2 September 2009

Reaching out to new international students

By Cindy Biding

(Published in ‘Campus & Beyond’, a weekly column written by Swinburne academics in the Borneo Post newspaper)

Studying abroad can be an amazing experience enabling students to meet new people, make new friends and learn a different culture. Learning new cultures and languages can be challenging, yet giving greater self awareness, a sense of independence and more confidence. Staying in a multicultural environment together with students from other countries may even help students to keep off prejudices and misconceptions.

Many students choose to venture into crossing borders and cultures to pursue their education abroad. Travelling to a new country for the first time on your own can be quite overwhelming and confusing. For many young students who travel for the first time, it would be helpful if support is given before and upon their arrival. For example, one of the support services provided to new international students arriving at Swinburne Sarawak is the Buddy Programme. It was introduced in August 2008 and provides assistance and smooth transition for international students by matching new students with current students from its international and national community. Buddies help new students adapt to the new environment, country and culture.

The buddy programme gives new international students a positive start to their studies. By getting students to be buddies, the programme promotes a sense of belonging and lays a foundation for the academic and social community.

A buddy is a current student in the university who is already familiar with the academic and social environment in the campus. The buddy is a volunteer who is open-minded, outgoing and has a passion for helping others.

Buddies help in many ways. For example, where possible, buddies arrange to meet new international students at the airport, talk to them and take them to their place of accommodation. Sometimes, buddies wait for the new student in campus where they meet up and take them shopping or see places.

Buddies make them feel welcome by introducing them to campus life, taking them round the city and familiarizing them with the new environment Buddies also help them get started in their learning experience by giving them information on using the library and online resources, using the Blackboard and buying books.

he Blackboard is a software learning management system which helps to improve the teaching and learning experience. New students may not be familiar with the Blackboard so familiarizing them with the system would give them a good academic start.

Sometimes buddies organize activities like dinners or get togethers with other buddies and new students. Being a friendly face, having coffee with a new student and helping the new student get oriented, eases the new student’s transition to university life.

There may be no tangible reward for being a buddy. However, becoming a buddy is a great way to use your talents and to contribute to university life. Through this volunteer work, the buddy derives satisfaction and fulfilment, a sense of worth and achievement. These rewards are different from extrinsic rewards and may be even more valuable especially when it is evident that you have touched the hearts of others.

Encouraging feedback has been received from those who have gone through the programme. “I was a bit lost when I first came. On the second day at Swinburne I went to Student Services office and a senior staff asked if I wanted a buddy. I said I would love to have one, preferably a female. Ten minutes later, my buddy, Sharon showed up and she took me shopping. That was great and I want to thank Sharon for helping me to get to know places. The Buddy Programme is a great help”, said Susanne Haals, a student from Denmark.

“I didn’t need much help as I am quite independent but I had a buddy and my buddy took me shopping and sightseeing. The Buddy Programme is very helpful especially for those new students who really need help in settling in and adjusting to the new environment,” said Australian student Haylee Fogg.

For some, going to study abroad can sometimes hit a snag. “When I first arrived at Kuching International Airport my luggage was missing. I had nothing except the clothes I was wearing. I had to wear those same clothes for a whole week. A senior staff from the university gave me some money to buy towels and stuff like that. I had to fill in some forms to have my luggage sent to me a week later,” said Kenyan Simms, a student who arrived in Kuching for the first time.

Imagine what it feels like to have nothing except the clothes you are wearing. Buddies can be a great help in providing some support to students faced with a similar situation. It is important to provide support services especially for international students coming to Kuching for the first time. Buddies can help them find their way around and be a friend to provide support for the new student. The support provided through the Buddy Programme is valuable and is greatly appreciated by those who have been helped by buddies.

Cindy Biding is a counsellor and Acting Assistant Manager of the Student Operations Department at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. She can be contacted atcbiding@swinburne.edu.my.