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Alumni in the Spotlight: Coming to Griffith from Malaysia inspired me to start a business!

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Griffith alumna Hong Ling: “Establishing trust is a real game changer for building a reputation that will stand the test of time.”

As founder of Go! 21 Education, Hong Ling is passionate about ensuring international students get the best out of their study abroad experience in Ireland.

Identifying A Gap In The Market

Originally from Malaysia, Hong Ling experienced first-hand the thrills and challenges of moving across the world when she moved to Ireland to do a business studies degree at Griffith College.

Go! 21 evolved from Hong Ling’s reflection on her own study abroad experience, her active participation in Griffith College’s international student community, and blogging for Education in Ireland. She instinctively felt drawn to supporting new arrivals and sharing her insider’s knowledge for adjusting to student life.

After graduating, Hong Ling decided to make Ireland her home and despite having a full-time job in marketing she continued to advise new student arrivals from Malaysia. It was only a matter of time before Hong Ling decided to take the leap into self-employment and Go! 21 was established in 2016:

“I saw a gap in the market. When students arrive they have a fellow Asian who can share with them what it’s like to live in Ireland and give some local, practical knowledge. I provide that consistent support throughout the whole process, from shortlisting the courses and institutions that are the right fit for that individual and guiding them through the application process, to meeting them at the airport, giving them a tour of Dublin, and settling them into student life.”

Hong Ling’s Business Vision

With 99% of study abroad higher education agents basing themselves in Asia, Hong Ling took a risk basing herself in Ireland:

“I wasn’t sure it would be sustainable. In the first year three students came, by the next year it was over 23! It grew extremely quickly and the realization that the risk paid off was a landmark moment for me. It was also self-validating to know that students put their trust in my work and the company I created.”

The Heart Of The Business

At the heart of Go! 21 is the online student community forum where Hong Ling has brought together past, current and future students:

“It’s a fantastic support network. Members share job and housing updates, advice and tips, and offers of support to anyone who needs it. It’s great to see that it’s flourishing on its own without my input now. It’s a proud moment for me.”

Hong Ling recognises that access to this community and its peer-to-peer support network are an essential part of what she can offer her clients.

Challenges

Hong Ling explains that managing relationships with students, their parents and higher education institutions is a big part of her job. Also, trying to prepare for every eventuality is not always possible:

“There will always be hiccups that you don’t see coming! Clients are individuals and their needs can change. For example, for over six months I was working with a student on applying for a biomedical sciences degree course. Suddenly he had a change of heart and decided he wanted to study business instead. I had to adapt, re-assess his options, move quickly to make new applications and find ways to ensure he had the best study choices available to him.”

Hong Ling’s Skills

When asked what she needs to be effective in her role Hong Ling replied:

“Empathy is essential. It’s so important to recognise that every student is different. I have to step into their shoes and quickly understand their needs.”

Effective communication is also key:

“There’s a huge amount of information about courses and universities to digest. This can be overwhelming for overseas students and their families. Many Malaysian or Taiwanese parents will not have had the opportunity to go to college themselves, so are not familiar with terminology such as ‘honours degree’ or ‘work-based learning’. I help simplify this process using both my Chinese and English language skills to answer any queries they have.”

In addition to upskilling with a Master’s in Digital Marketing, Hong Ling recalls the practical client projects she worked on whilst at Griffith College. Having the opportunity to produce market reports and pitch to real clients increased her confidence:

“They are memorable times that I still recall today. I’m still connected with these clients on LinkedIn and although learning business theory is important, the practical industry experience and connections are invaluable.”

Hong Ling’s Philanthropic Efforts

Hong Ling is also an active volunteer with educational organiations in Asia. For every student who chooses to study abroad with Go! 21, Hong Ling makes a contribution to Go! 4 Good Foundation, a charity that supports local initiatives with improving children’s access to education. Past beneficiaries include ABCs and Rice in Cambodia and Love Without Borders, the latter being a humanitarian initiative in Myanmar, where Hong Ling helped to finance the installation of solar energy panels in schools.

The Future

Hong Ling wants to continue growing her education consultancy business:

“It’s still a very young business and there’s so much potential to expand and find new ways to meet the needs of our clients. Ultimately I am a digital marketer though. I established this business using a lot of digital marketing tools so I know whatever happens, I will be working in this sector in the future as it’s what I love.”

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