Monday, March 30, 2009

The Accommodation Conundrum by Dr Katie Richardson

It was in the late 1990s that I started my research into the homestay industry. At the time it was an unstudied domain and it was clear that there were a number of unscrupulous players in the field. However, with the lack of legal and industry based regulation many of the unpleasant incidents could be swept under the carpet. This sense of obscurity was not only limited to homestay. Other forms of international student accommodation, such as boarding and student housing, were also relatively unstudied.

Things have changed somewhat over the past decade. Some research (albeit very limited and certainly not cross-sectoral) has been undertaken with regard to homestay and boarding. Regulations have been tightened considerably with regard to boarding and student housing, although homestay remains relatively unregulated in a legal sense, despite an onus on educational organisations to ensure the quality of accommodation that they provide. It was the ongoing ‘unknowns’ of student accommodation that spurred me on to my most recent research into the non-academic welfare of adolescent international students. Not surprisingly, student accommodation featured quite heavily.

Of the 318 secondary school overseas students who responded to the survey, homestay was, by far, the most popular choice of accommodation, with 44.4%. This was followed by those residing in boarding houses, which accounted for 19.5% of the questionnaire participants. The other forms of accommodation ranged from living with a parent (16.9%), to those who stayed with relatives (10.9%) or who shared rental arrangements with friends (8.3%). Although boarding seemed to be the most favoured mode of accommodation by the participating staff members the students’ responses were very different, and in my mind, surprising.

The overseas student questionnaire enabled me to measure the levels of culture shock that were experienced by the international students. When compared with their accommodation types, those who lived by themselves or with friends suffered most acutely, while boarders and adolescents residing with their parents experienced very little angst in terms of psychological adjustment. The moderate levels of culture shock that homestay students encountered were not surprising given the fact that they are in contact with the target culture most of the time. Interestingly, the adolescents who lived with close relatives experienced slightly higher levels of culture shock than those in homestay.

Given the fact that homestay students experienced relatively high levels of culture shock I was astonished to find that 77.2% of the homestay students indicated that they would recommend homestay accommodation to their friends. This result was particularly surprising in the light of general and ongoing criticisms regarding quality control issues in homestay. In contrast, the boarders were fairly evenly split between those who would advocate boarding (50.8%) and those who would not (49.2%). Considering that the boarding school students experienced noticeably less culture shock, it is interesting that the recommendations do not reflect the relative ease of their transition.

The question then remains: Why was homestay so popular with the students? One could speculate that the constant contact with those from the target culture enables the students to develop more confidence in their English language abilities. It may also indicate that the overseas students feel a sense of security living in a family-type situation where their needs can be met. Whatever the reasons are for this result, it is clear that more research is required in order for us to enhance our understanding of student accommodation needs.

Dr Katie Richardson is the Director of International Education Consultants Australia Pty Ltd. She is currently developing a series of testing tools which will enable homestay organisations to examine the beliefs of homestay host applicants and highlight the training needs of homestay hosts. Katie has recently completed her Ph.D which investigated the welfare of adolescent international students

Monday, March 2, 2009

Victoria University steps up its safety program for international students

Recent media reports have again drawn attention to the increased number of thefts and attacks upon students from the Indian subcontinent.

Victoria University has been working closely with international students and Victoria Police on a safety program for the past two years.

Vice-President International Andrew Holloway said: "Talking softly in public won't protect all students; nor will leaving their mobile phones and iPods at home. These strategies form part of the response, but equally important is a familiarity with their rights and the assistance available to help students lead a full and safe life while studying in Melbourne.

"As well as travelling to and from university for study, many international students also need to commute to part-time jobs, often late at night. This is why Victoria University has improved night shuttle bus services to transport hubs such as Sunshine and Footscray stations. We are also increasing the amount of accommodation available close to our campuses, so that students can avoid lengthy public transport trips.

"As part of a multi-pronged approach, we have been working with international students from South Asia and the police for two years on a program that maximises student safety. Our aim has been to ensure students are aware of the dangers and how best to avoid them or use better options, and also to inform them of the support available from a variety of sources, including the police, the university and the community.

"Together with the Police Multicultural Liaison Taskforce based at Footscray, we have developed a new initiative, a training program for university-appointed Safety Ambassadors, which is due to start shortly.

"In this program, students from the Indian subcontinent will receive instruction from police, lifesavers, fire brigade officers and other authorities in safety issues covering a wide range of settings - from public transport and the streets, to the internet, the surf and the bush. They will then be provided with materials and resources to share among fellow students, passing on their knowledge and expertise.

"In another fresh initiative, members of the Victoria Police Footscray Multicultural Liaison unit will spend three hours on our Footscray Park campus every second Thursday to chat with students about any issues of concern.

"Already, the university provides written and DVD material on safety tips to international students before their departure, upon arrival as part of induction programs, and throughout their stay in Melbourne. However, we have identified a need to increase the reach of this message and have decided that peer support is the most effective way to achieve this.

"Victoria University also hosts a Safety Week in which we distribute resources and spread the safety message. Local police officers attend this event, giving formal presentations and informal one-on-one briefs to students.

"Cultural issues are also being addressed. Many of our international students come from countries where the police routinely fail to respond to reports of violence or theft, or expect a bribe before they will act. In addition, many students fear that their student visas or applications for residency may be delayed or revoked if they are seen to be in trouble or involved in any way with the authorities. This perception can be one of the most difficult to overcome and undoubtedly contributes to under-reporting of attacks and other incidents.

"We have chosen to address this in a variety of ways. By working closely with the police, introducing them to students at our many events and encouraging informal as well as formal contacts, we are slowly breaking down cultural barriers that prevent close working relationships.

"But students need to know that the police are active and visible on the streets as well as on campus. This is also starting to happen, although it's important to acknowledge that the police can't be everywhere all the time. Nevertheless, patrols have stepped up in danger spots surrounding railway stations in the western suburbs.

"Authorities and community representatives have also expressed interest in travelling with our recruitment staff when we visit potential students offshore in their home countries.

"We are taking this one step further. Students and police have both expressed interest in a social cricket match. We've been bowled over by the response, including from female students. Both teams are starting to recognise they have something more than runs on the board to play for."

Media contact: Jim Buckell, Acting Senior Media Officer
Marketing and Communications Department, Victoria University
Phone: +61 3 9919 4243
Mobile: 0400 465 459

Source: VU Media Centre