The Experiencing Australia Program at Edith Cowan Univeristy has enhanced the experience of international students by bringing them together with local students through a social inclusion buddy program.
In 2015 Edith Cowan University (ECU) and Tokyo City University (TCU) signed a five-year contract, under which ECU would host 200 undergraduate Japanese students per year to undertake a tailor-made study abroad program. The first cohort arrived in Perth on 4 February 2016 and since then a total of 556 TCU students have completed the program. The program was recognised as an exemplar of strong relations by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his discussion with the Australian Prime Minister during his visit to Australia in 2017.
The Tokyo City University Australia Program (TAP) enables TAP students to complete one semester at ECU that is credited to their Japanese award. The program consists of two elements: an academic component and a social integration component. The educational component comprises nine weeks of English language studies, followed by seven weeks of academic units, designed in close consultation with Tokyo City University instructors. The social and cultural component, referred to as the ‘Experiencing Australia Program’ (EAP), aims to introduce TAP students and integrate them into life in Australia and at ECU.
The EAP includes an orientation, four off-campus and five on-campus events, a language exchange program and a buddy program. The Buddy Program is a specially-designed program that brings together ECU student volunteers and TAP students. To date our program facilitators have successfully recruited 187 domestic and international ECU students, who have enjoyed the program to such an extent that on average 41% of the Buddies in each Cycle have previously participated.
The Buddy Program promotes interaction between TAP students and ECU’s Australian students and international students.
Buddies provide support, friendship and encouragement to TAP students for the duration of their study-abroad program at ECU. As the majority of classes in which the TAP students participate do not include other ECU students, the Buddy Program fulfils an important role within the overarching program. The mutually-beneficial program facilitates friendships between the TAP participants and ECU students, both domestic and international, with international students accounting for 37% of our buddies. The program provides all parties with the opportunity to meet their counterparts from other countries and ECU students from alternative disciplinary fields, broadening both their academic and cultural outlook. Buddies maximise the opportunities to develop their leadership, communication, problem-solving and team-building skills, all of which will give them a competitive edge in the employment market.
There is a committed team at ECU who manage EAP, including a dedicated TAP Student Support Officer, a Program Support Officer and a Senior Project Officer. They continually strive to develop the Buddy and EAP programs to maximise benefits for all stakeholders. To engender ownership of program development, interactive sessions have been established for the buddies to provide feedback on how to best support the TAP students, activities and structure. Tailored workshops, facilitated by the ECU Careers and Leadership team, have increased the focus on the development of employability skills for international and domestic buddies.