Creating a life around supporting migrants, leveraging life lessons to help others.
“I feel...my role is to empower [international students] and let them know that, just like any other citizen or permanent resident, they have rights to question things and not be afraid of any ramifications.”
Edgar Ho is talking about his job as a TasTAFE international student advisor, a position he has held since 2015.
Edgar’s interest in helping international students was sparked while he was completing his PhD at the University of Tasmania. Having migrated to Australia from Canada as a teenager, Edgar found his passion while exploring the expectations versus actual experiences of Chinese international students.
“I realised I don't really like writing and reporting, but I really enjoy working with those students and talking through their problems, and often helping them find solutions,” says Edgar.
Over the next four years, Edgar applied for three international student advisor positions with the University of Tasmania, but was rejected each time. Interviewers blamed Edgar’s lack of experience.
When a similar position with TasTAFE became available, Edgar was hesitant.
“What am I missing here? Should I even bother applying? And [my wife] was like, ‘Apply for it. You've got nothing to lose.’ I applied for it.”
Edgar did not get the job.
However, he did get some good feedback (which he says every international student should ask for), and a month later was offered another international student advisor position with TasTAFE.
“This is a story of persistence,” says Edgar.
He now spends his time trying to support the group of students he looks after. His primary focus is to make sure that international students get the experience that they've come to Australia for while avoiding issues with visa or enrolment conditions.
“There's a saying that I always use with the students, which is, ‘Even though I work for the education provider, you are actually my boss.’”
Edgar says international students are very motivated to achieve their goals, but don’t always know how to do it. He points out particular issues international students face around rights as tenants and workers. Edgar says these issues come from “an underlying fear or discomfort to question authority.”
“There's a lot of rumors and stories. It's like, ‘Oh, if I questioned my employer's pay, he's going to report me to immigration,’...[I try] to demystify all of those things and build confidence for the students,” says Edgar.
Edgar is no stranger to migration issues. He faced years of uncertainty over his application for permanent residency, thanks largely to constantly changing government leadership (from Howard, to Rudd, to Gillard) and policies. However, after Edgar reached out to the Tasmanian community and political party members, his application was approved within about four months.
Edgar also links his support of students with his Buddhist beliefs. He says the Buddhist guiding principles of kindness, compassion, and wisdom help him in his work with international students.
“My goal, in not just my role but in my everyday life, is to use my background and my position to affect the social mechanisms to give future migrants and international students a smoother path towards achieving their goals,” says Edgar.
Edgar applies this philosophy to all sorts of issues, including helping international students retain their cultural identity through the continued use of their real names rather than Westernised ones (Edgar himself doesn’t have a legal Chinese name).
“They always give themselves an Anglicised name. And I say, ‘That's fine if you want to do that...But please don't do it if you think your name is hard to pronounce, because you should be proud of your name.’
“It's all about empowering, making students feel comfortable, and being that voice for them when they can't be.”