Finding a voice for international students

Encouraging involvement with broader campus life.

Paying more than $40,000 a year and battling through periods of loneliness and distress – the life of international students is a lot harder than what some may think. Separation from family, insecurity in a foreign society, the daily anxiety that we may be kicked out of our rental household. The list goes on.

And while this may all sound like a call for sympathy, it reflects the reality of what many Chinese and other international students go through every second in Australia.

Don’t get me wrong. We love Australia and its diverse way of life.

We had to jump over a very high bar just to get here. In order to officially enrol to study in Australia, we need to achieve extremely high marks in several English proficiency exams, and if we pass, are forced to study subjects that help us gain points for permanent residency. These are unrelated subjects that we would not have necessarily otherwise chosen.

Life for international students is tough – and it’s why I got involved in student elections at my university, the University of Sydney. Our ticket, Panda Warriors, was established to empower international students, by building a community for them and providing a group to turn to when they experience injustice or when their rights are invaded.

Through our collaborations with other student leaders at the USYD Student Representative Council (SRC), our aim is to prove to international students that communication with local students isn’t as daunting as it seems.

We are here to provide international students with a place of refuge, we want them to know that their fair share of rights will be protected, and we want them to know that they are not alone in Australia.

We want them to know that they are not alone in Australia.

The founding of Panda originated with an election campaign for executive positions at a large Chinese student society on our campus. Protecting international student rights and reconciling them with the local members of the Australian society has been at the core of our actions ever since.

During O-week this year, we worked with the SRC to have information guides about university life made available in other languages. As a result, more international students have become aware of the organisation and how we can offer a helping hand to their troubles in studies and in life here.

And since then, we have helped international students resolve many individual cases and disputes. In the process, we’ve interacted with over 500 international students, and spread our name across campus.

Many of the cases we’ve assisted with have involved conflict between landlords and student tenants, and academic appeals for special consideration. We’ve also held a workshop to help international students familiarise themselves with Australian laws and policies, which have been accessed by more than 40 international students.

Although these seem like modest numbers, they’re a sign of growing international student activism. In time, we hope to make all international students feel secure about studying and living in Australia.

But the road here has not been easy. Just two years ago, international students were still ignored on the political stage. When starting Panda, we faced many challenges, the greatest of which was finding a group of like-minded people who could work together to make our goals a reality.

Our founders went to every corner of the university to communicate with students to stand up for international students. The majority of the international students are still locked in a mindset of getting out of university as soon as they can with the best possible mark. After all, this is what drives many to study abroad.

We knew we had to change this mindset. There were countless nights where we stayed up in university libraries to speak to international students about our initiatives and what their rights were on campus.

We sincerely hope that through the continuous efforts of every member on the Panda team, we can create a more harmonious and integrated environment for all international students. Our community is a vehicle for them to engage in broader campus life. We invite any international student keen to make change to join us.

Panda is currently petitioning the NSW government for equal Opal travel concession cards for international students. You can get in touch here.

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