Student Services and Welfare Manager Coby Liew: How his Australian dream led to impacting lives

As a struggling international student from a little town called Miri in Borneo almost a decade ago, Coby Liew finally completed his studies and began a meaningful career working for prestigious organisations across Australia. From having to survive on two loaves of Coles bread for three weeks and living in a foreign environment with constant financial worry to finally becoming an Australian citizen, he has come a long way.

Coby’s Australian journey started nine years ago in Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, as an international student with very limited funds but lots of courage and determination to carve a new life for himself in a new country. He recalled that period as one of the toughest he had thus far in his journey.

Two years later, he moved to Hobart, Tasmania where he lived, studied, and worked for four years.  In 2016, Coby came across an employment opportunity in Melbourne and decided to relocate to continue pursuing his big Australian dream!

Today, Coby is CIC Higher Education’s Student Services and Welfare Manager. His educational background is quite diverse and includes business accounting, music performance, mental health counselling and social work. He is currently completing his Master in Business and Organisational Psychology.

On a holiday back home in Borneo

When asked how he got to be where he is now, he readily points out, “That is a big question and I have done a lot in my life to get to where I am today. There were many times in the past where I thought of giving up but I am glad that I persevered. If I were to answer the question in three words, I would say it is because of my attitude, resilience and adaptability.”

 Coby can still recall the day he first arrived in Australia. “I felt incredibly excited and happy because one of my dreams had come true, but at the same time, I was very scared and lost because I didn’t know what my future would look like.” He confesses that in the beginning, he struggled a lot with his English, and didn’t know who to talk to when he needed support. “I was from a poor family and my parents couldn’t afford to finance my expenses here. Through these years, I have been through many ups and downs on my own, grasping at straws, and I nearly gave up. Those days were extremely tough, but I knew there was a candle of resilience that was burning in me.”

“I reckon it is important to always trust that things happen for a reason and there is always a lesson to be learned in every situation, be it good or bad. I believe that having the right attitude in life leads to the growth of inner resilience; therefore, we have the strength to adapt and react appropriately to different life circumstances. Whenever I am going through some tough times, I would always remind myself that what doesn’t kill me makes me strong,” he adds.

On being real and giving it your best

Coby believes in being real and leading by example. “I aim to be a good leader in the community and I very much treasure my own integrity and dignity. I believe that everyone deserves a fair go and be treated with respect.” Coby enjoys running community events with a focus on mental health, multiculturalism, and LGBTIQA-related issues.

At one of Melbourne’s street art districts

He also believes that a simple act of kindness creates endless ripples. “It is through my own personal journey that I found my passion for working with individuals from all walks of life. I feel happy knowing that I serve as a small part of someone else’s life and that my contribution has transformed and/or improved their lives, even just a little bit.”

Coby enjoys the simple things in life. “I don’t need anything fancy or pricey for me to feel happy. I’m definitely not a fan of the materialistic and superficial culture.” He loves simple activities such as immersing in nature – taking photos of animals and birds or having a relaxing day drive in the countryside. Whether indoors or outdoors, he enjoys having a cup of tea and listening to instrumental music.

All of his professional roles, including his current position as manager of Student Services and Welfare, have made a lot of impact in his life. “My various jobs gave me the opportunity to share my personal stories and journey to many international students. A lot of students find my stories very motivating and encouraging, and this makes me want to contribute more to the community.”

Coby with international students from Europe

There are three things that he is passionate about – international student experience, mental health, and the LGBTIQA community. Coby pursues his passion by continuing to work professionally and contribute to the needs of the international student community. He has been actively involved in the international education sector for nine years, working across different universities in Australia. He would like to share his survival tips with fellow international friends. Outside of his professional job, Coby runs community projects as a volunteer.

