AUSTRALIA’S international student peak body CISA hopes its latest project will help raise the profile of the nation’s international student community and the role they play in Australian society. Diane Leow reports.
The Council of International Students Australia (CISA) has launched the ‘I’m not Australian, but I have an Australian story’ project at the CISA National Education Conference, which seeks to raise the profile of international students and the role they play in Australian society.
Project manager Paula Dunstan told Meld Magazine the project was conceived in May 2012. Some 65 international students participated in a nationwide competition last year, detailing their experiences in Australia through a 300-word written essay.
“It was in the reading of the text that I realised we had some treasure – people who were talking very very honestly about the experience that they had,” Ms Dunstan said.
“Overwhelmingly, they were talking about their personal growth, they were talking about the challenges that they faced: people who missed their children, wives, families, parents, getting jobs, being exploited in their workplaces, finding it difficult to get accommodation.
“The upside was volunteering – deciding that because somebody had helped them, they went to help somebody else. There was this thread that went through these stories that they would give back,” she said.
The competition was judged by a peer panel, and a winner chosen from each state. The winners were invited to attend the three-day CISA National Education Conference which ended yesterday in Sydney.
Singaporean student Lily Erianty Mohamed Salleh, the winner from South Australia, shared the story of her difficulties in finding accommodation and of surviving on a very tight budget. When she first arrived in Adelaide, she was notified by her accommodation provider that her room had been offered to another student. With limited resources and desperate for help, she stayed at a backpacker’s hostel before securing accommodation on campus.
“More than 50 per cent (of people who stay on campus) are international students – I got to make a lot of friends,” she said.
She added that she got the opportunity to volunteer with the South Australia State Emergency Service (SES), something she would not be able to do in her home country.
Through her story, she hopes international students who experience similar struggles will not give up.
“I can tell them that whatever happens in life in Australia, you don’t have to give up at one point. You have to keep on going, and keep on striving. I know the life where you don’t have food – I spent $20 a month only. It’s hard to survive in Australia – it doesn’t mean you have to give up. You just have to keep telling yourself you have to move on and achieve what you wanted when you came here,” she said.
The Queensland winner was Rahul Sineh Rathore, a Masters of Information Management Systems student at the Queensland University of Technology.
Since arriving in Australia, he has been exploited by several employers while searching for a part-time job to supplement his living expenses.
I got exploited literally by so many people, (in) so many places. It was almost everywhere I went. The most unfortunate thing was that the people (who exploited me) were from my country. That really hurt me.
“I got exploited literally by so many people, (in) so many places. It was almost everywhere I went. The most unfortunate thing was that the people (who exploited me) were from my country. That really hurt me. I’m still trying to find the right fit so I can figure out my expenditure and stuff,” he said.
In his spare time, Rahul volunteers with The Smith Family, a national children’s charity.
Other winners at the conference include Ishaku Lemu Haruna from Nigeria, a Masters of Biotechnology and Global Leadership student at the Swinburne University of Technology, as well as Sharon Hairong Shan from China, a PhD student at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia.
In 2012, there were 402,388 international students from 190 countries on a student visa in Australia, contributing more than $15 billion to the Australian economy in that year.
Ms Dunstan hopes the project can help everyday Australians understand the struggles international students face while studying and living in this country.
I hope the Australian community at large… employers who are putting students on as cleaners or as wait staff – understand who they are dealing with… They are elite in a way – not necessarily financially, but they are an elite in terms of education and intellect and aspirations.
“I hope the Australian community at large – people on the street, on the bus, in the workplaces, employers who are putting students on as cleaners or as wait staff – understand who they are dealing with. They are people of very high calibre. They are educated people. They are elite in a way – not necessarily financially, but they are an elite in terms of education and intellect and aspirations,” she said.
“I would like the Australian community to sit up and look and say, ‘Wow, look at the people we have amongst us. Look at this community of scholars,'” she said.
Dunstan said she hopes the project can be continued, providing students with a platform to upload their own videos and tell their own ‘Australian stories’.
You can find out more about ‘I’m not Australian, but I have an Australian story’ project on the project’s website. Winning stories will be released in the near future on the website and via CISA’s Facebook page.