Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI — Touching down in Melbourne, Australia to begin a term of overseas study, Trần Thanh Vân was nervous. Her fears evaporated when she was welcomed by a Vietnamese student from an airport pickup service that she had booked in Việt Nam.
The fellow took Vân to her rented house and, in later days, took her around the city and university to show her the new place. She was instructed on how to open a bank account and buy a public transport pass.
Through the fellow’s introductions, Vân connected with other Vietnamese students in Australia and joined a community willing to share and help each other with their studies and problems.
In a strange, exotic country where she had no relatives or friends when she arrived, Vân did not expect to feel so at home.
Before heading to Australia to live alone for the first time, the young girl was worried and had a lot of questions. How would she find a place near the university to live? What means of transport should she take to school? How would she open a bank account? Or get a local SIM card?
Now she has only one question: How to make the service more popular so other Vietnamese students like her can receive assistance and not feel alone overseas?
Student Life Care is a Vietnamese start-up with all-in-one services which offer assistance to overseas Vietnamese students in nearly 80 cities in Australia, the UK, Canada, the US, Singapore, Germany and the Netherlands.
It was founded by a young Vietnamese who used to be an overseas student and sympathises with their worries and struggles.
When students book with Student Life Care, they can choose either a single service or a paid package. Students will be picked up at the airport when they arrive, given help to find a suitable place to live, taken around to explore their university to adapt to the new environment and have all of their questions about the new place answered.
Those who accompany students are not strangers or local people but experienced overseas Vietnamese students, called “student heroes” by the company, many of whom used to be clients of Student Life Care and encountered the same problems when they first arrived.
Hà Ngọc Anh or Eric Hà, Student Life Care founder and CEO, said the top three concerns that parents and students have before an overseas course are school selection, tuition fees and housing.
Most of the overseas study consultant agencies in Việt Nam help parents and students solve the first two issues. These agencies also help students find housing if they need by working with overseas service providers or asking for help from their old students. Sometimes it takes a long time and contains potential risks.
After seven years studying in Australia and having a network of Vietnamese friends studying overseas, Eric decided to start Student Life Care with a vision of solving students’ housing problems.
Using online housing databases and technology to keep in touch with more than 2,000 student heroes and other Student Life Care offices in Australia, the UK and South Korea, the company’s centres in Hà Nội and HCM City will help new students find suitable accommodation before their departure. Student heroes will go to the place students select, inspect the house to make sure they meet the client’s expectations and help students make a deposit or payment on the house when they arrive.
In the five years since Student Life Care was established, it has helped about 2,000 students.
Thảo Vy, an overseas student at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, shared on Facebook: “All of the student heroes I met are so helpful. A student hero named Đức spent his public holiday picking me up at the airport on a rainy day. Another hero named Thảo allowed me to stay in her room on the first night as I had not signed a renting contract due to arriving late.”
Student Life Care received an investment of US$300,000 in the second season of Vietnamese Shark Tank, a start-up TV show.
The investor, Thái Vân Linh, is head of strategy and operations at Vina Capital, which specialises in investment management and real estate development firms. Linh said the market for Student Life Care is not limited to Vietnamese students, but could be expanded to serve overseas students from other countries.
Matching and sharing
By matching new and old overseas students, the service pays its student heroes and helps them earn a living. More importantly, it helps connect overseas Vietnamese students, old and new, together to make a big Vietnamese student community far from home.
Many students, after being helped, wish to become student heroes to assist newer ones.
“The core thing making a start-up grow sustainably is its value to the community,” Eric shared in a recent start-up TV programme of Vietnam Television.
From his own experience Eric thinks housing is not the only problem Vietnamese students face overseas. Cultural differences can be an even bigger issue, preventing students from adapting to their new, multi-cultural environment.
A Student Life Care training centre was recently launched to provide pre-departure courses with skills and knowledge about local culture, self-protection and applying for jobs. Eric hopes the classes will help students mentally prepare for their journeys. This is what he calls the educational value of Student Life Care.
Eric and his colleagues are expanding their business model with another service package called premium care, which provides study, health and psychological assistance to students through a helpline or appointments with Student Life Care consultants and ex-overseas students.
All of the students’ problems such as low exam scores or social difficulties will be kept confidential.
Eric hopes the three packages – housing, pre-departure training and premium care – will become a so-called “overseas study insurance” that follows students during their whole time abroad.
“The value that Student Life Care brings to the community is in improving the quality of life for Vietnamese overseas students, giving them good preparation for their study and more chances to be successful in their future career and making contributions to educating human resources for the country,” he said. — VNS