Volunteering breaks down barriers

International beyond borders - international students in our community

Joanna Shaw, La Trobe’s Coordinator of International Student Services, has created a program to bring international students into local communities through volunteering. The program has now won an inaugural Victorian International Education award for Student Experience and Innovation and is transforming students’ experiences of Australia.

Bridging the divide

Jo Shaw says that as Australians, we can often misjudge international students. ‘We often accuse them of sticking to friends who speak the same language when the reality is actually that they're quite vulnerable and isolated,’ she explains.

It was this isolation that motivated Jo to create a program to connect La Trobe’s international students with volunteering opportunities in their local neighbourhoods. These opportunities include the Sunday Lunch Club, where our students serve lunch to isolated elderly people, and the Preston Mosque IT Literacy Project, which gives them the chance to teach new migrants everything from basic IT skills to setting up a Facebook profile.

Changing community attitudes

These programs are doing more than bringing international students into closer contact with their local communities. They’re also challenging ingrained perceptions of who these students are.

‘For the international students who get involved, it actually changes their experience of Australia,’ says Jo. ‘For the communities that they engage with, the students ceased to be people that were in the shared house in the street or taking up the seats on public transport – they actually started to understand their stories and learn who they were and why they were here in the local neighbourhood, and they were so overwhelmed that these students wanted to give up their time to help them out.’

About Joanna Shaw

Joanna has had a career spanning international relations and development, the not for profit sector, human rights, women’s rights, community engagement, State and local Government, and most recently the higher education sector.  She has been a policy adviser, speech writer, project manager, human rights campaigner, and worked for the United Nations for eight and a half years, and has lived and worked in more than 9 countries in Asia.

She is a strong advocate of getting out of life what you put in through volunteering and community engagement including two years volunteering in a remote Himalayan village in India with the Dalai Lama’s exiled government, managing the volunteer program of Australian Volunteers International for Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and managing the United Nations Volunteer program in the Lao PDR.  Currently Joanna is Coordinator of International Student Services at La Trobe University.