This morning I had the privilege of hearing the lovely Tal Fitzpatrick of Volunteering Queensland speak. She was enlightening members of Study Cairns on the benefits of volunteering, particularly with respect to engaging international students who are studying in Australia. We take the term ‘volunteer’ or ‘volunteering’ for granted here – most of us being aware of the definition, and the difference for example, between ‘volunteering’ and ‘work experience’ (corporate placement etc.). However, some cultures aren’t so familiar with our use of the term ‘volunteer’. In a nutshell, volunteering in Australia means ‘giving up time for a not-for-profit organisation’. For example, in Tropical North Queensland, organisations of this description that need assistance include Meals on Wheels, YAPS and RSPCA, Wildlife Rescue, SES, to name but a few. In Australia we hold volunteers in high regard. Many volunteers are extremely well trained and sacrifice hours of their own time to assist when others need it most. A good friend of mine, Julie, has spent countless hours over the past ten years training, learning and dedicating her experience and time to help the SES and Red Cross, and as such has gained valuable emergency response experience – critical during floods, cyclones and disaster periods.
Bringing this back to the context of ‘international students’, well, imagine moving to a new country, where the culture is different and English is your second language. Sometimes it’s lonely trying to fit into a community. Challenges for international students include:
- Culture shock
- Poor coping skills
- Accommodation & financial issues
- Discrimination or perceived discrimination
These types of issues can often be overcome and addressed through positive volunteering experiences; the same could be said for others feeling isolation within a community.
Additionally, volunteering offers a great opportunity to practice language skills, make friends in a safe environment and to learn work skills at a comfortable pace. Employability is increased, especially in Australia where we value skills gained from those who volunteer; and students who have engaged in volunteering activities cite the benefits as including learning new skills, practising English, making a difference, making friends, helping people, trying something new, engaging in teamwork, giving back to the environment, learning leadership skills and making the most out of a ‘living abroad experience’.
Whether you want to help with animals, kids, elderly, community events and much more, there’s a wealth of info at www.volunteeringqld.org.au.
And if you’re in the North Queensland region, find Study Cairns on Facebook and Twitter for info on being a study-tourist, traveller, or even home-stay host, as well as heaps of travel advice on the beautiful northern Queensland region.