Volunteer program wins international praise
One of the benefits of studying at the University of Adelaide is the opportunity to interact with students from around the world. This helps to broaden local students' experience of other cultures and, in turn, helps students from overseas to better understand Australian culture. It also helps to improve international students' English language skills.
The University's Centre for Learning and Professional Development (CLPD) runs a volunteer program aimed at helping overseas students to gain confidence in their English communication skills. It does this by matching the students with a local volunteer who may be a student or a member of the general community. The program recently received international praise, as Coordinator Josephine Sando explains.
Earlier this year I was fortunate to present a paper at the 10th Annual UNESCO Engineering Education Conference in Bangkok. The paper describes the Volunteer Learning Support Scheme for International Students, which is based in the Centre for Learning and Professional Development (CLPD) at the University of Adelaide. As Coordinator of the Scheme, I co-authored the paper with one of our volunteers, a retired engineering academic, Ron Seidel. Ron was particularly enthusiastic about promoting our learning program internationally, and the delegates from 26 countries at the conference received our initiative very well. Of 70 papers presented, we were given a silver award, which includes publication of an extended paper in an international education journal.
For me, one of the most delightful aspects of my time in Bangkok was the extraordinary welcome I received there from a number of former students of our program. These young people, mostly postgraduates, are now lecturing at local universities in Bangkok, working in highly responsible positions in government or contributing to the rapidly expanding Thai economy. Without exception, they spoke of the great benefits to them of working with one of our volunteers during their time at the University of Adelaide.
One of the former students, who was present at the conference, spontaneously took the microphone in the audience after my presentation and announced: "I'm a product of this program and want to tell you all how my confidence in my communication improved because of the time I spent with my volunteer. I also received a great deal of help in understanding the Australian way of life. I am very grateful." This was a most surprising public tribute but certainly clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of our volunteers' work. Most of the former students still keep in touch with their Adelaide volunteers.
The CLPD Volunteer Learning Support Scheme began in 1995 and since then has given hundreds of international students the opportunity to become more proficient in English communication and, perhaps more importantly, to gain a local friend. Through regular, usually weekly, 1:1 meetings with a volunteer, students become more familiar with the Australian culture and way of life and feel more comfortable in their new environment. The emphasis is on informal oral exchange, though volunteers may discuss academic issues, as well as refer them to the more formal academic language and learning programs offered each Semester by the CLPD.
The volunteers' support is largely complementary to students' formal studies.
In 2007 there are 60 volunteers working with approximately 100 students. The volunteers are trained and are matched with one or more students, with meetings being arranged to suit individual needs and time availability. Volunteers are men and women from all walks of life - from those who are actively engaged in work or study but spend some lunchtimes with their students, to retirees with a broader range of time options.
With increasing numbers of international students there is a greater demand for volunteers. Anyone interested in becoming a CLPD volunteer is welcome to contact me.
One of our 2006 students stated in her feedback: "I wish every international student could have this cherished chance." I, too, would love to see this!
To find out more about becoming a Centre for Learning and Professional Development (CLPD) volunteer, call Josephine Sando on 0405 053 494, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the CLPD office on (08) 8303 5771.
To find out more about Student Support services at the University of Adelaide, visit Open Day on Sunday 26 August.