The Malaysian IH Experience by Phillip Tan

Our community of IHers has been and always will be our greatest asset.

Hey there fellow IH-ers! My name is Phillip Tan, from Malaysia. I left the realms of residential college at the end of 2013. I came to Melbourne in 2008 and joined Scotch College to complete Year 10 through to VCE.  Then, whilst working at Slattery Australia during my final two years, I completed my Bachelor of Environments and Masters of Construction Management at the University of Melbourne at the end of 2015. I returned to Malaysia at the start of 2016, working in the Construction Industry as a Quantity Surveyor in my father’s company – Perunding Kos T & K, a.k.a. PKT. It just so happens that my father is also an IH alumni.

When I left Malaysia in 2008, I did not have any understanding of the financial world, let alone the Construction industry in either country. The world faced the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008, which greatly affected the economy of not just the two countries I belong to, but the rest of the world. However, fortunately for both countries, they only suffered a minor deficit before recovering. This is crucial because during the recovery of the Malaysian economy, the property industry expanded exponentially, with immense opportunities placed on a platter for companies and families that were sitting on prime land in Malaysia. Along with technological advancement in the Construction industry, the company I currently work for has excelled tremendously over the past half-decade. During this time, entire new suburbs and cities were constructed as a result of of the money invested in property development.

Regarding character development; coming from a small private school in Klang, a suburb roughly an hour’s drive from the heart of Kuala Lumpur, I had limited exposure to Western cultures, which are worlds apart from the extremely colourful South East Asian cultural experience. The three years I spent in high school were an eye-opening experience in gaining an international understanding. I found that while some of my fellow students were well travelled, they lacked a certain empathy for the challenges boarding school students faced, some of whom had never been to Australia before. Fortunately, I was able to adapt to my different circumstances, however several of my fellow internationals found it a difficult task, and unfortunately did not participate in many activities at high school as a result.  

When I first entered International House, I did not struggle too hard to adjust to conditions in a residential college, as I had prior experience of being in close quarters with large groups of people from varying cultural and ethical backgrounds. Because of the diversity within the cohort living at IH, the lack of empathy I witnessed in high school was nearly invisible.

The opportunities presented to us as residents of IH allowed us to participate in a multitude of events, from organizing National Nights, to being part of the Student Club committee, and even to participating in inter-collegiate Quidditch.

From the sheer number of students vying for the same roles and positions in events, sports and societies, I built an approach towards dealing with both internal and external competitive environments to ensure my own success. Additionally, the collaboration and communication required from all the participants in these events, sporting groups and societies, to achieve the goals targeted were extremely educational in building my character, as I would progressively learn how to deal with people of different characters, which had proved to be rather difficult at times. Overcoming these issues and being able to hold a successful event, such as Café, or captaining the team to the finals of inter-collegiate badminton, ultimately made the accomplishments just a little bit sweeter. Remembering of course, that all that was achieved even while accommodating the typical issues of staying in a large residential college - most of which was noise related. All too swiftly, three years in International House flew by, and the reality of professional work and postgraduate coursework eventuated.

During my first interview with Slattery Australia, a Quantity Surveying firm on Queen Street, I found that my ability to speak with confidence and proficiency, had been developed by the exposure I had had at International House (speaking during High Table dinners and during AGMs), and the many presentations I gave during my studies at the University of Melbourne. Upon entry to the role, the ability to be proactive, acquired during my time at IH, benefited my standing within the company. By creating my own set of targeted achievements, I was able to pick up a new set of skills in the Construction field during my time there. Furthermore, having lived with so many people, I rapidly accustomed myself to the working environment and the people around me, and built strong relationships with my co-workers. Once again, before I knew it, I had completed my Masters in Construction Management, and Malaysia beckoned.

I began working for my father, Dato Peter Tan, in a full-time  graduate role at the start of the year, beginning my career in the Malaysian Construction Industry. The transition to working in Malaysia was a huge change of pace, to say the least. As I mentioned earlier, the amount of property development had increased tremendously since 2008, but we were also facing the introduction of GST into Malaysia as well as the crude oil price slide, both in 2014. As such, since 2008 our company had doubled in size, but with the market slowing down, we utilized this time to improve the productivity and efficiency of work within the office. With the exposure that I had in the more advanced Construction Industry in Melbourne, I came back with the aim of improving the internal systems and processes within the company to achieve our goal. My ability to be proactive again proved to be my greatest quality, as I progressively improved the Public Relation documents, Human Resources, and technological department, with the goal of enhancing our internal systems, and procuring larger numbers of projects whilst maintaining the workforce size. 

I cannot stress the importance of International House and the University of Melbourne in shaping my identity as an individual capable of interacting in any social environment, being proactive in a competitive environment, and adept in collaborating with people with diverse personalities, while always enjoying overcoming every obstacle throughout the journey.

I hope more and more Malaysians will see the opportunity in returning to their home country, and those who have or are looking to, do feel free to shoot me a message anytime. 

Our community of IHers has been and always will be our greatest asset.

Phillip Tan