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Aus: student spent $70,000 making friends

An international student who spent a small fortune trying to fit in while studying in Australia has used the experience to create a motivational video series detailing his mistakes and encouraging other students to make friends and “be themselves”.

Sikander spent $30,000 in his first semester. Photo: Ehtesham SikanderSikander spent $30,000 in his first semester. Photo: Ehtesham Sikander

“You don’t need to spend so much money like I did to fit in”

Creator and marketing graduate Ehtesham Sikander said he was motivated to shoot How Spending $70,000 Changed My Life after his attempts to make friends while at the University of Wollongong left him financially stressed and isolated.

“My idea of how to impress people was completely wrong, it’s not with money, it’s through being yourself,” he said.

Sikander said while some of the money went to tuition and accommodation fees, he spent a significant amount on entertainment and activities trying to fit in with new friends partly because of his own cultural background in which displays of wealth are common.

The total bill for his first semester alone came to $30,000, he added.

While his efforts initially helped him connect with other students, he told The PIE News by his second semester, most of the friends he made started to ignore him.

“Initially, in the beginning, I tried to fit in with all that stuff; and I did make some friends, but when I finally started doing the things I love like football and making videos, those friends stopped hanging out with me,” he said.

Finding himself alone and at times bullied despite the massive expenditure, he said he was emotionally drained.

“Clearly, the root of the problem was something deeper. It was more my insecurities of finding that belonging and it didn’t work out,” he said.

Interested in video creation, Sikander then started offering a free carpool service, which he recorded and uploaded online, which helped him make friends.

In the lead up to his video, Sikander said he interviewed several international students who had similar misconceptions about how to make meaningful connections.

“[International students] make assumptions that if they would approach an Australian, they wouldn’t want to hang out just because they have a different culture… I think [that] is completely wrong,” he said.

“You don’t need to spend so much money like I did to fit in.”

Now living in Darwin, Sikander said he would continue to make online videos exploring cultural differences and self-help.

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