Don’t Drop the Tofu: the International Student’s Guide to Casual Jobs


Welcome to the real world 

The jet lag from your international travel has no effect on you. You’ve scaled the campus, soaked in the profound unpredictability of Melbourne weather, committed your soul to the Melbourne coffee cult and hyped yourself up into joining 15 clubs—none of whose events you will end up attending past week two. Perhaps the reality of expenditure has finally caught up to your purse. You’ve decided to take an actionable step towards financial freedom: Enter casual employment. 

As you scroll through thousands of jobs on Seek and Indeed—jobs that require very little experience but that accept international applicants, promise good pay, good hours and an ‘amazing work environment’—you may be quick to assume that it’s not that hard to get a job after all. 

Well, I’ve got news for you. Life’s about to get super unfair. Welcome to the real world. 


Forgetful? Forget hospitality! 

This title should honestly be an integral slogan as part of any hospitality job opening that a not-yet-exploited student might be considering sacrificing their peace of mind for. 

Oftentimes, concerns around your job fit takes only two or three shifts of work to answer. During this process, you will most likely be criminally underpaid, overexerted and, depending on the kind of boss you have, potentially verbally abused. It’s also important to understand that you will be at peak performance during these trial sessions—desiring for a good impression. This will fade with time, and the job does not get any easier. Nothing quite tests your patience the way that a manager’s dissatisfaction regarding your performance does. Sometimes, it really is your fault and the way to respond is to remind them that you’re still learning and will try to remedy the problem. But, consistent threats of unemployment being hung over you can shut your entire system down and develops into a vicious cycle of deteriorating performance. 

I lasted three days in my first job at a chicken shop in Queen Victoria Market. After an interview that lasted about two minutes, I showed up for my first shift at 5:00am on a freezing winter Monday. My boss broke the ice by passing racist insults and joked that I was probably single because I was ‘gay’. I soon became well-acquainted with empty promises because my pay went down on the second day from $20/hour to $18/hour. His justification was that I was “taking too long to learn”. 

Half-way through my third shift, and I was pulled aside by my boss. A grim expression accompanied two words that simultaneously relieved the current anxiety cycle and birthed the next: “You’re done.” So, with enough cash in hand for the next fortnight’s rent, I went home.

I learned two things that day: One, getting fired isn’t that scary or embarrassing, and two, trauma builds you but can break you if you don’t know your tolerance threshold. Though, it’s important to realise that you can lead a beautiful life without having to go through the entire spectrum of human tumult.

I managed to get another job as a back-of-house staff member at a Vietnamese fast-food chain. It was a great team environment, with a decent manager, yet my desperate attempts to “fit in” consumed more of my mental space than I was willing to expend. Some two months of working there and I found myself walking out of that store, my manager and I locking eyes, sending mutual nods of acknowledgement; a Mexican standoff between a Viet and an Indian. I thought I’d shoot myself before he got the chance to—I quit.


A Safe Bet 

In Australia, one of the relatively replaceable, complacent, soul-numbing and easy jobs is customer service at a supermarket. Don’t let the adjectives fool you. Good customer service requires you to be an active listener, a maestro of empathy and to show other such active qualities that demand your attention and disciplined passion. 

For students, it’s a safe bet. You can get away with studying at work, get early markdowns on groceries and other unspoken perks which you did not hear from me (wink wink). Build good rapport with your line manager, your supervisors and your colleagues (it never hurts to throw in a bad joke once in a while), and soon enough you’ll find yourself climbing up into a role that’ll shine on your resume. But, at the same time, it’s a job where you can be on autopilot and still breeze through the day. It’s a win-win!

Just don’t let the repetitiveness of the job get to you. Engaging in banter with both colleagues and customers is one effective way of tackling this. 


Mindset in Discrimination and Racism 

With the modern eyes gauged towards blonde hairs and blue eyes, one often ends up overlooking the ethnic diversity of bigoted gunslingers whose nozzles permeate the smoke of bigotry and fire racist pellets. Colleagues of mine have shared their distaste for the Indian accent and their relief at a lack thereof in mine, and (plot twist) they weren’t Caucasian! 

And so, not only is it common when seeking casual employment that you’ll find yourself in situations where you’re facing the shooting squad, but you never know who’s at the other end. 


Your peace above all 

In Stoic philosophy, they say that our responses and actions are the only things within our complete control. Remember that the next time any personal attacks or racist comments are hurled at you—they will only affect you if you allow them to. Audacious to assume one can do this, but try we must.

At the end of the day, we’re all still kids trying to figure out how to be adults. Yes, we’re becoming severely aware that we need to be responsible for ourselves and that can be overwhelming. But, it’s important to understand that we will mess up more often than not at this stage in life, and that’s okay.


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