Bi-Coastal: Sonia Shah

By Seth Robinson

Sometimes the next step comes with a change of scenery. For those seeking a change in direction and career, Melbourne Business School (MBS) has a sense of gravity. It pulls international students from around the world, and Australian students from around the country. For Master of Management (Finance) student Sonia Shah, a change in her studies meant a move from Perth to Melbourne.

Sonia Shah’s family moved from Kenya to Perth when she was just two-years old, where she grew up. Perth was home through primary and high school, and it was the logical choice when she went on to her undergraduate studies in Environmental Science at the University of Western Australia (UWA).

“For me, it was like a natural progression. I didn’t take a gap year. I’d really enjoyed studying enviro-science in high school, so it kind of felt like a no-brainer for me to go on and do it in university,” she says. “When I finished that degree was when I took my gap year. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to work in enviro-science. I don’t regret studying enviro-science, I really enjoyed it, but I decided it wasn’t for me. It also coincided with the mining downturn in Western Australia. There weren’t a lot of jobs, and the big companies weren’t hiring enviro-science graduates.”

-Sonia Shah.

It was at this point that Sonia decided to do some soul-searching, to reflect on just what it was she wanted to do and where it was she saw herself in the future. “I spent some time in that year working for my Dad, and I found that I really enjoyed business, especially when it came down to the finance side. That was what swayed me towards post-graduate study as well, because I realised I couldn’t just jump into the workforce. So, when it came down to choosing where I should go, it was either stay in Perth, or go to Sydney or Melbourne. I’d always wanted to go to Melbourne, and the University of Melbourne has an incredible reputation, so here I am.”

But moving across the country has come with its own challenges. Sonia left her family, friends, and partner at home in Perth. The move meant taking on a whole new city, and all the challenges that come with that, along with a new discipline, that she had no cognate background in.

“I had a huge learning curve in the first semester, but at the same time it was incredibly exciting. I had the novelty of being on my own for the first time, eating what I wanted, cooking what I wanted, figuring out what I liked doing on my own and finding that rhythm. In the second semester things got a bit more challenging when that novelty wore off but I’ve made friends here, and my family does come to visit.”

With all that in mind, Sonia recommends moving to Melbourne to anyone who is willing to face up to the challenge and push themselves. It’s an opportunity to grow, that you would never find at home.

“It’s so rewarding! You get so much from anything that pushes you outside your comfort zone. That was actually one of my main motivations from the beginning, I knew I would grow a lot. When I finished high school I was 17, so I didn’t feel ready to leave Perth, and I don’t think my family was quite ready to let me go either. This was my chance to go out on my own and mature. It’s opened so many opportunities for me!”

Among these opportunities was the Global Business Practicum, a unit that saw Sonia travel to Kuala Lumpur.

“It’s purely practical, and it gives you those soft skills you learn through experience, things like communicating with members of a team and your clients, managing expectations, and delivering a project you might not have had experience in before. The presentation component in particular is incredible, you’re there, presenting to high ranking people in the company for forty minutes. It’s a real skill.”

This experience, both in Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur has built Sonia’s confidence. Now, she’s ready to take all the skills she’s honed here in Melbourne and go even further afield.

“I’ve always wanted to try moving to the UK, maybe not permanently, but for a couple of years. I’ve been several times, and I love it. Moving there would give me the chance to work, and travel. I have family there as well, and in Kenya, so I have second homes around the world!”