Category Archives: Education Abroad

A Peruvian in Australia: Schooling (part 2)

I recently finished a 6 month course on Retail Travel Sales at NMIT. Here are some thoughts after that experience.

My background is in tourism and hospitality. I have worked in that industry for about 8 years. When I left Peru to come over to Australia I was working as a tour leader. I did not want to leave that industry so when the opportunity to study something came up I was sure Tourism was my choice. In the words of Robert, one of my classmates, I was ‘formalizing my experience’.

I was a bit concerned about this choice. Someone well-informed had told me that Tourism is one of the ‘typical’ choices of international students who attempt to ask for a visa.  They choose it because they think it’s easy. So there was that cliche. As soon as I was granted a my second student visa, off I went, back in school, at a TAFE (Technical and Further Education) which is the equivalent to an institute in Peru, but it is tertiary or university level education.

The course was expensive, over 5 thousand dollars (not a student budget-price if you think about it), so it was important for me that it was something I wanted to do. Having paid all that and being able to work only part-time under the conditions of my visa, my budget shrank and I was soon trying to save on money.

I got my student ID and with this I was able to get some discounts at the movies, entrances to museums and other attractions, like the zoo. Luckily the Preston campus is not too far from home. I rode my bike as much as I could while summer lasted; but then June came and with it winter and the days started to get chilly. I’d ride the bike as far as the bus stop and it was public transport after that. Have I mentioned that public transport is a sad shame in Melbourne? I have? Good, ’cause it is. Despite the late train departures, the cancellations, the dirty trains (all of which happen more often than one would wish for), one of the low points for me was discovering that as an international student I have no right for a discount on a ticket. I pay 6.6 dollars per round trip. Considering I was only allowed to work part-time and that the cost of life is high, it’s not cheap.

Food was another field for savings. There’s a market at Preston, just across the road from school, which is a cheap option for students to buy lunch. But most times I took my lunch (which I cooked of course) with me and only visited the market a couple times. Another pleasant surprise was that at school the chef students cooked and sold their products at the school’s restaurant. So every Tuesday I was able to buy nice food for very low prices.

Mostly the course taught me about the different destinations in Australia and what is there is to offer. Certainly some beautiful places such as The Kimberley, The Great Barrier Reef, The Murray River area, the train ride across the desert from Adelaide to Darwin know as The Ghan, and so many other spots this vast country has to offer to visitors. Ironically, Australians prefer to go abroad these days than to travel within their country. This has to do with the prices. It is cheaper to fly and stay in Bali for a week than to go spend the weekend in Cairns. It is cheaper to fly to New Zealand from Melbourne than to go to Perth. Obviously Perth is farther from Melbourne than NZ but that gives you an idea of how large is Australia.

Bungle Bungle Range National Park, near The Kimberley

I can’t wait to get my license and hire or buy a camper and just drive around this country with Mel. While in school I presented a power point on North-West Australia, on the exact opposite side of the country. That area is called The Kimberley. It is one of the last remaining native forests in Australia. On the East coast, where most of the 22 million people live, 75% of forests have disappeared. And though the national parks are great, many conservationists are leading a campaign to stop a large transnational from extracting gas in The Kimberleys.

In my course I also learnt about the business and the local know-how. Most of my teachers had worked in the industry and that was great. They knew the standards and the ways.

One of the low points was that in the class there were those who didn’t really care about the course. They enrolled just because, like those looking for a visa, they thought it was easy and required no talent. I remember a guy who wanted to work at the airport picking up luggage or a girl who wanted to work at the airport at an airline counter. You certainly don’t need this course to work there. Others enrolled because their parents forced them to. So they would come to class late and when in class just chat and interrupt. I thought it was very disrespectful to the teachers and other classmates. I was even more angry when I discovered that those kids were paying 350 dollars for a course that costed Mel and I more than 5 thousand.

