This study explores the emotional and social factors contributing to International students' success in an Australian research university. We were particularly interested in the students' sense of agency - what enables them to act with confidence as learners. We used memory-work to focus on the social interactions and emotions involved in building successful self-identities as students, both at home and abroad. Seven international postgraduate research students participated in the study and raised issues that have affected their confidence and success, both at home and abroad. Some of these have received little attention in the literature or in their induction programs. The issues include the high personal cost of competition; the weight of responsibility towards family, colleagues and workplaces at home; the need to maintain a successful self-image despite their self-doubt and lack of confidence; and the need for early academic validation in a foreign research culture. What the students had believed were individual and private issues, held in silence, came to be recognised by the group as common experiences. As a result of their participation in study, the students are already changing private and public awareness of some of the socialisation that can inhibit their success.