The Specialist

  • Conal GallagherConal Gallagher

There are some areas and industries that Australia and New Zealand lead the world in and, if you want to work in one of these, there simply isn’t a better place to do your training. One great example is hospitality and tourism. The root of each country’s reputation in these fields lies in the quality of its training, so doing a course in an area like this in Australia or New Zealand will give you the opportunity to absorb and benefit from the skills and knowledge behind the reputation.

Student case study: Conal Gallagher

Conal, 18, is from County Armagh in Northern Ireland. He completed a Certificate III in Hospitality and Commercial Cookery at Kingscliff North Coast Institute of TAFE in December 2010 – and was awarded Australia’s International Student of the Year along the way.

“I didn’t fly to Australia, I got a cruise ship to Singapore instead, then flew down to Brisbane. I just knew I had the January to myself, but once I started studying it’d be really full-on and I wouldn’t have a chance to do much so I wanted to make the most of my time.

“When we drove into Kingscliff it felt literally like driving on to the set of Home And Away – it was just a beach and a few shops! It was a bit of a shock from having been on the cruise ship and seen all these huge cities in India and places like Singapore, and from being in so many super-busy places to suddenly being somewhere so relaxed.

“One of the first things I noticed though was that everyone was so friendly and helpful; they couldn’t do enough for you.

“We moved into our apartment right away. It was lovely; it had a pool, was right beside the beach and I could walk to college, though I always got the bus at first because I didn’t know the place at all. But it was so easy; much easier than it is to get to college back here in Northern Ireland!

“I’ve just started studying my Certificate III in professional patisserie at a college in Belfast. There’s some massive differences between studying here and in Australia. One big thing I’ve noticed is that here people just don’t seem to enjoy someone doing well as much as the Australians seem to. Australians are always so pleased for you if you’re doing well.

“The two qualifications are taught completely differently as well. Here, the teacher says to do things one way, and I just do them my way instead, and it seems to come out better. I found that in Australia things were taught much more simply, so they were easier to understand – you don’t need to go through all these complicated steps to get to the same thing in the end!

“There’s also a big difference in standards. Everything that I’m learning at the minute is supposed to be advanced, but I did it all in my first semester at Kingscliff. Everyone on my course has to have their Certificate II and III in hospitality and commercial cookery – you have to have those qualifications before you can start this course – but everyone’s learning the stuff I’ve already done. Makes me wonder what on earth they’ve been doing for the past three years! I feel as though I’m at a much more advanced stage, having just studied for a year in Australia. I’ve learnt twice as much in a year there as I think I would have done in three years here at home.

“The kitchens here in Belfast are just recently done up, they’ve had millions spent on them, but I’d still prefer the kitchens in Kingscliff. They weren’t as high-tech, but they’re just what you need. A lot of the stuff here we’ve never used – it’s still in its packaging, it’s just to make it look good. Everything in Australia we needed and used – it was all very hands on, we were learning how to use the equipment, how to work on all the machinery, how to use all the different instruments around the kitchens.

“Teachers in Australia are very relaxed, they’re part of your class. They’re talking about going surfing, what they did at the weekend, they work on your level. They’re not thinking that they’re better than you just because you haven’t qualified yet. It’s as though they remember that they had to do all this stuff too, and so they’re going to teach you as best they can.

“I made lots of friends over there who I’m still in touch with. I’m planning to go to Australia in July for a holiday, to catch up and see everyone again. You just couldn’t have met nicer people anywhere.

“I got back to Northern Ireland in December 2010 and first got a job as pastry chef at a hotel in Belfast. The head pastry chef took me on for four months but I had to give it up because the commute was a nightmare from my house. They were really good about it and said if I ever wanted to go back I’d be very welcome. So then I got a job in an Australian bistro in Armagh, nearer to where I live. I thought, it’s an Australian restaurant – I’ll know the kind of food they’d be doing! So I’m still there at the minute – I like it. There was a food festival in Belfast recently and I was able to do that by myself, everyone else was busy in the restaurant. I was really pleased that my boss trusted me to do it on my own, even though I’m only 18.

“Talking to the other chefs that I work with now, I think that my certificate III in Australia covered much more than what the same qualification would have done here. During my course we did butchery, worked with shellfish – it seemed that because the food was coming from Australia, it wasn’t as expensive, so the teachers were able to get us what I would think of as really expensive foods just to practice on – things like king prawns, fresh out of the ocean, whereas you just wouldn’t get those here because they’re too expensive for the schools to carry.

“Also, because of where Australia is, you learn lots of techniques and ideas from Asia and the Pacific, not just about British and French food as I think you would do here. It feels as though you’re getting ideas and learning from the whole world, not just one narrow little bit of it.

“I am definitely planning to go back; the idea is to do my diploma in Australia. I could do the same course here for free, but I think the course will be so much better out there that I’m happy to pay for it. And I know that I’ll enjoy it a lot more. That year’s course I did in Australia was really, really worth it. You don’t realise how good the experience was until you’ve finished it!”

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