Luckily there was Ken. Ken is a war veteran who had been to Viet-Nam and at 60-something he still drove a taxi and studied to be a travel agent. A very clever man who had been all over the globe. He stood up. He was from a different generation, one that didn’t get free things. He stood up and hushed them down. I want to dedicate this post to Ken, who was not able to finish the course against his will. I’m sure one day he will finish it and become a great travel agent.

Along the course we had to do several presentations on destinations, package tours, country profiles, set up a stand for a tourism fair, talk about cultural differences. Normally I picked Peru when it was about an international destination. I remember a comment from one of my classmates who said that through my presentations she had learnt so much about Peru that now she had it on her list of places to go. I thought that that was a great compliment and it proved to me that I can be a great travel agent too!

from left to right: Tim, Ashley, Danny, Salma, Tracey, Mou-mou, Vikki, Robert, Andrew, Tamara, Pepe and Tom


Filed under Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Education Abroad, Food, Immigration, Living Abroad, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: Friends Found Faraway.

I have friends that I made a long time ago. I even say these days that my best friends are those I haven’t seen in ages. Just the other day I was talking to one of them: Fufo, who lives in Sweden. It was the first time we had talked on Skype. We haven’t seen each other’s faces for, like, 7 years, at least. Now he is married to his long-time girlfriend, Nancy, whom we used to hang out with back in the days of Mexico.
It is hard not to be melancholic when one is away from home. Friends from a distant memory, far from home like me (or at home this time) is all it takes to feel better. They have seen me in other places and situations and know me better than almost anyone in Melbourne. They are friends, new friends, becoming friends, whatever you wanna call them.
I have had the luck to meet with several people I met over in Peru as far back as 2004. This happened with Catherine D, whom I met during my days as a bartender at the Flying Dog Bar in Lima. She showed me a cool pub in Melbourne’s CBD that I would have never discovered on my own, nevermind it being so close to my prior school! And where does one begin to resume 7 years of life and how on Earth one got here? We tried and promised a BBQ soon to meet our significant others.
I’ve also met with a couple of people from my tour leader days. It’s funny to see them in their country, doing what they do and telling them my stories as a tourist here. We have switched roles now and meeting with them actually brings lots of perspective to my life. That’s what happened with Catherine S, with whom I went for a drink and caught up in Fitzroy, one of the liveliest neighbourhoods of Melbourne. We had dinner at a super busy and popular veggie restaurant there and shared a couple of beers. Melbourne is becoming a mecca for small breweries and artisanal, organic beers. I don’t think I’ve been so happy beerwise since my days in Belgium! It was weird at first to meet. We hadn’t seen each other in at least 2 years, when she was in Peru and we walked the Lares trekk together. But it was great to see her and know she is well and nearby, so next time I promised to pay her a visit and go surfing together.
With Shalla I also went to Fitzroy while she was visiting Melbourne, something she luckily does frequently. She is somewhat of a music guru to me and we always talk about music and share new bands. We still have a pending date to go to a gig together. But we did go to a rooftop bar and talked for hours and hours reminiscing of the days when we got stranded in Aguascalientes due to a strike or a mudslide (whichever happens more often in Peru) a couple years ago. How time does fly! She gave me some clues about how to become a radio announcer, one of my long-time procrastinated dream-jobs.
Meeting these friends has brought me perspective. Not only perspective, but help. Zoe, with whom I struck a friendship after chatting at Positive Bar (best pub in Puno, Peru) recently contacted me. She is running a café here in Melbourne, Per Diem Café in Richmond (excellent coffee by the way) and she needed staff. I was in need of a job because the starting months of the year are really slow in the Hospitality bussiness, where I have my other job. She remembered something I didn’t: when we were in Peru I sort of organised a trip for her and her mum, who were traveling independently with little knowledge of the places. I guess I helped them out by just doing what I always do. Now I have a job in a cafe! How’s that for good karma ?
Life takes interesting turns. It’s like 6 degrees of separation all the time with me. And I love it. The idea of people traveling over the world, settling in places or just venturing to exotic places, meeting others, sometimes friends, sometimes lovers and then moving on, yet carrying all that memory. To me that’s the clearest way of expressing what interests me the most in this world: chance, coincidence, the unknown, love, choice.
So now, I’m about to catch a plane to Brisbane for my first aussie domestic adventure. Mel is going there for work and I decided to join her. I have traded my miles flown with LAN and so the trip is free. But there is another reason that I’m exited about going to Brisbane: I’m gonna get to meet with my friend Renata, whom I haven’t seen in what must be around 15 years at least! We were friends back in the days when I was studying secondary school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Then I moved to Mexico City and I lost track of her. It was a few years after, with the marvel of email, chat and later Facebook that I started contacting a lot of friends whom I never got a chance to keep in touch with. Renata was one of them. We have continued our friendship ‘virtually’ all these years. And in a couple days we will meet. How will we recognise each other after all these years?
Well, the good news is that we did recognise each other! She came along with her partner Nick and we headed to a cool pub in Brisbane (The Joint) on one of those fews nights when the gods decided it was time to rain, and rain it did for all of the day and all of the night. Under a ceiling that cared little about doing its job, we begun to catch up and all of a sudden I was telling stories of my time in Europe, of when I left Mexico, of my journey to the jungle of Peru, of how I got to Oz…
She and Nick are both biologists and while she studies the ocean and its inhabitants, he studies birds. Together with Mel we visited Mt. Glorious the next day, and though it was still rainy, the forest was beautiful and with Nick´s help, I had the luck to spot a couple of never before seen birds. At one point, while driving back to Brisbane, I started sharing a story with everyone of how we used to hop in the back of a friend’s truck with buckets filled with cold water. We would drive to a nearby posh club and just splash the hell out of the people queing at the entrance! I had forgotten that Renata was there on that truck! Suddenly, as if a plug was removed, memories started pouring in. It is true what they say about memory: it is a muscle and it does need exercise. But how to remember so many things, so many wonderful things!? And what an amazing thing memory is that it can take you back so long ago!

