitely the biggest thing I feel uni has done for me is allowing me to really come out of my shell. There are just so many opportunities to meet new people that the sheer amount might feel overwhelming at first, but it really made me appreciate the ones that you’re actually able to connect with and stick to.

Lastly, do you have any advice for incoming students?

Get involved! UNSW offers such a diverse range of extracurriculars that you’ll definitely find something for you. Join a degree related subcomm, join an Arc volunteering program! Wellness Warriors in particular I found were super friendly! This is honestly the best way you can meet new people and really make the most out of your uni experience.

If I were to tell something to my past self, it would be to not be as afraid as I was. Trust that with the right amount of effort everything will click into place. I couldn’t be happier in the position that I’m in right now!

Fai, 3rd Year Computer Science student from Hong Kong

Introduce yourself!

I was born and raised in Hong Kong but I studied high school (Year 10 and onwards) in Adelaide. I can’t believe I’m already 3rd year, it's crazy how fast time flies.

How was your first year experience?

I studied Flexible First Year Engineering, which was a terrible choice, and after realising I hated physics, I decided to go into computer science.

To be honest I didn’t think much about academics in my first year. I was still getting used to a new city - Sydney is so much more ‘woah’ compared to Adelaide - and I was also getting used to university, so I just did whatever caught my eye in first year. Honestly it was a blur - I took every opportunity I got and had the best time.

Since none of my high school friends came to UNSW, I made friends with a lot of new people, in my degree, in college, from random society and UNSW events. I would also try and meet up with the rare few friends I knew that came to Sydney. In fact, I ended up reconnecting with an old friend I’d known since primary school, who came to Sydney after finishing high school in Hong Kong.

Being on my own, I was lucky to have a good support network. I think it’s important to connect with other people, especially in your first year.

It’s hard sometimes, especially when you feel like you’re surrounded by infinitely competent people, but it’s ok to take things at your own pace, and know that it’s ok to ask others for help.

How do you stay connected with family back home?

For me, being away from home is like a long, extended camp. You’re often too busy to even worry about homesickness. My parents berate me all the time about this but I call them about once a month when I should be calling them twice a week. But I do try and be a good daughter and go home at the end of the year.

I think I’m in the minority for this, but I rarely feel homesick. But sometimes little things remind you of home, like how Sydney metro has the exact same door closing sound as the MTR, or how you haven’t seen the cotton from cotton trees drift in many, many years, or how every claypot rice you’ve tried in Sydney has been terrible, and you feel like you’re drifting in two places at once.

What was your experience with finding accommodation?

I live on campus! You meet an incredible variety of people from all over the world doing different degrees and at different stages of life. I love living in a college. I applied pretty late (I’m talking about January late) but I came just after the COVID-19 pandemic so it was easier to find accommodation. Sydney’s housing crisis is at an all-time low right now but I still highly recommend trying for on campus accommodation because you won’t get an experience like this anywhere else. Research the different types of accommodation and apply early through UNSW’s official portal, spreading out your preferences, because they’re not gonna give you a room if they literally don’t have space. Look out for other private or affiliated colleges/student accommodation like Shalom, New College, UNSW Village, iglu, scape etc, and look into nearby suburbs like Kensington, Waterloo etc. Unfortunately it is still really luck-based for UNSW colleges and when the old residents don’t leave it’s hard to open up spaces, but rest assured they always leave room for freshers. Wherever you end up staying promise me you’ll still meet an amazing community.

What food do you miss from back home and what have you found to enjoy in Australia?

I’m still looking for good yum cha in Sydney - apparently Para has the best but it’s so far… Imagine travelling that far but it ends up being mid… and you have to gather people as well… gathering people for mid yum cha… that’s what scares me the most…

For Australian food, vegemite butter toast and cheesymite scrolls slap. They’re great for a midnight savoury snack. One of my friends swears by peanut butter vegemite toast - give it a try.  

Lastly, do you have any advice for incoming students?

Take every opportunity you get! Meet new people. Do things you normally wouldn’t do.

After 2 years of uni, the most important lesson I learnt is that every person’s path is different. Never feel pressured to do anything, and never feel like you’re missing out. Create your own opportunities and see where life takes you.

For more useful resources:

CSESoc Discord - A great place to ask questions and get advice from fellow students!

Tips for International Students - CSESoc Media Article.

UNSW Subreddit - This is not CSESoc affiliated, however it is popular amongst students when seeking useful advice that may have been asked by past students in subreddits. Use at your own discretion!

Circles - A UNSW degree planner where you can explore and validate your degree structure.

Notangles - Trimester timetabling tool.

The Nucleus - Nucleus is a great place to get your common UNSW questions answered, such as requesting a program progression check.

CSESoc Outreach aims to release monthly articles that highlight the diverse experiences of students. We invite you to submit feedback or share your own insights through the form. Your stories, advice or perspectives could be invaluable to someone navigating university life.

Joyce He & Sapphire Wildie