Every year, more than 175,000 international students arrive in Victoria to study. They come with ambition and for many, this will be their first time away from home. They are young and hungry for adventure but before their new lives abroad begin, these new students are given a warm reception upon their arrival at Melbourne Airport.
The Student Welcome Desk, a City of Melbourne initiative that operates daily between 7.00am and midnight, attempts to support newly arrived international students by providing them information and advice. Upon the forthcoming students’ arrival, they are greeted by the friendly Student Welcome Desk team, comprised of current and former students.
Kent Sun is one of the friendly faces that newly arrived international students are greeted by. He has been with the Student Welcome Desk since the very beginning, initially starting out as a volunteer in 2009, and he too was once just like these excited students.
Hailing from northern China, Kent studied information technology at RMIT University and graduated in 2010. Currently, he is an IT consultant for various companies, but still finds time to continue working at the Student Welcome Desk.
“I hand student welcome bags to the [newly arrived] international students, help them find their booked university transport providers and provide them with a range of information like transport, weather, university location [and the like],” he said.
In addition to these duties, Kent also assists students in activating their Vodafone SIM cards (included inside each welcome bag), provides accommodation information, assist students with queries about navigating tax and banking in Australia and much more. Kent, and other staff members operating the desk, also offer assistance to incoming students in languages other than English.
The compulsory training Kent and the Student Welcome Desk’s staff and volunteers receive beforehand help them to better anticipate and answer students’ questions, thus ensuring that new international students have an easier time in Melbourne. But challenges can still arise, as Kent recalls one incident where he went above and beyond what was expected of him.
“I remember there was a student who arrived just [as] our late night shift [was finishing]. Her flight got delayed during the transfer, so she arrived about five hours late,” Kent recalled.
The student had missed her arranged university transport and was unsure and anxious about access to her accommodation. But Kent managed to find a solution.
“We managed to help her to the point that the university sent a driver to pick her up around 1.00am,” he said.
And that, in essence is what the Student Welcome Desk is all about. Coming to study in a new country alone can feel overwhelming but Kent and his team at the desk are more than happy to assist new students by relieving them of any forthcoming stress that might appear upon their arrival.
Kent’s work with the Student Welcome Desk continues to be “a very rewarding experience”, one that he feels is important in the landscape of international education.
“We [want to make Melbourne feel like] a warm place like home [and a place where students] will recommend more friends to come to study,” he said.
First impressions matter after all and for Kent, the Student Welcome Desk is more than just a place for work — it’s where the first steps to a positive international student study experience in Melbourne begins.