Griffith Collective: Jingjing Lu & Ben Jagmann
Names: Ben & Jingjing
What did you do at Griffith?
Jingjing: I did my bachelor degree in digital media first, half in China and the other two years here, after graduating I did a little traveling and then I started a Master of Digital Media in Southbank, but then I really missed the Gold Coast so I didn’t finish Digital Media I came back and did full time Teaching instead. I graduated a year ago, and I had a job before the graduation ceremony.
Ben: It was crazy, so lucky!
Jingjing: I did my internship at a school and they just asked me to stay during my internship.
Ben: I came here in June 2011 and started with a Master of Engineering, it was a one-year course, I finished that in August 2012.
Why did you choose to come to university?
Ben: For me it was to improve my English skills, in Germany back then they had just switched from the Diploma system to the Bachelor/Master program, I was one of the first Bachelor students everyone said, “if you don’t have a Master you wont get a good job” so everyone who did a Bachelor degree did a Master degree, it’s a bit different to in Australia. I thought if I’m going to do a Masters for one year I might as well do it overseas, so I had a look at the United States, UK and Australia, UK was gone very quickly because the weather… and back then I think the US and UK were more expensive, as soon as I started studying of course the Aussie dollar was going nuts! And my bank account was going oh my god!
Jingjing: Mine is pretty easy, because my school in China, Shandong College of Art has a relationship with Griffith it has two parts of the degree, so I didn’t have any choice coming here, but before I came I looked at the Gold Coast and how beautiful it was, that’s why I chose Gold Coast and Griffith.
What’s your story? Where did you come from and how did you get to where you are now?
Ben: The first time we met was at I-Connect it was a program through Griffith Mates it was really cool. She was in South Bank at the time studying Digital Media but she was also doing her GI Mates program and I think they were short on students on the Gold Coast so students from South Bank and Brisbane came down to the Gold Coast I Connect.
Jingjing: That was one of them.
Ben: Yes that was the first time we met. And then the following day, we had another job.
Jingjing: Oh yea this guy kept following me around, asking me lots of questions, saying he was lost and asking how to get around.
Ben: You didn’t know what was going on, or who is this guy!
Jingjing: And then we hung out on a Sunday remember nothing was open! And then he came to Brisbane, I showed him around Brisbane.
Ben: And next time we met, I invited her to the Gold Coast we went for a walk.
Jingjing: We walked from Main Beach all the way to the spit!
B: When you are trying to win a girl over, a long walk is necessary, that was our first date.
And now you are married!
Ben: It was a challenge in the first place, because she was in Brisbane, we met from time to time in Brisbane when we had time, I was living in very small accommodation, I shared with 7 people! So I came to Brisbane a lot, and then at one point we just decided to move in together.
Jingjing: I just realised that he is the kind of person who fits me really well, I felt so comfortable to be next to him and I am true to myself, I was very sure at the beginning that he was the one I was waiting for, I just forgot about everything and went with it, I had a look at what Griffith Gold Coast courses were offering and thought ‘how about Teaching!’
Ben: I was a bit worried at first, because she decided so quickly, I wasn’t sure if she would like Teaching instead of Digital Media, but it worked out perfectly, she loves working with kids. We moved in together in November 2011, only four months after being together.
Jingjing: We always felt like best friends. It just felt right. For some couples it is not a good choice, but for us it just felt right and it was important to have that step before moving forwards, especially so I could know if he was the one I could be with 24 hours and not get too annoyed.
And you had your wedding last week?
Jingjing: Yes, here we felt it was for our friends, but we will have the real ceremony in China next month with all the family from Germany as well! I think our family and cultures come together really well.
Ben: Her parents were one of the first in her hometown to speak English, learn English and teach English, and they are very open minded, some traditional Chinese families simply don’t allow any foreigners to be married into their families.
Jingjing: It was not their ideal choice in the beginning, but they have no choice, and he is so adorable so once they met him they laughed very happily.
Ben: It’s understandable I think, because their only daughter is across in another part of the world.
You have a day off to do anything you like, take me through your ideal day, from morning through to night?
Jingjing: Talk about your day off, you had the other day!
Ben: Last Friday was a public holiday for the G20, so I tried to do nothing, nothing at all! I dropped her at school at 8 o’clock, and then booked in for the cinema, I just thought today is the day I am going to do nothing at all. I went into the cinema at 10’o’clock and left there at 1’o’clock. Normally I do a lot of work, not only for full time work but also for volunteering, there is a professional association in my career called the Project Management Institute and I do a lot of work for them, so it was really good to have a day of doing nothing, I haven’t really had a day off since November last year.
Jingjing: For me I think the best day would be decorating our new home.
Ben: And we really love the outdoors as well, going to the beach and the sea.
Jingjing: We had our wedding on the beach at Coolangatta, it was such a beautiful day, and the weather everything was so beautiful.
What’s a good piece of advice you have been given and who gave it to you?
Jingjing: I have had lots of good advice! I’ve been very lucky, I did my Primary Teaching degree, but I never thought I could be a language teacher, because Mandarin is my native language but my best friend, she advised me to be to a Mandarin teacher and it worked out because the school was searching for a Mandarin teacher. I think that’s the best advice, it was really useful.
Ben: I think that is similar to my advice, something I have learnt is that the network is just so important for getting a job, for her it worked out through a friend, for me it worked out through volunteering, pretty much when I started studying here I started volunteering with the Project Management Institute and it’s a lot of work without pay in your free time.
Jingjing: And he’s still doing that!
