Category Archives: Cultural and Vocational Discussions

“Empowerment Volunteering”

I think I may have invented a new bit of jargon for the literature – ‘Empowerment Volunteering’! Here is how it came about…

Rajeev was attending a morning tea in Oasis convened by the International Student Services Unit to give international students an opportunity to socialise.

Afterwards Lisa, our Oasis Administrative Officer, introduced him to me and told me that he wanted to volunteer in Oasis.

We sat down in a quiet room to talk about this. Rajeev is a ‘mature age student’, a paediatrician from the UK. He is concerned about health and poverty. He had saved up $60,000 in the UK to come to Australia to undertake a Masters course in health sciences – Flinders is, according to him, the only university in Australia that awards a Masters degree in Public Health with an international development component. He wants to gain a position in either of the World Health Organisation or a United Nations body like UNICEF, so that he can make a better contribution by directing resources to where he believes there are most needed.

I asked him about his religious convictions, which by his conversation,seemed to be driving his altruism. He is Hindu.

We had a brief conversation about the his beliefs, and from the light in his eyes, I could tell his Hindu faith was the source of his life and of his his quest. I sensed this might be the start of a wonderful friendship.

As he shared his life with me, I could not think of any obvious Oasis project he might slot into. So finally, I suggested that he merely drop-in for a cup of tea when he had a spare moment and begin to make himself at home in Oasis, listening to fellow students, who also come in to relax and enjoy each other’s company. In that way way, I thought, by the process of listening, some project or engagement might suggest itself to him – some idea that might derive from within his own being in response to these conversations.  Or, he might find that hospitality is of itself, a significant contribution to others, as I have.

He was quick to understand what I was suggesting.

As I considered this later, I thought that what I had stumbled on was a different way in which volunteering can be nurtured. Not the slotting in of appropriate persons into pre-established projects, but allowing what is within a person to take shape in response to and interacting with their environment in the context of a hospitable community.

We shall see how it works out. But I have a feeling that by trusting a patient, open process, the outcome will be life-giving and significant.

In the meantime I am boldly naming a new method re the formation of volunteers – ‘Empowerment Volunteering’!

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Finding Common Ground

A heading in an email digest I received today from The Chronicle of Higher Education caught my eye.

Campuses Focus More on Meeting International Students’ Needs.

With more foreign students on American campuses, the conversation is shifting from recruitment strategies to practices that help them succeed.

Retention is becoming the name of the game.

This week I attended a staff seminar, Graduating Global Citizens in Science & Engineering, exploring the results of a research project initiated by Melbourne University’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education, ‘Finding Common Ground – enhancing interaction between domestic and international students’

Feedback from international students indicates that although they rate the courses they have undertaken in Australia highly, the one thing that they regretted was that they had not made lasting friendships with local students. Clearly, international students choosing to study in Australia hope that an important side benefit of their international experience will be an engagement with Australian culture, and friendship with locals in particular.

One thing from this seminar really stood out for me.

We know anecdotally that local students and international students do not tend to engage outside the classroom. Local students already have their own circle of friends. ‘Finding Common Ground’ suggests that cross-cultural engagement must take place in the classroom.

This has big implications for university teaching – now the teacher must not only be culturally intelligent, but value and structure for cross-cultural engagement within his or her curriculum and teaching practice.

Some Flinders teachers shared their practice.

Associate Prof. Kenneth Pope from the School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics told how one of the subjects he teaches is tied into Engineers Without Borders, an international organization that undertakes practical projects in developing countries. So  inter-cultural issues and cross-cultural experiences are actually embedded within the Flinders course itself.

Dr Ingo Koeper, Senior Lecturer in the School  Chemical and Physical Sciences, told of a weekly two hour discussion session he set up for a small group of postgraduate students from diverse backgrounds. While the students may have expected the session to have focussed on improving their understanding of course content, as the teacher, he had put this to one side and encouraged the students to talk about themselves. Only when content issues were raised by the students themselves did he go there. The main thing was for the students to interact with each other.

This is hospitality, as we understand it in Oasis, in the classroom!

June 7 Helsinki

Jussi Helsinki

My host, Jussi, used to work in this restaurant, quite close to apartments set up by a benefactor for artists and their studios. We have a lovely dinner; Jussi introduces me to Finnish actress who comes over to say hello. He has chaplained her through a marriage breakdown.

Jussi was also on the committee that designed the chapel in the market square. It is shaped like an egg and the exterior is all Finnish timber. People can drop in and talk to the chaplain who is there or drop in to the quiet womb-like chapel for prayer or meditation.

Jussi is responsible for chaplaincy in Higher Education in Finland. We have long discussions. Though our contexts are so different, we have so much to share in common.

June 4 Conference Wind-down

Hans, Gunther and Renske - the chaplains at MoTiv, Delft, serving the Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

Hans, Gunther and Renske – the chaplains at MoTiv, Delft, serving the Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

The Dutch University Chaplains Conference is a 24 hour affair, from about noon to noon with an overnight stay – in this case at the Stenden University training hotel in Leeuwaden.

So we found a nice spot afterwards by a canal to talk about MoTiv over coffee. A lovely way to debrief and wind down.