IN the first of our ‘A day in the life of…’ series, we profile GLoBALL’s multicultural coordinator Salim Mahazi. He gives us some insight into AFL and how it can help bridge the gap between international and local students. Giulia Poloni tells us more.
International students who call Melbourne home for a season would probably approach “footy” – or Aussie Rules Football – with some curiosity or uncertainty. Some frequently asked questions will probably include: What is it all about? How is it different to soccer or American football?
Footy involves 18 players per team running through an oval field, passing an oval ball to each other while trying to kick it between the goal posts; six points if the ball passes in the middle, only one if it goes through the side.
But it is not just about scoring, as GLoBALL’s multicultural coordinator Salim Mahazi explains.
“You can’t understand Australians if you don’t understand how much they love Footy. It’s huge in our culture, it’s part of us, it’s part of who we are,” he told Meld.
Immerse yourself into the culture.” – Salim Mahazi
GLoBALL is a joint initiative of Essendon Football Club and Cricket Victoria that aims to introduce international students to the Australian culture through sports.
Salim runs four different programs throughout the year and spends most of his time in schools, teaching young children how to play football and organising sports tournaments.
“I was originally a soccer player. I’d never played a game of football in my life” he said.
Due to a few injuries, Salim was not able to pursue his soccer career at a professional level and he decided to apply for a job as multicultural development officer.
“It was everything that I wanted in terms of helping kids with sports and breaking down disadvantage barriers. The job just seemed perfect to me”, he said.
International students can get caught up in their studies at times and they forget about exploring and enjoying the world surrounding them. Sport is one great way to get to know new people, get some exercise, and learn about teamwork while assimilating into a new culture.
Salim knows that feeling very well as he spent a year studying in the United States of America.
“When I was over there I wanted to try everything. I wanted to eat the food that the locals did, I wanted to go the bars that the locals did, I wanted to watch the local football or the local basketball. Whatever the locals were doing, that’s what I wanted to do” he added.
His advice to the international students community is simple: “Immerse yourself into the culture”.
Good grades are important, of course, but they are not everything. Studying abroad gives students the opportunity to understand the Australian way of life, do some sightseeing, and of course – the chance to catch at least one AFL game!
GLoBALL makes it really easy. International students have access to free tickets to the game but that’s not all – there are also opportunities to connect with Footy fans, learning about the sport straight from those who love it the most.
AFL Community Ambassador Gary Lee says the GLoBALL program is fantastic because engaging international students with Footy is not just about watching the games.
“It’s through active participation in the Footy culture – be it playing the game, learning the rules or sharing stories and conversations with locals who are passionate about the sport,” he said.
Students can take part in activities before a footy game, such as preparing the banner which the players will run at the beginning of the game, and also have a go at kicking the oval ball with Essendon Football Club members. Fans of Essendon FC and police officers also join in the fun.
Sergeant Stuart White is new to the GLoBALL programme, but thinks it is a great way to connect with the international student community. He also was more than happy to teach international students some Footy tricks!
Of course, one of the best things about understanding Footy is the conversations that it will undoubtedly open up.
Now, whenever a local classmate or colleague asks, “Which footy team do you go for?” or “Did you catch the footy this weekend?”, you’ll be able to answer with confidence. Maybe you’ll get a few jibes for going for the “wrong team”, but at least you’ve learned something new, and immersed yourself into a huge part of the Australian social fabric.
The story was supported by the City of Melbourne’s Community Services Grant 2014, and is part of the ‘Day in the life of…’ project featuring a cross-section of the diverse local Melbourne community – the extraordinary and ordinary people in the city, their lives and their jobs, and opportunities to connect.