He loves giving back to the community in different ways. He is the founder of a nationwide community project which serves as a safe platform for members of a marginalised community to share their personal stories and empower those who are in similar situations. Coby’s positive attitude towards life makes him excited to wake up early every morning. He’s up at 6 AM to meditate and listen to hymns. By 8 AM, he would be at his workplace, going through his schedule for the day. He makes sure that he’s able to prioritise the most important tasks first and gradually chip at the big projects or activities that are in the pipeline.  “I try to finish work at 5 PM, go home, have some dinner and do some self-care – sitting on my massage chair,”  he reveals. His weekends are usually for doing outdoor activities such as camping, driving in the countryside, visiting wineries, photography, hiking, wherever his mood takes him.

Having comfort food is also his stress reliever. Guess what he loves to have when he’s feeling stressed? The answer is simple – Vietnamese Pho! It is a soup made of broth, beef or chicken, rice noodles and herbs. He’s quick to point out though that honing one’s time management skills, planning and having a Plan B beat the stresses at work any time, probably more than a bowl of Vietnamese Pho can.

Insights learned as a former international student

Coby is flanked by his mentees at a networking event for international students

“One of the biggest lessons I have learnt in my student journey was that if I really wanted something, instead of sitting there and finding excuses or waiting for other people to provide it to me, it is ultimately my decision to either be proactive or just do nothing and keep blaming the unfair world,” he says with candour.

Coby recalls how he struggled to communicate in English (his third language) and find a job to support himself. He also had to manage his health issues, homesickness and cultural differences as well as to adapt to a new lifestyle and environment, explore his sexuality and take a stand against discrimination and racism. He also had to contend with workplace exploitation and heartbreaks. “Through these tough circumstances, I learnt that I have to stay strong and actively find ways to improve my circumstances. I learnt that ‘my comfort zone’ is a good place to stay but nothing ever grows there”. My experiences have deeply informed my values and beliefs in life, and I have embedded those into my professional practices. Values such as honesty, integrity, and compassion are really important in guiding and keeping me on the right track.”

One of the joys of his job is in knowing that his contribution, be it small or big, has made a difference in someone’s life. When he was an international student, he wished someone would come along to guide and help him. He had to learn everything the hard way and had crashed and burned many times in the past.

Plans for the Student Services Department

At the moment, Coby is in the process of recruiting new Student Ambassadors to assist the Student Services Department with running events and activities for all CIC students. The program offers students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in events coordination and improve their interpersonal and communication skills. He is urging students to get involved in the program and start building up their resume.

He will be running a Job Clinic Program for the first time on campus. Students will learn how to use psychology to help them with their job application and interview.

In the next few weeks, Coby will also be redesigning the Student Lounge to make it more relaxing and welcoming for students.

He also plans to run more exciting, creative and fun events for students in upcoming months, so stay tuned! “Our primary goal is that we want the Student Services and Welfare Department to be a place where students can come and say ’hi’, have fun, and feel safe to share their stories with us whenever they need some support. We aim to provide all CIC students with the best possible student experience so that they belong, thrive, and achieve!”

 Coby’s challenge to existing students

“I would highly encourage you to put away a few hours every week and enjoy your student life here at CIC. Student life is very important in ensuring your overall health and wellbeing, and it is also a good way for you to build friendships and gain experience. For example, get yourself involved in the Student Ambassador program and gain some event management experience.

 “These skills are valuable to have and they are absolutely useful in your future career. We also run different student engagement activities, cultural celebration and festivals, sports and group competition, training workshops and many more. Please come and visit us at Level 5 so that we can get to know you a bit more and see how we could assist you in enhancing your learning experience here at CIC. We care about you and we are here for you!”

 Message to prospective students

“I understand that it is an important decision to make regarding your future study because, at the end of the day, it is about your future career. In my experience as an ex-international student, it is just as important to have a well-balanced student life whilst studying,” says Coby.

“Research has shown that students perform and achieve better results when they enjoy their learning environment. This includes participating in student events and activities, building new social networks, attending classes et cetera. Here at CIC, our ultimate goal is to offer you a wonderful student experience and to assist you with your learning needs. We are here for you and I am looking forward to welcoming you on campus!”