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What I Learnt From Attending the CISA Conference 2017

By Sha

Monday, 17 July 2017

How Can We Advocate for International Students?
What I Learnt From Attending the CISA Conference 2017 resizeimage 1

The Council of International Students of Australia (CISA) holds a national conference every year to gather students from all over Australia to network and share ideas with each other to achieve a main goal - improve and promote international study in Australia.

I was one of the lucky few who were chosen to represent my school, The Gordon TAFE, at this conference under the Conference Bursary Grant. This year’s conference was held in the beautiful capital of Australia - Canberra, with the theme ‘Students at the Heart of Best Practices’ aimed at current issues that international students face and putting their voices in the highlight.

Arrival Day:

We landed in Canberra Airport on Friday evening, all packed and prepared for one of the coldest winters in Canberra in 20 years. The winter nights in Geelong did not prepare us for the -8 °C weather in Canberra that night. We rushed our way into a taxi and made our way to the hostel, located in Dickson – Canberra’s ‘Chinatown’. Dealing with post-flight hunger, we were welcomed by the tantalising smell of foods from the diverse, multi-cultural range of restaurants around our hostel. I opted for Japanese food and sunk my teeth in a Unagi bento, paired with Asahi – a Japanese beer. I then headed back to my room and met my roommates who were going to be with me for the next 4 days – other student delegates from both TAFE and Universities in different states in Australia.

Day 1:

Every year, Australians celebrate the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements through NAIDOC week. As part of the official start of NAIDOC week, all the student delegates were brought to Canberra Centre to experience the annual NAIDOC Flag Raising Ceremony; where the Australian, ACT, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flags were raised. We then returned to the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) to learn more about Indigenous students in Australia through a panel of Indigenous student representatives from different institutions. The panellists brought up different issues that Indigenous students are facing and how students and staff from educational institutions can help in improving the experience for current and future Indigenous students through understanding and promoting their culture, and eliminating discrimination and hurtful stereotypes towards Indigenous peoples in Australia.

After the panel discussion, we had our lunch and walked around CIT to different booths set up by different companies ran by Indigenous Australians as an opportunity to find out more about how these businesses run and help other Indigenous Australians. After lunch was over, different representatives from these businesses formed a panel to discuss and promote the Indigenous history and culture, their business goals and achievements in the Indigenous community and also hardships they’ve faced setting up their businesses as Indigenous Australians.

After summarising the day and discussing final thoughts, we were all ready for the ‘Indigenous Feast’. We were introduced to Aboriginal traditional native food such as kangaroo meat, as we networked with other students and the panellists before wrapping up the day.


Day 2:

On Day 2 of the CISA Conference, we went to The National Convention Centre as part of the ‘Minister’s Breakfast’. There, we met Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Education and Training, who talked about the government’s role in promoting and improving international education. We discussed different ways we can improve the experience of current and future international students and how the Australian government is working with students and institutions to help.

After, we returned to CIT to discuss on how to create and run a successful Student Advocacy program through current Student Association leaders from different institutions. We were separated into different groups to work out a plan to advocate for international students in TAFE and Universities. In our groups, we listed out current issues international students face and worked out ways to eliminate or improve on these issues. Representing my group, I went up to present what we came up with to the other groups. This group discussion was a great opportunity to brainstorm ideas and also learn from other students their experience and the different issues they face in other states and institutions that we were unaware about.

Day 3:

On Day 3, we were greeted by the Postgraduate and Research Students' Association (PARSA) at the Australian National University (ANU). We were introduced to the programs they have set up for the international students at ANU and what the association has done to advocate for them.

After, the National President of CISA - Nina Khairina, presented us with what the council has achieved over the 7 years they’ve been running and the things they have learnt in their term to help advocate for international student rights.

Student delegates, together with members of CISA and representatives from government bodies, presented the next talk about how we can all work together to make the voice of international students be heard in the Australian community and how we can advocate for international students when we return back home through different ways such as different techniques to build trust with the students and student engagement methods such as through events and clubs. resizeimage 

Day 4:

On the final day, we returned to ANU to vote for recipients of the different awards CISA hands out every year - such as Best International Student Event and Best Student Association. After, we had lunch and networked with fellow peers before making our way to the buses that brought us to the Old Parliament House. There, we had a tour around the Old Parliament House and learnt about its part in Australian politics and history. We learnt interesting facts about different rooms in the Parliament, visited the old Prime Minister’s office and even sat in the Senate Chamber.

After the tour, we were invited to listen to a talk about the future of international education – presented by CEOs of English Australia, TAFE Directors Australia and the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA).

After summarising the day, we made our way back to our rooms to prepare for the Gala Dinner to end the conference. Everyone showed up looking sharp, some even dressed to this year’s theme ‘Great Gatsby’. We were served amazing food as the award winners were called up on stage to give their speeches. After a few drinks, we were all ready to get on the dance floor and boogie out with our newly made friends.

Day 5:

After 4 days, we were all ready to go home. We said farewell to our new friends as we departed from Canberra Airport back home. I am thankful for the opportunity to attend the conference as not only have I made new friends, but I have returned home with the skills and knowledge to advocate for current and new international students.

I am excited to work with the international team at my institution, the Gordon TAFE, and Study Geelong to advocate for the current and future international students here. J