Yesterday Unitec had it’s Open Day and it was so exciting to show members of the public our new working space, Te Puna.
Along with amazing Student Support Team Leader Helena Finau, our role was to co-ordinate a group of student “Connector” volunteers. The Connectors are a group of International students who engage in organised on-campus activities that allow then to gain practical work experience. Throughout the semester the students also attend regular meetings / professional development sessions and will receive a service and leadership award at the end of the year.
We had seven Connectors help yesterday and they helped as tour guide assistants and general meet and greeters. Due to the flexible nature of the day, I was so impressed with how they took direction well, and even better, they relished ALL opportunities to engage and provide advice to members of the public.
What was a great surprise was that a few of them initially perceived that domestic/local students may not instantly recognise or acknowledge their advice and experiences. How could they possibly be interested if they originally came from cultures and backgrounds that are vastly different?
The total opposite occurred with the Connectors proving a vital link during the day. They COULD relate to the aspiring students, for example, a few young students who came with their parents were interested in pursuing vet nursing courses. Fortunately two of our Connectors are in that programme, so the magic came in introducing them to those young people.
Forget culture, language, and visa status. The ability for the Connectors to talk about all things ‘animals’ created great synergies with the aspiring students. It was the meeting of like-minds and it’s amazing how role-modelling can manifest in many guises.
In tertiary environments I do believe there is more that can be done to make experiences, services and opportunities inclusive of all students, rather than creating perceptions that international students only focus on other international students. A global student is every student.