A breast cancer genetics expert, an international baking sensation and an artist featured on the cover of TIME magazine – be inspired by international students who’ve gone from nervous first days in Melbourne to the world stage.
International students bring buzz and big ideas to our city, and many of them go on to great things.
But how do you get the best out of your time as an international student? And what are the secrets to success in your future career? We asked all the big questions of some of the city’s most influential alumni.
Click on the names to jump to each person’s story.
- Red Hong Yi, artist and architectural designer
- Raymond Tan, baking extraordinaire from Raya Melbourne
- Dr Belle Lim, cancer genetics expert and health policy analyst
- Sebastian Lugo, musician and champion of Melbourne’s Latin music movement
- Raymond Lim, award-winning artist and graphic designer
- Professor Ly Tran, academic working in international education
- Hakim Halim, owner of RIPE Cheese and Small Business of the Year winner
Red Hong Yi, artist and architectural designer
Artist Red Hong Yi created TIME Magazine’s Climate is Everything cover in 2021 – a far cry from navigating group assignments and laundry as a student in a new city.
“I have so many memories of being an international student in Melbourne,” Red said.
“Being responsible for my groceries, budgeting and making sure I have clean laundry for the first time, realising I’m solely responsible for making sure I graduate by attending classes and finishing up assignments, and discovering how great the Melbourne cafe scene is.
“And, of course, meeting so many people from all over the world on campus, and getting to know the Australian culture.”
Living in Melbourne helped shape Red’s goals for her art, career and life in numerous ways.
“Studying in Melbourne has given me life-long friendships – I still keep in touch regularly with many friends I got to know,” Red said.
“Melbourne showed me what a well-planned, liveable and sustainable city looks like, and it set the standards for what I deem to think is a good life.
“As the cultural centre of Australia, I was exposed to many gallery shows, guerilla installations and street art in Melbourne, which piqued my interest in a career in art.”
After graduation, Red worked in the Shanghai branch of Australian architecture firm HASSELL. It was there she began to explore her future career as an artist.
“Shanghai is one of the biggest, busiest cities in the world – and I not only survived but came to really love it and got to launch my art career there,” Red said.
“I started creating art with found materials and eventually gained recognition for it, allowing me to exhibit and travel the world for my art.”
For international students who are newly arrived in Melbourne, Red has some encouraging advice.
“Get to know people from other cultures, join communities like clubs, organisations and meetups, and enjoy your time there – because it will fly by fast.” Red said.
“We’re lucky to be living in a time where resources are at our fingertips, and there are truly many options out there. Do not be afraid of taking risks at a young age. The world is your oyster.”
Red’s book How to Paint Without a Brush showcases art made from everyday objects, like tea bags, flower petals and eggshells, with several do-it-yourself projects.
Learn more on Red’s Instagram page: @redhongyi
Raymond Tan, baking extraordinaire from Raya Melbourne
From Instagram to the pages of Vogue, self-taught baker Raymond Tan’s colourful cakes and desserts are taking the world by storm. It all began as a creative outlet during his time as an international student.
When we spoke to the top chef, he was at the end of a busy day baking mooncakes for a festival.
“The best thing I remember about being an international student was obviously the people I met at uni,” Raymond said.
“People come from all over the world to study in Melbourne. I wasn’t expecting to meet people from so many different cultures and backgrounds. The whole world is gathered here.”
Raymond came to Melbourne from Malaysia. He thought he wanted to work in marketing, and he studied for a masters degree in accounting. But, in the end, baking was the dream.
He remembers watching Masterchef – which is made at Melbourne’s iconic showgrounds – and desperately wanting to be a contestant. He never guessed that a few years later he’d be running baking workshops in New York and London.
“One of the things that inspires me about Melbourne is that people are so open to chasing their dreams here. And dreams don’t always end up being related to what you study,” Raymond said.
“Immediately after my masters, I decided to take a gap year to pursue cooking and see how far it would go. Melbourne was one of the best places to be for this dream.”
“The city was of course a place of many different cultures, and a lot of international people had become familiar with my work through Instagram, which was a new thing at the time.”
Fast forward to today and Raymond runs Raya, a Malaysian and South-East Asian inspired bakery located at 61 Little Collins Street in the CBD. Raya’s specialties include fluffy chiffon cakes and bite-size kueh delights.
Raymond also co-owns Nimbo on Hardware Street, which serves up Korean shaved ice dessert bingsu and decadent French toast. At his next concept store, everything will revolve around matcha.
