Experiencing Australian culture (Issue 10, 2013)

International-students-mixing-with-staffWhat do you get when you match a group of Australians with international students?

A day spent in the Australian bush, lasagne cooking, dissolving loneliness and resolving Asian politics.

Those were just some of the outcomes from the inaugural Staff Share Your Sunday with an International Student organised by the International Student Services team in La Trobe International.

Microbiology technical officer Derek Flood was one of 17 University staff and academics who volunteered in the Melbourne Campus pilot project on 20 October.

He took three international students – Vijay Pilli, Ameet Kumar and Hannah Zhang – on a day out to Healesville Sanctuary and later, to a pub for dinner.

Derek – who has worked at La Trobe since 1998 – says several factors influenced his decision to take part, including reassuring students that they had ‘come to a wonderful place to further their education’.

‘I am curious about people who have originated from different cultures,’ he says.

‘Discussing life stories was an eye-opening experience that reminded me of the commonality of humans.’

Derek facilitated a discussion between the students who were each from a different part of Asia: Vijay from India, Ameet from Pakistan, and Hannah from China.

Vijay, a postgraduate student, says he learned to bridge some cultural differences.

‘Since I come from India, we have preconceived notions about Pakistan and it’s always taken negatively. The conversation shed light on some of the misconceptions and helped me to take this topic more rationally,’ he says.

Hannah, who is studying a Master of Educational Leadership and Management, says she had longed to have some opportunities to mix with Australians.

‘My lesson from this program is the relaxed lifestyle in Australia, it is quite different from my previous life in China,’ she says.

Kenyan postgraduate health sciences student Ednah Awiti was another of the 20 students who participated in the Sunday program.

She says she spent a ‘wonderful and very helpful’ day visiting the Yarra Valley with finance staffer Michelle Marcantino and her partner.

‘I have never felt this loved and appreciated by an Australian ever since I arrived in this country,’ Ednah says.

‘I just wish it had happened much earlier during my first month in Australia when I had nobody to lean on.’

Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar, who launched the program earlier this month, says the day was designed to ensure more students were accepted and warmly welcomed into the University community.

Liz Stinson, Executive Director, International, says the initial enthusiasm of staff and students for the pilot program was very exciting, and the photos and tales of their experiences very rewarding.

Once the outcomes of the pilot are reviewed, decisions will be made about expanding the program in 2014, she added.