Ben: Yea I am still doing it because it maintains your network, I started in February 2012, and in October 2013, I received an email from the president of Project Management Institute QLD, who I had met from time to time but didn’t really have a connection with at that time he wrote me an email asking whether I would be available to shadow him for a couple of days, I had a look at what he was doing at work, and in November he said it’s working really well and took me on as a casual for a couple of months, and we worked on that basis until May, and then they opened up a permanent position. It’s just crazy how it works, there was no interview, no CV, just the network. Network is so important, especially for us as international students, because we struggled a lot. And our visa blocked us from working.
Jingjing: But we have been so lucky.
Ben: Yes we got really lucky; when I came here and started studying there was no chance I could stay in the country after study. So I was thinking okay what to do, because I have to go, how will our relationship work? Then the government announced the changes that they have the skill select visa, and they had mechanical engineering on the list, so we were able to apply for it, we applied in February and had the email 48hours later inviting us to submit our application, and we had permanent residency in May! That was the stepping stone for her to get a job with Somerset, because with her application she couldn’t get permanent residency because there was no primary teaching on the list, but with mechanical engineering. It was just super lucky, now I think they have taken mechanical engineering off the list, it was so weird so super lucky!
Jingjing: Back then we were not too sure about anything, we just kept going ahead, I never felt scared of anything, I just kept thinking everything will work out.
Tell me something you have learnt this week, or this year and how it has changed your outlook on life?
Jingjing: I haven’t been home for more than two years, and this June I went home for two weeks. Before this I had thought ‘we are looking to stay here forever and my family can come and live here also’, but during my visit in China I realised how important the connection with the family is, and how they are bound to their hometown, and that maybe it’s not a good thing to simply take them to where I like to be, I haven’t lived at home for 10 years, my parents are getting older and in the past 2 years I haven’t been home much, it’s something I miss, and it’s not something we want our children to miss out on, the connection to family.
We are still working on it, but not just simply asking them to come here, they have their own life. I feel very positive, because before that I felt selfish to think that way, but now I realise I have missed such a big part of their life, I am their only child, but on the other hand they are very happy for me, of course they would like me to stay with them, but they love me and respect me to make my own choices. I want our children to be connected to their grandparents in China and Germany as well.
Ben: The biggest change for me was that we got married last week…
Jingjing: I feel nothing has been changed!
Ben: It’s such a huge change, even though our relationship has been perfect for the last three years, when someone puts a ring on your finger you just suddenly realise, oh my god all these responsibilities, they’re final now! And if you don’t have your family there you start to think about how important your family is, because they were the ones who supported to get you there in the first place, so from my point of view the longer I’m separated from my family the more important they become, family is priority 1, 2 and 3. And then everything else comes afterwards.
Jingjing: At this stage we are working hard to create more freedom.
Ben: We are spending a lot of time with our jobs at the moment, but if you lose your job, you can always find another job, family is once a lifetime.
What is your biggest challenge right now?
Jingjing: Our biggest challenge is that we need time and money for holidays to see our family.
Ben: You can always manage your job and everything but it’s just hard to get family over, and even when my mum retires next year, it still costs us a couple of thousand to get them over, it’s a 30 hour flight from Germany. People don’t get younger, and that doesn’t make it easier. The biggest challenge is still to connect with family. This year we had my brothers and sisters come over, so you still connect but that was for 2 weeks, then they are gone, and you just have Skype.
Jingjing: It’s so hard when they are gone! I loved having them here so much.
Ben: We are living in a one bedroom apartment and because they were here for only two weeks we didn’t want them to stay anywhere else, so we said ‘you just live with us’ we built two beds from Ikea, we had a big air mattress, and her friend came over to visit from China at the same time, so in the living room we had; 1, 2, 3, 4 people and in the bedroom we had 2 people. So six people in a one-bedroom apartment, it was a challenge but it worked perfectly!
Jingjing: And it still stayed cleaner than it is now!
And almost the opposite of that what is your happiest memory?
Jingjing: Our wedding day. I am usually a very emotional person and I cry a lot, and on our wedding day it was too beautiful, I didn’t cry I couldn’t stop laughing, I even cried yesterday at a friends wedding but I didn’t cry on my own wedding, I was just too happy and couldn’t stop laughing! The beautiful flowers, everything!
Ben: I think reconnecting with friends and family that’s the happiest moment, there are moments at work when you feel fulfilled and a sense of achievement but its not happiness I would say, happiness is something different. The wedding last week was really happy! We even had friends drive all the way from Albury Wodonga.
If you had to summarise your life philosophy in a few sentences, what would they be?
Ben: For me it is that you can achieve anything you dream of, as long as you stay persistent, stay dedicated, motivated whatever your mind can create you can achieve in life as long as you work hard for it.
Jingjing: I never plan, just stay positive, chill, be laid back and watch everything happen. I think just stay optimistic.
Ben: That’s very important, staying optimistic so small changes, or big changes don’t impact negatively on your life, always thinking if it’s bad now it can always get better. We had some really hard times, a few weeks looking at our bank account saying ‘okay next week where is the money coming from? How do we get our food next week?”
Jingjing: That was a hard time I have already forgotten about, not nice memories, but I just forget about it now, everything has come together.
And lastly what characteristics make you a part of the Griffith Collective?
Ben: that’s a good question, because I think its hard to stay connected with your university after you finish, I definitely think diversity I am still connected to a lot of international students here as friends, some people went back to their home countries, Norway, Germany, Venezuela, Colombia all these countries, and that’s really the beauty of these Master programs, so many international students come and do them, for me that is the connecting factor with Griffith, still being friends with so many people from overseas, in Germany there is some exchange students but not at all the diversity that is here.
Jingjing: I think everybody is open minded so I just feel very lucky to be in that environment I know I can count on someone at Griffith to help me, to help international students.
Interview by Mindy Davies | Instagram @mindyrose