“I’m slowing building my little dessert empire – one shop at a time.”
Over the years, Raymond has observed Melbourne’s cafe culture broaden from avocado smash brunches to boutique bakeries and cute dessert spots. Even Woolies is now stocking more baking and decorating supplies.
Commitment, enthusiasm and a deep passion for what he does helps Raymond stay ahead of the trends.
For international students seeking to find their own success in Australia, Raymond has encouraging words.
“Melbourne is a beautiful city, with something for everyone. Even if student life is stressful at times, you will find something for yourself,” Raymond said.
“What you end up doing might not be the thing that you study, but Melbourne is a great place to be as student, to explore different things and different cultures. It’s not just about studying, it’s about really living in the city.”
Browse Raymond’s sweet treats on his Instagram page: @rymondtn
Dr Belle Lim, cancer genetics expert and health policy analyst
While we were all hibernating during the pandemic, Belle Lim was completing her PhD in breast cancer genetics under a scholarship at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre – part of Parkville’s exceptional knowledge and innovation precinct.
She’s now an analyst at Deloitte Access Economics, focusing on health and social policy. It’s been quite a journey since Belle’s first days in Melbourne, when she began her undergraduate science degree.
“Melbourne is such an exciting place to be as a young person,” Belle said.
“As an international student, you feel aspirational and excited to create a future of your own – so it’s great to be among such diverse communities, cultures, experiences, arts and food. I have many beautiful memories of that time.”
“Meeting such a welcoming cross-section of people – and seeing all the amazing things that women can achieve in Melbourne – really made me think about how I can contribute to the community.
“Over time – with valuable learnings from my PhD and my work in health policy and social reform – I have come to better understand my strengths and passions. My path is becoming more defined.”
Inspired by her lived experiences, Belle has become a passionate advocate for international students, and she has served as National President of the Council of International Students Australia.
Belle is also the founder of Future Forte, a non-profit that supports international students – particularly multicultural women and gender diverse people. The organisation’s annual conferences have attracted more than 2000 attendees.
Looking ahead, one of Belle’s biggest goals is to expand Future Forte to support more and more international students and alumni.
“I started Future Forte as a conference to bring diverse women and allies together, combine our experience and think about what we can do together to advance gender equity.
“I’m very proud of the outcomes we’ve been able to deliver, and the sense of belonging and community that women find in our space. My goal is to recruit more support and make this the biggest international student event in Australia.”
Belle has this advice for international students who are newly arrived in Melbourne:
“Everyone will feel lost at some point in their life – it’s part of growing up. But there’s no better place for you to go through this, and to explore and figure out who you are, than Melbourne.”
Sebastian Lugo, musician and champion of Melbourne’s Latin music scene
From busking on the streets of Melbourne to opening international shows for big Latin artists like Mackie, J Álvarez and Golpe a Golpe, Sebastian Lugo is spreading joy through music.
It’s been quite a journey since he came to Melbourne as an international student from his hometown of Bogotá in Colombia. But even in those early days in a new city, he was making lifelong friends and memories.
“I remember meeting my friend-for-life Dom, we met playing futsal at one of the varsity events at uni and we instantly matched energies. We had psychology subjects in common and would hang out afterwards,” Sebastian said.
“We would play Scopa, a card game he was good at because of his Italian background, or we would go to Ms Collins on a Thursday night and dance to reggaeton, one of the biggest dance genres in Latin America, where I come from.
“Somehow, having a local friend who would show me things I wouldn’t learn at uni while also sharing some of my culture made the whole experience very enriching. That made me fall in love with this country and its people.”
While studying in Melbourne, Sebastian developed a strong sense of himself, and what he wanted to do with his life.
“While I was studying psychology, I questioned my deep-rooted fears and dreams, and turned them into challenges and goals,” Sebastian said.
“Doing that while being far away from family and friends not only gave me the freedom to be myself fully but to build myself surrounded by interesting, friendly and driven people.
“I ended up following my music path along with psychology and now I embrace both as I work hard to become a prominent musical artist who is very aware of his emotions.”
Since the end of his studies, Sebastian’s music career has soared.
Thousands celebrated when his band Lo Que Faltaba headlined Fitzroy’s massive Hispanic Latin American festival, the Johnston Street Fiesta. And Sebastian felt honoured to play an intimate show for Colombia’s female World Cup team.