Mt Glorious eerie forest

I am so happy to see someone that I enjoyed talking to so much when I was younger and how she has grown and how our paths have crossed again. It makes me happy and makes me feel lucky to witness that. Normally people meet again after so long when they are 45 or something like that and cliché says they are usually dissapointed and end up depressed of the meeting. I don’t like judging people but I like seeing the people I care for well and happy. In my case meeting all of these friends is a proof of the magic of travel and life.


Filed under Alternative tourism, Australia, Birdwatching, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Education Abroad, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Work

A Peruvian in Australia: Schooling

I came to Australia on a Student Visa. I came to study English. Quite a few people were surprised by that but I was actually interested in studying English at an Academic level. The whole idea was always to study to pass the IELTS test. IELTS is an organization that certifies your level of English and together with the TOEFL are the most accepted English language certificates over the world. My immigration agent had recommended a school and the pictures of it and its location had seemed promising since before leaving Peru.

I have now spent 4 months studying English; the last 2 months specifically studying for the IELTS test. The first 2 I was placed by my institute in the Advanced level class. I also spent 2 weeks in Business class between Advanced and IELTS. I was back in class at 32! This was not an easy task but definitely an interesting one. It felt like it must have felt for Dave Grohl to play drums on the Nirvana Unplugged album. If I remember well his words – he said it was like ‘playing inside a crystal cage’ that he could break at any moment so he had to be real delicate at not smashing his drums. Yeah, it kinda felt like that.

The transition involved taking the train every morning and discovering the world of one of the most hated public companies for Melbournians: the train company. Stopping at 10 stations in about 35 minutes to reach the CBD (you should know what the CBD is for Melbourne if you read this blog somewhat frequently; if you don’t, please refer to the post named ‘…First Impressions of Melbourne’), I then walked two blocks everyday to get to school on the corner of Swanston and Flinders Street.

