Coming from Colombia to Melbourne to study English, Andrea looked forward to establishing a career in engineering technology.
As founding president of the Melbourne Poly International Students Association, Andrea first learnt about Study Melbourne Live Volunteers when she initiated and organised a Volunteer Skills Expo in August 2017.
Andrea’s volunteer activity has now taken her down a new path – in 2018, she is complementing her engineering expertise with new skills in social enterprise and entrepreneurship
“I've found something more interesting, helping people, creating, innovating, inspiring.”
Building a connected community for international students
Andrea has a talent for bringing people and opportunities together. Volunteering with international student organisations helped Andrea to make valued connections with others while settling in to Melbourne.
For Andrea, the study Melbourne Live Volunteers program is so successful because of the added support that it offers to students. It recognises that students from other countries do not always have the knowledge of volunteering that local students have, and often lack the confidence or experience to approach organisations directly.
“I think the best part of the Study Melbourne Live Volunteers program is the support. The event [Volunteer and Skills Expo] was so successful because we had the support from Volunteering Victoria.”
Andrea has continued to support the program by volunteering her time to help create Study Melbourne Live Volunteering resources that are now used by other international students as well as helping us to refine out information sessions.
Bridging the cultural gap
Engaging with students of diverse backgrounds, Andrea saw that cultural differences sometimes led to misunderstandings about what volunteering means to individuals and the community.
In some cultures, including in her native Colombia, volunteering was seen as an obligation like caring for elderly. Andrea felt good about volunteering to help disadvantaged groups in the slums. But her friends saw it as just wasting time.
“So we don't see that as a way to learn more skills, or to involve the community.”
However, by participating in volunteering, Andrea knew she was improving her job prospects.
“I'm such a girl who believes that if you can help someone, you can help yourself.”
Volunteering for professional and personal development
Andrea knows the positive impact that volunteering has for people who are at the start of their careers. Through volunteering, Andrea built her communications skills, and discovered a talent for leading and motivating others.
“I was volunteering with different international students' organisations and I got that feeling that I was valued as a person. And volunteering gives you also that opportunity to discover yourself. What are your values? And if your values are according with your profession. Sometimes they’re not. So you might need to just shift direction a little bit.”
New experiences create new paths
Andrea thought her path was set, as a qualified civil engineer, with a masters in geotechnical studies and building engineering technology skills.
However, volunteering in leadership roles helped Andrea realise she thrived on helping and motivating others to create and innovate. She thought to herself, “Okay, I need more of a skillset for business and of entrepreneurship and social impact.”
So she changed her focus, using her engineering skills to create a social enterprise “business for good” platform, connecting Australian & Colombian social entrepreneurs in agriculture.
“Be open to new opportunities”
Andrea said that the biggest hurdle she had to overcome in convincing her fellow students to volunteer, were their preconceived notions about what volunteering was, and a lack of understanding as to why they would “work for free” as they put it.
Says Andrea: “First, forget any preconceptions you have. Second, try. Go out from your comfort zone. I think volunteering is a good way to start that."
But being open to opportunities needs to be tempered with finding the right role for you. Something that you believe will be truly valuable on either a personal or professional level.
“Make sure that the program you want to be involved in is something you are looking for, that it covers many of the things that you came here to do and to learn. So, then you’re likely to enjoy it. If you don't like it, say so. It’s the best way to get the skills, to get experience.
Volunteering and Study Melbourne
Check our volunteer page for information about volunteering programs, information sessions and opportunities brought to you by Study Melbourne.