Hot tea helps international students build warm friendships with locals

Henry and Han Cultural Connections_FlindersWP
Henry Liu and Zhen Han from Flinders University’s Cultural Connections club, which is helping link up international students with local volunteers.

New friendships, cross-cultural engagement, the chance to help a student far from home learn how to speak English – and a free cup of tea while you do it.

That’s the deal on offer from the new Cultural Connections Club at Flinders University led by two students who want to help other international students improve their English skills and get a better understanding of South Australia.

Supported by Flinders University’s Oasis drop-in centre, which provides the tea, Cultural Connections, which features on page 29 of today’s Advertiser, wants to recruit more Australians to help students feel a little bit more at home.

Henry Liu, who is studying for a Master of Social Work at Flinders, said students from South Korea, China and Iran had helped to establish the initiative in 2015, and that 20 volunteers had already come forward to help.

“The difference with our club is that we aim to provide a connection between international students and local volunteers, who we recruit to talk with the student for one hour per week initially at Oasis,” he said.

He says the idea came after an unsuccessful search for something similar elsewhere.

“I initially wanted to find a volunteering opportunity, but I discovered there was nothing that I could be a part of, so I decided to set up my own program with like-minded people.”.

Fellow student Zhen Han, who along with Mr Liu is one of three club leaders, said they had received a lot of support from former teachers and were now looking to broaden their volunteer base to all age groups.

He said the club, with the advice of Flinders University’s Student Association (FUSA), International Centre and International Student Services, provided additional vital support to international students who sometimes felt isolated when they first arrived in Australia.

“It’s not hard to make a friend from your own cultural background but lots of students really want to learn about the local culture and the best way to do that is to make friends with a local person,” said Mr Zhen. “Unfortunately, this can be very hard without someone to help.”

Mr Liu said having connections in the local community helped international students to improve their language skills and overcome home sickness at the same time.

“At the beginning I found it quite difficult. I wanted to make local friends but I lived in a shared house with several Chinese students and didn’t have many opportunities to make friends with Australians,” he said.

“Since I made local friends they have helped me to learn about the local community, and my English has really improved too. It’s also helped me with my studies because as a social work student I’m very interested in multi-cultural issues.

“We’ll now meet up and go and watch a movie, and I’ll even go and see them at their houses.”

While he realises not every connection will lead to that kind of friendship, Mr Liu said he hopes that some other students will also gain more than just new language skills.

“Initially, it’s just a cup of tea and a chat for one hour at Flinders University’s Oasis Centre, but if that leads to a deeper friendship then I think that’s a great thing.”

You can find more information about Culture Connections and how to volunteer at the club’s Facebook page:

The club has organised a free barbecue for all volunteers and international students in the program today Friday, 6 May from 5-7pm. Potential volunteers are also welcome.

Venue: Oasis, Flinders University (Oasis is located in the Function Centre, downstairs in the OCE building, opposite Car park 5

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