Kevin Ngugi

My story is my journey as an International student and how the course of it was very non linear. I will do a brief background on my early years in Kenya.

I was born in Kenya to a family of five, me being the youngest of three children. We were an upper middle class family. Being brought up as a Presbyterian Christian meant that I also went to Sunday school and church camps. Kenyan culture respected nuclear families like ours because both parents were present, had solid jobs, children and a functioning household.

My upbringing was fairly normal for the most part. My mum was very strict and was very adamant about doing any & all activities together as a family. Being that I was quite a naughty child, it was not surprising that I was told off constantly.

I grew up a very ambitious kid and this was evident with the overzealous mentions of what I wanted to become & what I would own.

Throughout my early school years & primary school I was a bit of an overachiever. I was very active in different sports and received certificates & medals for them. For the subjects that I struggled with, I did evening tuition.

In high school I was appointed to become an assistant dormitory captain where I was in charge of a dwelling where about 60 students slept.

When I completed high school in December 2005, I went to work in my mum’s clothing store. During this time my mum brought up the idea of studying in Australia. She always wanted all her kids to get international exposure. My sister had just come back from studying in Scotland, and my brother had just flown away to Malaysia at this stage.

I entertained the idea as I was confident I’d be fine as I had always been fairly independent and would be fine in a foreign country alone. The plan was to go for a maximum of 4 years to just get my degree & go back to Kenya.

Fast forward, in early 2007 I joined Latrobe university in Melbourne to do Civil engineering as I was good in physics & Chemistry. During that semester, I had the strong conviction to change my degree to a business related one. I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur & thought being an engineer did not necessarily match that & just did not feel like me

Since I was on a student Visa , I had to be enrolled full time. So I had to make very hasty arrangements to transfer to the business degree, but unfortunately they were not accepting any more intakes; it was too late to enrol. I was completely stuck, as I had to be enrolled in a course to legally be here in Australia under my student visa conditions.

I decided to enrol in an interim course (Information Systems) for a semester, as I waited until a business course was available. It was really painful, as I had to pay and attend a course that I did not want to do. My parents did not know I had done this; they only knew I wanted to change my course.

The following semester I was able to enrol in a Bachelor of Business majoring in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. My school fees were $26,000, which was fairly high in so I had to work different jobs to try to chip in towards my school fees. It would never be enough, because I also had to study and international students can only legally work up to 20 hours a week.

 During these years in university, I always felt that I’d rather be ‘out there’ practising entrepreneurship in the real world, rather than learning it from books and lectures. I somewhat resented being in university, but to legally be in Australia, I had to be enrolled and attending a higher education course full time.

In end of 2014 was very happy to graduate because really I was over it!. My parents and sister flew in to attend my graduation, and it was clear they were happier about it than me.

Two months after graduation I moved to Adelaide because it would be easier to apply for permanent residency in a regional city relative to other cities like Melbourne or Sydney, which are considered heading to overpopulation.

My goal was to be in Adelaide for six months at the most then go back to Melbourne but my plans changed and I extended my stay in Adelaide and got a job with a hospitality agency. With one of my workmates, we started a cleaning business that we did for about six months before figuring out it was not what we wanted to do.

I was always on the Internet fishing for opportunities and ideas and in mid 2018 I realised I could sell products online in the biggest marketplace in the world ( Being that my favourite activity is travelling, the idea of creating an online business was extremely attractive. I learned how to source products, communicate with suppliers, and do shipping. But first, I had to find a product. I had been getting into the environmentally conscious movement and thought of maybe selling eco friendly products, because it was and still is a growing trend.

I started selling Reusable food wraps (that are a substitute to cling wrap) that I sourced, got made and started selling it three months later. It sold fairly well but sales gradually fell off as a lot of competition joined the market with almost similar products. Six months later, I introduced reusable paper towels which have been doing the best to date. Currently I am working on shampoo and conditioner bars a that will hopefully launch in September 2020. I have been use majority of the funds I get from my job to invest in this ecommerce project. Again, this goes to show how events and plans continued to changed since coming as an internationals student.

My goal is to continue to grow this eco friendly brand amongst other viable products. It is very convenient to be able to do all this online and be location agnostic because I want to run it from anywhere. This is a big part to how I feel fulfilled among also volunteering that I do from time to time in a homeless centre. Since starting this online business I quickly noticed I needed people to reach out to and I have found it beneficial to be part of communities and build networks. The Welcoming Futures leadership program has been immense help in continually building my confidence and helping me be part of something important to the community.

It has been a very non-linear journey for me since coming to Australia, from the four years it was meant to take me, my degree changes, dealing with personal issues that arose, raising university fees, updating immigration status constantly, resenting being at university, moving interstate with the hope of going back, but settling in Adelaide. That is a long way from the words my mum said before I left: “Just those four years for your degree and then come back,OK? love you son.”