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A Working Holiday Down Under

A Working Holiday Down Under


After Valerie Chen shared her life as a vendor in Taiwan, we follow the next stage of her life where she travelled to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa.

Written by Valerie Chen

In 2011 I was working with my parents as a street vendor in Taichung, Taiwan (please read my previous blog for all the details!).

Taking over my mum’s business seemed the most “sensible” option for my future, which got me thinking, “If I don’t go for a big trip I always wanted right now, it’ll be impossible to do so after I become a business owner”. So, I decided to get a working-holiday visa and became a backpacker for the first time.

I had visited a few countries with tourist groups departing from Taiwan when I was younger, but I had never travelled on my own.

Luckily, going on working holiday to Australia was a hot topic in Taiwan back then so there were plenty of resources available online.

I packed the bags, got some traveller’s checks and waved goodbye to my family and friends in May 2012.    

Valerie wanted to travel before taking over her mum's business.
Valerie wanted to travel before taking over her mum’s business.

Arriving in Australia

I had an intermediate level of English when I first arrived in Melbourne, but Aussie English still confused me many times every day.

After 10 years of being around Australians, I still mishear and miss jokes and stories sometimes. Improving my communication with others is a lifelong project for me and it takes time to sync in with the slang, accents and Aussie humour.

So, imagine when I got off the plane!

Being a rookie traveller brought many sweaty moments like losing my passport at Melbourne airport, not understanding bus drivers and getting lost regularly. I packed too many unessential items and not enough essential items.

There was also a lot of exciting times – hanging out with other international travellers at the hostels (drinking, cooking and exploring together), and being in a completely foreign environment by myself.

Valerie on her first backpacking experience at the age of 27.
Valerie on her first backpacking experience at the age of 27.

Having a Working Holiday Visa

With a working holiday visa, you are allowed to work for the same employer for a maximum of six months by law. This fact has deterred many business owners from hiring people with working holiday visas.

Additionally, there were too working holiday visa holders in Australia back in 2012/2013, which made job searching more difficult.

We were all very desperate to get a job so sometimes we said yes to dodgy jobs – many businesses exploited backpackers. There were still some working holiday visa holders who managed to make a lot of money and travel around Australia.

Unfortunately, I was not one of them.

Valerie at her first AFL game.
Valerie at her first AFL game.

Working on a Visa

I was exploited many times.

During my working holiday year, I did

  • Some restaurant trials (unpaid shifts at shifty businesses)
  • A youth hostel housekeeping job
  • Tomato picking in Shepparton, Victoria (two days work, unpaid)
  • Worked at a fish and chip shop ($8 per hour)
  • And a hotel cleaning job in Melbourne CBD (grossly underpaid but money retrieved through Fair Work Ombudsman – a big win!).

Through these not-so-fun experiences I gained resilience, courage, and confidence in dealing with conflict situations.

I also realised that I should steer away from jobs that I was not cut out for such as hospitality, retails or farming jobs, as well as toxic environments.  

Valerie at a work Christmas party - her first ever Summer Christmas!
Valerie at a work Christmas party – her first ever summer Christmas!

Australia had its charms

Overall, my working holiday experience in Australia was a mixture of excitement, adventure, self-discovery and a lot of conquering fear and dealing with emotions.

Australia charmed me with its laid-back attitude, friendliness, and respect for different opinions and lifestyles.

I felt like I could be a better version of myself here, and that I had the potential and capacity to achieve more than I could in Taiwan.  

Another bonus of my working holiday was that I met my best friend / husband-to-be, which led me to permanently relocate to Australia in 2015.

My decision of coming to Australia for a working holiday changed my life direction in most unexpected ways.

Stay tuned for the final instalment of my story – from vacuum cleaner saleswoman to oral health student.

Valerie and her friend on the way to Grampians National Park in Victoria.
Valerie and her friend on the way to Grampians National Park in Victoria.

Want to hear Part One of Valerie’s Story?

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