As a smaller institution, ICMS has the ability to connect with students on deeper level than just academic. This connection and networking has encouraged both on and off-shore students to continue their communications with one another even through the COVID-19 period.
In addition to the exisiting Student Wellness Hub which assists students who are experiencing personal difficulties that may impact their coursework, ICMS has also created the Culture Buddies Initiative which allows for students of various nationalities to seek support and advice from other students.
This initiative was created in collaboration with the International Student Representatives (ISRs), a group of student volunteers who provide pastoral support for international students at ICMS.
The ISRs are partnered with new incoming international students under the program named ‘Culture Buddies’. Each term, the ISRs are matched with 3-4 international students, the ISRs are then able to answer any questions the international students may have, or simply to give a student perspective on studying at ICMS.
The Culture Buddies program began successfully in 2021 with all ISRs matching and connecting with international students from all around the world.
ESL and Academic Advisor, Conor Rigney, is one of the Program Managers of the Culture Buddies group. Conor emphasised that due to the change in class delivery as a result of the global shut down due to COVID-19, many international students had to begin their studies with ICMS from outside of Australia, therefore it was crucial they had additional support.
“The initiative is important as it provides support to new international students who may not have any experience of study or life in Australia, and it gives them an extra peer support, especially now when it is difficult to access this as many of them are studying from overseas”.
Some of this trimester’s International Student and Culture Buddies representatives include Lakita Taylor from New Zealand, Yen Nguyen from Vietnam, Henry Phenghong from Cambodia and Will Chen from Indonesia.
Katrina Lo, from Australia is another one of the representatives for this trimester. Since beginning her journey with ICMS, Katrina has always acknowledge the importance of creating relationships with both international and domestic students.
“When I was first asked about it (Culture Buddies) I honestly thought it was such a great idea. Since my first trimester, I’ve wanted to be able to link to international students because I know the student experience is a lot different when you can’t experience it on campus. I’ve mentioned to my culture buddies too, that what I want for them out of this is so that they have a friend here in Sydney when they can fly in.
I think being able to be that person is the best part because I would’ve wanted to know someone before I moved to Sydney too. I think knowing that you have some degree of support can still be quite assuring and less stressful.
Although I also love that the program allows us to connect with people from around the world, even between the international student representatives. While we haven’t all talked so much, I think it was nice that we did and I got to know people in completely different situations from myself,” said Katrina.
Katrina says that the Culture Buddies Initiative is a way of linking students together no matter where everyone is in the world.
“Culture buddies create their own bubble where they can ask about student life, their experience so far and talk more casually with another student, whether they are undergraduate or postgraduate,” said Katrina.
She also mentioned that due to the border closure for the ICMS International Students it has made it difficult for many of the students to maintain their relationships and through the Culture Buddies program, they are more free to voice their concerns on a more casual basis that is not intimidating.
In addition, Katrina also states that there is only so much the staff can cover with the international students, for example what the courses will entail although it is crucial to see the college experience through the eyes of other students who have either been through the journey themselves or who are currently completing the course.
Whilst ICMS is still operating classes online for the remainder of the year. For students studying with the college offshore, the NSW Government has announced an International Student Pilot Program, in which ICMS is a part of.
“The green light for this project is a great outcome for the independent providers involved. The unwavering commitment to this work for over a year has culminated in a highly developed plan. The plan ensures a detailed approach to seeing the safe, gradual return of international students.
They have waited so long. It’s an important responsibility, and I am honoured we can work with quality key stakeholders such as FCM and Scape as we take this forward to implementation.
The NSW government is leading the way in the return of onshore international students, such an integral part of the Australian economy. People can feel confident about this pilot, my hope is that the public are encouraged by this progress toward opening up. Thanks also to Simon Finn, CEO IHEA, and Member for Manly James Griffin MP.” Ann Whitelock, Chairperson – ICMS Scholarships, Director – IHEA.
“We have been waiting for the day that international students can rejoin the ICMS community here in Australia,” ICMS CEO Rowan Courtney-O’Connor said.
For more information on Wellness and Support at ICMS as well as the International Student Pilot Program, please click the links below: