05 February 2015


There are few joys as simple and as worthwhile as the satisfaction one gets from volunteering. To give your time to service and generosity in support of your community is a testament to the beauty and importance of our collective spirit. People often say that a Union is only as strong as it’s weakest link, so I’ll stop with the sappy stuff by saying that the USU really embodies these values and proves this old adage with amazing programs like the V-Team.

Volunteering for the 'Welcome to Sydney' day trips in 2014
We are an organization that is all about building community, and our volunteers are constantly awarded opportunities to give back to this incredible student populace. Last year I helped out at our Interfaith and Health and Wellbeing festivals, whilst others pounded pavement during O-Week or in support of charities such as the Starlight Children’s Foundation, Cancer Council and Parkinson’s NSW. As a Board member, it’s been so exciting to see the program grow to incorporate more community based opportunities and be celebrated with the ‘Volunteer of the Year’ award at our Annual Dinner. One of our 2014 USU blue recipients, Elisha Prajwal, was celebrated due to his immense dedication to the program and embodiment of all the great qualities we associate with volunteering, and the USU.

However, my fondest memories of the program was my involvement in the 2014 ‘Welcome to Sydney’ day trips. These trips were created to help ease the transition to their new home for new international students by providing an opportunity to meet new people and safely explore one of three iconic Sydney suburbs (the Rocks, Darling Harbour and Manly Beach). I’ll never forget taking a group of rowdy students -American, Chinese, Danish and everything in between- to the beach I grew up on. Showing them how to catch a ferry, swim between the flags and where to get the best ice cream really was a positive and fulfilling way to kick off 2014. Even better was the ‘Welcome to Sydney’ party I enjoyed with students from all around the world and other volunteers that night at old faithful – the ever reliable Manning bar.

For me, these events, which include campus tours to help show International students around their new learning surrounds, are so important because they are a tangible effort to support and reach out to a community who represent an enormous part of our student community but are rarely given a fair go in a country that supposedly prides itself on providing that. These students are forced to endure grossly underpaid and unfair work conditions, a lack of welfare and language support and increased transport costs all whilst enduring the burdens of displacement.
Cassie, Aily and I at Christmas last year
For me, these realities hit close to home as I lived with an International student, Cassie, during 2014. Although she quickly became one of my closest friends and was able to survive her first year in Australia, she taught me first hand about the devastating anxiety induced by the language gap, the mistreatment often faced by students like her in the workplace and the hardships of homesickeness. However, Cassie’s story –as she wrote herself in Honi Soit- was not a sad one, but instead a story of triumph. In our place on Arundel Street she found a home, became eagerly involved in student life and provided me with one of my proudest moments when she said her involvement in my campaign was the best thing she did that semester as it gave her “The confidence to talk to new people.”

In some part, we both have the USU to thank for our friendship. At the end of the day, many International Students simply want to make friends with local students. I believe the USU does a superb and unparalleled job of supporting International students settle in and enjoy Uni life. The International Student Lounge, a brainchild of a former USU president and International Student Ruchair Punjabi, provides a safe, welcoming space with pool tables, TV and plenty of regular activities. Our International Festival provides an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of our student community. Unimates, a club focused on helping international and domestic students make friends, is one of the most successful and visible in our Clubs and Societies program.

So no matter where you hail from, welcome to Sydney! The USU and our V-Team are ready to say hello this February. No one does a warm welcome better then we do, I promise. Help us out by volunteering on the 24th of February. 

Applications close on the 15th of February, so apply now! I dare you!


For more on the V-Team and how to get involved this month follow this link:

For more information on our International Student program follow this link:

Cassie’s column on her experience living with me can be found here:

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