Collaboration and uplifting Latin music as a genre is also high on Sebastian’s list of priorities. Through making music with fellow artists like Anunnaki, SKR, MC Seba, Charlez Meza and Nicco Brun, he’s fuelling a new movement of Latin urban music in Melbourne.
“We are working hard to put our music up on the big stages, we want everyone to embrace our Latinhood and make it part of our collective identity,” Sebastian said.
For other international students finding their feet in a new city, Sebastian’s advice is to be yourself, work hard and reach out if you are in trouble.
“Finding motivation is the first thing,” Sebastian said.
“If you came here to study, it is likely you have found something that is driving you already, but if you haven’t, think about the price of leaving family, friends, love, work or hardship behind to become someone better or just different.
“Revisit that vision every now and again to remind yourself why you are where you are, that may give you the energy to work hard to achieve your goals and go places you never imagined you would.”
“Remember that even the most talented, smart and genius need people to laugh with, talk to or count on when things don’t go as planned.”
To learn more about Sebastian and his upcoming gigs, visit his Instagram page: @Sebastian_Lugo_Oficial
Raymond Lim, award-winning artist and graphic designer
Raymond Lim moved to Melbourne from Malaysia nearly 20 years ago. He still remembers the moment he left home for the airport, scared and excited to move away for the first time. Today, he’s an award-winning artist and designer.
“For most international students their first focus is on their studies – they just have to graduate. And I spent most of my first year working part-time in a restaurant. But there’s so much more to learn about in Australia,” Raymond said.
“Making new friends is really important, too. When I don’t have my family members around me, my friends are my family. I had lots of fun with friends during uni – gathering, cooking and learning about their different cultures.
“As an international student I also volunteered for the City of Melbourne at lots of events like the Lord Mayor’s Student Welcome, sister-city events and a program that helped people get home safely after nights out.”
Through volunteering, Raymond met all sorts of different people and even former city councillors who have helped kick-start his career, and who continue to support his journey to this day. Volunteering also helped Raymond gain confidence and ideas.
“As a creative graphic designer, it is very important to have lots of ideas – and ideas come from experiences,” Raymond said. “Volunteering gave me heaps of interesting experiences.”
“Another key thing I learnt through volunteering was how to speak up in meetings. As Asian kids we often sit there quietly – listening, observing and not asking any questions. At first, I was too afraid to give my opinion.
“All my volunteer training helped me open up bit by bit, and this has helped me in my life and work. Now when I am talking to clients and sharing ideas, I am ready to speak up any time.”
A proud “urban sketcher”, Raymond always carries a sketchbook and paints wherever he goes. A few years ago, while waiting around at a 24-hour charity swimming event, he illustrated the whole pool scene, posting it on his Instagram.
That led to a call from a PR company, the biggest canvas of Raymond’s life and one of his proudest achievements: a massive mural at the MSAC recreation complex depicting people enjoying different sports.
“I would paint the mural twice a week and it was great chatting to people passing by, explaining what I was doing. Kids couldn’t believe I was getting paid to paint a wall – we can’t do that at home!” Raymond said.
Another of Raymond’s greatest achievements happened earlier this year, when he won top prize in the GABS Can Design Awards for Temple Brewing’s “Hello, My Name is Amber – Amber Ale”.
It was a story of wise strategy and persistence, having missed out on the top spot in the two previous years. The winning design features a greyhound, and it was created in collaboration with the Amazing Greys rescue group.
“My biggest goal from now is just to continue to do work and grow my company. I’m currently working alone but eventually I need to grow my team, hire a junior designer and teach them my skills,” Raymond said.
“I would love to find international students to help me. I know from experience that it’s a huge headache navigating getting a job and securing permanent residency, so I’d like to support people who have similar backgrounds.”
For students who are newly arrived in Melbourne, Raymond encourages them to use the time to explore, and discover who they are, and who they want to be.
“All my friends who did graphic design have gone in different directions – so explore more and be open-minded. You never know what you will discover in yourself,” Raymond said.
For international students planning to stay in Australia long-term, Raymond recommends planning well ahead and considering what they will need to be prepared well before their visa is due to expire.
“Life is fun to explore but from time to time it’s important for us to get out from our comfort zone, to do something different. It takes courage but the rewards that you get at the end of the line are really great,” Raymond said.,
“From time to time, we will also face different problems. We always need to remind ourselves to be positive and keep moving forward. There’s always a solution to all the problems.”
