Like so many international students and graduates living in Australia, Joanne Dinh, a graduate of the William Angliss Institute of TAFE found herself jobless and facing an uncertain future. As if this was not enough, it was also during this time that Joanne suffered the loss of a loved one back home in Vietnam. She endured immense grief at being unable to return home to bid her final farewell to the grandfather she adored. Despite her own personal hurdles, Joanne is determined to move onward and upward in life while still giving of herself to others. “It doesn’t make sense to focus on things that are uncontrollable. We must shift our focus on the things that are within our control.”
This bubbly and energetic 22-year-old is driven to rise above her personal challenges and succeed in the path she has chosen for herself. She is self-assured in her desire to lead an exceptional life and believes that it begins with a positive mindset; one that is nurtured by the company of people she chooses to surround herself with each day. For instance, she credits her parents for being supportive in the choices she has made in her life. According to Joanne, they have always encouraged her to be independent and aim for higher goals. Instead of coaxing her to return to Vietnam during the pandemic, her parents encouraged her to seek ways to carve a life for herself in Australia even though this meant being thousands of kilometres apart from their beloved daughter.
Seek out knowledgeable others
Living so far away from her nearest and dearest means that Joanne is grateful for the tribe of international students and professionals to which she belongs. She works alongside fellow volunteers of VicWISE to improve the employability of international students and graduates in Melbourne. Joanne believes that her personal achievements and her rapid personal growth would not have been possible had it not been for Manorani Guy, the president and co-founder of VicWISE, who opened the doors for her to develop the skills and acquire the experience she needed.
Joanne recalls fondly her chance meeting with Manorani at an event in 2019 hosted by the Australian Federation for International Students. She was immediately struck by Manorani’s stage and leadership presence and the passion that she had for international students as she addressed the audience in her capacity as the then Vic/Tas President of the International Education Association (ISANA). Joanne too was passionate about giving a voice to international students and had earlier initiated the formation of an international students’ club at her university. Looking back, she noted that the desire she had to help was not sufficient as she lacked the ability to achieve the objectives of the club. Without the necessary skills and cultural awareness of people from diverse backgrounds, she faced insurmountable difficulties in putting her ideas into action. She wanted to learn from Manorani and plucked up the courage to ask if she could volunteer to gain hands-on experience at organising events. The opportunity to learn on the job came within two weeks of their meeting at a networking event hosted by VicWISE and more opportunities followed subsequently.
Taking the first step to introduce herself to Manorani proved to be a pivotal moment in Joanne’s life. Even though she felt discomfort in the beginning due to her lack of experience and fear of making mistakes, she appreciated the trust given to her and the chance to learn from those around her. She was able to draw invaluable lessons as she managed time-sensitive tasks. She learnt to sharpen her communication skills, collaborate with others, develop an eye for details and engage with stakeholders. Most importantly, she learnt to be kind to herself as she gave herself room to grow.
Seize the moment
In the course of her volunteer work, Joanne discovered that she truly enjoyed working and connecting with people. Through her association with others and curated learning and experience, she set up an online social enterprise during the pandemic. This new enterprise has allowed her to forge partnerships with a variety of brands connected to cosmetics, health supplements, books, homeware and others. She has been able to bridge the gap between these labels and their targeted national client base. She also aims to nurture the spirit of entrepreneurship and grow dynamic entrepreneurs within the community of international students through her enterprise.
Making a difference is Joanne’s mantra as she applies the life lessons she has acquired as an international student and graduate to pay forward for others like her. Given the volatile and uncertain economic landscape, she notes that jobs that exist today may face extinction tomorrow. Gone is the premise of job security even when armed with a stack of degrees and qualifications. Particularly for students who have yet to kickstart their careers, this uncertainty is palpable. For Joanne, it has given her the motivation to help those around her. “Be open-minded to opportunities out there. You never know when great things will happen to you or great people will come into your life.”
In addition to the moral support she gets from her parents and her mentor, Manorani, Joanne gains insights from other mentors and coaches based in the United States. Her people-focused online business consultancy identifies and selects business partners through a rigorous vetting process. “People are more available now because they are at home but it doesn’t mean that if I speak to 400 people, I’ll find the right person in all 400. Usually it’s just the one that meets the criteria.” Joanne believes that humility, gratitude, intelligence, hunger and patience are prerequisite qualities for potential partners to whom she promises a lifelong commitment. “I am there for them for as long as they want to carry on the business.” It is more than a business to her. It is about building deep relationships based on trust.
Face Challenges Head On
Growing an enterprise still in its infancy is not without its challenges. While it may seem easy to make initial contact and strike a conversation, Joanne’s challenge is in building deep relationships that can stand the test of time. She realises that in committing to the project, she is committing to working in a team. Teamwork is less about doing one’s job well but is about supporting and helping others to achieve the larger goals and objectives. She recognises that at times, this may involve teaching others but also the willingness to learn from others too.
At times, she is filled with self-doubt especially when dealing with people who possess different skills and abilities.“I sometimes feel intimidated when I have to approach people who have much more industry experience than I do because I’m new and just starting out. I have learnt to accommodate, adjust and tell myself to keep going, that I can do this.” Joanne aspires to grow a network of between 100 and 200 online business partners in the next three years.
Give to self and others
In coping with life under COVID-19, Joanne counts herself lucky to have people who encourage her to stay on course and she in turn encourages others to persevere. She channels her energies on supporting those in need and learning from the wisdom and experience of people who have successfully managed their behaviours and attitudes in these times of difficulty. “Stay connected with others who are positive and solution-seekers so we can lift each other up. One of our generation’s biggest problems, pandemic or not, is not associating with the right people enough and overthinking about the negativities in our lives.”
She expands her mind with books such as Stephen R. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, John C. Maxwell’s “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions” and Darren Hardy’s “The Compound Effect.”
Each day, she allocates time for self-reflection; asking questions: What did I do or learn today? Am I a better person from the person I was yesterday? How can I improve tomorrow?
She continues her active involvement in VicWISE as the lead in the organisation’s events team and valuable member of its social media team. Together with other team leaders, Joanne is exploring ways to determine key skills valued by employers and leverage on the strengths and abilities of its volunteers to create a platform for knowledge exchange and skills development for the purpose of enhancing employability of its members. This is a far cry from the undergraduate she used to be who had no idea what she wanted out of life and sought to measure her success by benchmarking her abilities against the abilities of others. Today, Joanne no longer believes that the goal to achieving success is about outperforming others but is a journey towards becoming a better version of the self.