The Bridge

A community engagement program for international students in Wollongong

The Bridge is a community engagement program run by the Illawarra Friends of International Students to engage international students in their local community and culture in regional NSW.

Project dates

October 2018 - June 2019

Project overview

The Bridge program was designed to link international students and their families with the Wollongong community. To achieve this objective Illawarra Friends of International Students (IFIS) introduced international students from the University of Wollongong to the local community through involvement in local service clubs, volunteering, small group outings, presenting as guest speakers, visiting retirement villages and visiting schools. In addition to this were community and cultural events including BBQs.

Project highlights

Highlights witnessed during the program included the willingness of the international students to become immersed in Australian culture and to share their culture. Among the group were many incredibly talented people who were willing to share a range of skills if given an opportunity.

An unexpected highlight was the Corrimal Rotary Club sponsoring an outing for the international students to an orchard at Picton, a BBQ lunch at a community members home followed by a visit to Country Valley Dairy where they witnessed the milking of cows and the processing and packaging of the milk. This action resulted from the support the international students have given them and their wish to retain the interactions.

Project background

The Illawarra Committee for International Students was established 41 years ago to support, as they were then known, Overseas Students and their families while attending the University of Wollongong. In 2018 the committee became aware of an opportunity to apply for a grant through Study NSW. The application focused on linking international students and their families with the Wollongong community as it is the committee’s belief that students are eager to integrate with the community and share cultures.

Challenges and recommendations

A change in administration and restructuring of the faculty IFIS reported to at the University of Wollongong was a challenge. However as a small volunteer group, IFIS did achieve a significant amount because of their determination and flexibility.

Project outcomes

Members of the IFIS committee share a sense of achievement and satisfaction from the positive interactions and activities at the community events and outings. Many pictures have been shared with the families of the international students which we believe will enhance Wollongong as a multicultural city and enhance the reputation of the University of Wollongong  as a welcoming place for international students to study.

The Corrimal Rotary Club has welcomed members of the international community to assist in some of their volunteer activities. A significant opportunity arose for one of the international students to attend a Farm Aid excursion to Naradham where she along with the Rotarians undertook a range of animal husbandry tasks as well as fencing and a visit to a small school. This was a positive exchange experience. The local community got to meet an international student and learn about their culture, and the international student learned about farm life during drought. Two more international students are at present participating in the Farm Aid Project and we are hopeful it will be an ongoing opportunity.

The opportunities for the international students to be closely involved with community members at Rotary events provides an opportunity for them to interact and be seen by the broader community.

Project deliverables

IFIS sponsored two international students to a Corrimal Rotary Dinner meeting with an additional four international students as supporters.  The students' presentations were warmly received and led to an incredible question time.

The program delivered the Social Night, where international students prepared food from their homeland as the main course and the community members provided deserts including an Australian classic - the Pavlova. The range of countries represented included Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, Peru, Turkiye, Sri Lanka, India, China and Malaysia. Entertainment was provided by a band made up of one local and several other international students. It was at this event that the father of a student from Turkiye was heard to say, I now know that my daughter is in a good place.

IFIS also held a community BBQ. Entertainment included a very talented young lady from China playing piano and unexpectedly being joined by a community member to play duets.

Further information

Illawarra Friends of International Students and University of Wollongong.

The Bridge