You can browse Raymond’s art and design on his Instagram page: @raylsketches
Professor Ly Tran, academic working in international education
Motherhood gave Ly Tran a unique perspective on life as an international student in Melbourne.
She’s now a Professor in the School of Education at Deakin University and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow.
To support others following in her footsteps, Ly also leads the Best Practice in International Student Engagement project, funded by the Australian Government under the International Education Innovation Fund.
Looking back to where it all began, Ly is grateful for the community that supported her on her journey.
“Having given birth to my first child a year into my PhD candidature, my study journey as an international student in Melbourne was challenging but incredibly meaningful,” Ly said.
“Returning to university at a mature age and juggling motherhood and study made me become more aware of the value of international education and constantly reminded me of how to work efficiently.”
“I found myself very fortunate to be supported by a generous community of international peers, co-nationals and locals in Melbourne.”
Discovering one’s place in a new city was all too familiar for Ly, and she was moved by the journeys of the people around her. So much so she made supporting international students part of her career.
“I was inspired by the meaningful stories that international students shared as those who move between different life worlds in their pursuit of an international education and professional and personal transformation,” Ly said.
“This has become a constant source of motivation for me to undertake research in international education. It’s like a journey of endless but meaningful discoveries about international students’ personal, academic, social, cultural and well-being experiences and navigation, from which we can learn so much.
“One of the most striking things we need to keep in mind is that international education transforms lives and the ‘business’ of international education is not just numbers but impacts on real human beings.”
Despite all of Ly’s impressive achievements as an academic, her proudest achievement came in a small package – her child, who put all her efforts into a greater context.
“Raising my son alongside my study was inspiring to me as the experience encouraged me to reflect more deeply on what I was doing, its purposes and how to make my study become a meaningful part of my child’s growing up,” Ly said.
When asked what advice she would give to international students seeking to shape wonderful lives from Melbourne, Ly has some sage advice.
“Embrace new opportunities and challenge yourself even if you found it difficult in the beginning,” Ly said.
“There are a range of institutional and external services to support you throughout your study journey in Melbourne, so please do not hesitate to reach out and ask for help when you need it.”
Hakim Halim, owner of RIPE Cheese and Small Business of the Year winner
The world’s first cheese shop that showcases all-Australian artisanal produce took out top spot in this year’s Lord Mayor’s Small Business Awards.
Located at Queen Victoria Market, RIPE Cheese is a treasure trove for cheese connoisseurs, offering everything from prosciutto-wrapped treats from Bruny Island to gooey truffle toasties.
Former international student Hakim Halim is the “big cheese” behind this award-winning business. But he is quick to deflect all the glory to the cheesemakers themselves.
“I am most passionate about sharing the stories and produce of all the Australian artisanal cheesemakers to everyone,” Hakim said.
“Without them, RIPE will just be like any other generic cheese shop, deli and supermarket. They have done all the hard work in creating the best dairy products, and so credit goes to all our Australian producers.”
Hakim came to Melbourne 13 years ago. He worked his way through various companies and experienced many hardships, including racial discrimination, before building his successful business.
“I thought being part of the corporate rat race was what I wanted. But once I started building a business with a purpose bigger than myself, everything made sense and I found joy,” Hakim said.
“That joy has pushed and motivated me to overcome any obstacles that we face, and work tirelessly to achieve the goals that we have set for ourselves.”
“It’s incredible to be recognised in the Lord Mayor’s Small Business Awards, and I’m so humbled because I never could have imagined to be in this position when I first got here.”
Over his time in business, Hakim has seen the Australian cheese industry blossom. And he’s right there at the forefront of this growth, showcasing and advocating for local cheesemakers on the world stage.
“We see ourselves as the catalyst that brings Australian produce to the world. Last year, for example, we brought our cheese masterclasses to Singapore – who knows where to next!” Hakim said.
“We want to showcase Australian cheese and its producers through more advocacy, outreach, education and government lobbying. At the same time, creating more opportunities for future cheese experts through mentorship and scholarship programs.”
For other people, including international students, planning to start or grow a business in Melbourne, Hakim has this advice:
“Melbourne has a very competitive business market with lots of different concepts and brands, and discerning customers,” Hakim said.
“It is of the utmost importance to have a clear and genuine unique selling proposition that can be understood and appreciated for many years to come. Melburnians hate gimmicks!”
The City of Melbourne welcomes students from all over the world to Melbourne to study. We provide them with a wide range of programs, events and support. To learn more, visit International students.