The location is one of the liveliest and more emblematic corners of the city: Flinders Street Station, St Paul’s Cathedral, Federation Square, the City square are all in the vicinity. One of the first things I looked for on the student roll was for other Peruvians. I met a few. But most of the students coming from South America came from Brazil or Colombia. Most others were from South Korea or Japan, perhaps China, and more from Eastern Europe and Spain. But whatever nationality, school was a boiling pot of different cultures and young people looking for a chance in another country, adapting, learning, looking for a job, renewing their visas, having a good time. People like myself, missing home, looking ahead, with someone else back at home or here at a new home. I miss school mostly because of those people, travelers like me. Other than that it’s been very interesting realizing that I am still the same kid I’ve always been in class! It’s incredible how little one changes from the essential self one was at 8 years old until one is an adult! I should thank my teachers for having the patience with me as I kept interrupting their class,tryng to entertain everyone by being the tour leader/storyteller that I used to be back in Peru.

My English course wasn’t cheap but it was the best way to get back together with Melissa. The price has meant that I have appreciated it and was more critical too. That was a new experience for me because my previous studies during high school and my degree were at public schools, and though before that I was at a private school I was too little to care about the money. It also made me realise that in Peru we have a very good level of English and that our education is not as bad as everyone would think. Or, to say it differently, that education abroad is not necessarily light years ahead of ours.

Since we are on the subject of schools, let me give you an idea of how important International students, as we are called here, are to Melbourne’s economic health. The industry of Education produces around AUD$ 4.5 billion every year only from international students and is Victoria’s first export and at one point just a couple years ago there were 400,000 students in Victoria alone. A year of study in one of the most reputed universities in the city is a little more than 30 thousand US$. Certainly Aussies have  more benefits compared to International students, yet this is not always the case from what I’ve heard them say. And Melbourne seems to be a mecca for people of all over the world that come here to study. You see it on the streets, on the news, everywhere. Some critics of education in Victoria mention that this bussiness dependency is what has damaged the image of the Victorian educational system.

Nevertheless the laws are changing, accordingly. Australia has a very agile legislation that covers a wide set of areas. And though they can’t stop the influx of foreigners without damaging the economy, they are controlling it pretty well. As an immigraton lawyer was explaining to me a few days ago, a lot of students come here not to study really but as a way to stay in the country. Because of this the government recently introduced a rule where one needs to demonstrate to them the ´genuineness´ of one’s intentions to study here. If they see that a doctor is applying for a hairdressing course, they most probably will refuse that visa.

A few days ago I learnt my results from the IELTS and I was gladly surprised with an 8 out of 9. The IELTS is not just any English test. They want to see a certain structure in the writing, they use different accents in the listening section, they like you using idioms in the conversation, and the articles they give you to read have complex academic style. You can have a perfectly operational grasp of the English language and still fail the test (though technically you can’t not pass the test, but of course as the test is a requirement for visas or uni enrolments, certain scores are requested by these institutions). And then there’s all the hype around it. I gave my test at a conference room with other 600 students. The organization was massive, you could smell the stress in the room and it was such a serious bussiness that there were vigilantes checking passports on the tables every 15 minutes (people have in fact gone to jail for trying to impersonate a student at the IELTS). And it’s not cheap either, 330AU$ are invested in it, so not reaching the score you want can be a high price for a student. I would like to thank my teacher Ruby Brunton who taught the structure that the test required and with her help I’ve improved my writing enormously. Thanx Ruby!!!

Now that I’ve got this first chapter closed my next step here is to renew my student Visa to study a Certificate III in Retail Tourism for 6 months at a local college. I’m sure that could be a very interesting experience. Back at uni! The last time I went to a university class was around 10years ago in Mexico when I was studying Journalism. I went to my orientation a few days ago and the University campus is pretty, similar, though much smaller, to that of my uni in Mexico City. My aim is to learn at this course how to create a tourism product and learn how to use the software that is necessary at a travel agency. In the future I would like, with these tools, to create my own travel agency or, more modestly, work in one.

Hopefully I will get myvisa renewed and then you can continue reading this blog entries as a Peruvian in Australia, cause a Peruvian back in Peru doesn’t seem like a very exciting title!


Filed under Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Education Abroad, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing