Griffith Business School’s Student Leaders have armed themselves with valuable skills while helping others on their annual International Community Engagement Project.
This year’s trip saw the group travel to India, spending one week immersing themselves in the culture and a second week engaging students from a local school in educational opportunities.
Hamish Morton, James Harcombe and Aria Ferguson were three of the students who wholeheartedly grasped the chance to be involved with a global project.
“Our first week was spent in cultural immersion, basically doing a lot of touristy stuff which was so great for us to be able to relax after exams and really get to know each other,” Hamish explains. Through several tours, the group visited famous international landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, the Delhi Haat Market, the Agra Fort, as well as attending a Gurudwara Bangala Sahib (Sikh House) where they saw how food was prepared for anyone who needed it, and then the group ate lunch there.
This week of cultural immersion allowed the students to become familiar with local customs and practice before heading into a local school for the community engagement portion of their tour. The Student Leaders then formed groups to teach the students subjects including dance and drama, and sports education.
“I bonded with the kids so fast,” James, who was part of the sports group, laughs. “It was really hard for me when it came time to leave!”
The other students agree that volunteering within the school was an incredibly rewarding experience. “We ran activities that allowed the kids to be really creative,” Hamish explains. “They’re used to rote learning, you see… copying things from a blackboard and that’s it. Watching them come together in groups, realise they had a bit more freedom and watching them present at the end… it was a real confidence builder for them. They seemed so proud of what they did and we were too.”
James got a real emotional kick out of the experience. “You could really see the impact you were making,” he says. “I went in there just trying to make a kid laugh, and have fun with them, so I think I accomplished that. When we were leaving… they didn’t want us to leave. They were having so much fun.”
Aria says it was definitely a morale boost, seeing the difference they were making each day to the children. “Seeing the work that we were doing with the kids and the smiles on their faces every day was reward in itself,” she says. “If you’d had a bad day or a bad morning or you had some personal issues or homesickness coming through… the smiles on those kids’ faces just because you were there ready to teach them, and how enthusiastic they were just made the whole day better.
“It’s definitely changed my opinion on the world. It was amazing to see my view on my home and family life is now so different. There’s so much more gratitude that I have thanks to this trip for my own life that’s just simply because I was born in Australia.”
The Leaders also say their Cultural Engagement Project also gave them several skills which will help them in their careers. “Going into a different culture really broadens your opportunities … in places where you thought you couldn’t see yourself working,” James says. “It’s given me the confidence now to go in there and see if I can give it a go.”
Hamish agrees. “I think it definitely helped my cross-cultural communication skills, which will help my employment in the future.
“When you’re trying to explain an activity without being rude, without being culturally insensitive and being aware of what you’re saying…. It’s quite challenging. Also trying to get beyond that language barrier and saying things in different ways, communicating with someone so they can repeat it in Hindi… it was tough but a great way to develop those sorts of skills.”
Student Development Coordinator Joanne Fairclough was one of the staff members who accompanied the Leaders on the trip. She says having students participate in global projects will allow them to become better world citizens both personally and professionally. “I am a big advocate for helping create globally responsible leaders, taking students away to another country and watching them discover things about how other governments work and how other people live so differently to them. This is so beneficial to our student leaders on so many levels,” she says. “Through the trip you really get to see them grow.”
Growth definitely seems to be a theme of the International Community Engagement Project, both for the Leaders themselves and the students they taught. “A lot of people, when they volunteer, they think ‘I’m going to change the world’ but that’s a bit unrealistic,” James says. “Whereas we went into a local community and we helped them on an individual level and we all grew and made a difference one-on-one. We connected with the kids and we know we had an impact on them and they will remember us and we will remember them.
“I feel like this program enhances the student experience here at Griffith. It drives you wanting to be here, wanting to engage more, wanting you to learn more.
“I will be forever grateful to Griffith for giving us the opportunity to do this.”