eFriends support international students as life goes online

Ms Helen Zhang1, Ms Lakna Gunawardana1, Miss Yiru (Penny) Wang1

1La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia

This year, as the situation with COVID-19 continues to evolve rapidly, La Trobe University has shifted to online teaching and learning and transitioning to working from home. It’s become more important to have access to a support system while we adjust to this new way of life. At La Trobe, our current international students choose to join eFriend program and volunteer their time to support the international student community through Facebook and Wechat.
From 15 June to 31 August 2020, our eFriends completed 330 hours of volunteer work, responded to 2374 questions from other international students, created 982 posts around relevant information, initiated 685 online student meetings, and supported 528 students on Facebook along with 143 students on WeChat.
Students have been quick to show their appreciation for the eFriends program with one student posting: ‘Being able to interact with different La Trobians who have been at this university for a long time is very comforting to international students who might feel nervous about moving to a new country, continent and space. I am still in my home country but feel like l am already at La Trobe.’
We believe ISANA always play a key role in sharing great practices of enhancing the international student experience, and we wish to join the ISANA National Conference this year to share more about how we enhance student experience utilising Social Media and build strong student community while technology reshapes the world.

Helen Zhang, International Student Services Coordinator at La Trobe University
Helen offers over 11 years’ experience and a proven track record in the delivery of exceptional student service within a variety of educational institutions in Australia. As a formal international student from China studied Master of Applied Commerce at the University of Melbourne, she understands the academic, cultural, and language barriers international students face in general. Helen is committed to supporting international students to achieve the most from their overseas student experience, through many innovative programs and dedicated student consultations.

Lakna Gunawardana, International Student Services Officer at La Trobe University
Lakna Gunawardana completed Bachelor of Laws (Hons) and Attorney at Law (Professional Qualification) in Sri Lanka. In 2017, she joined La Trobe to complete the Master of Management (Human Resource Management). “During my studies, I have engaged in various volunteer activities i.e. International Student Host and e-friend for Transition at La Trobe International Welcome Group. Throughout volunteering and other casual work done with the ISS Team, I have recognised that supporting international students is one of my greatest interests. Currently, I am working as an International Student Services Officer for La Trobe International and continuing helping students.”

Yiru (Penny) Wang, Bachelor Finance graduate at La Trobe University
Penny Wang in an international student from China, who has recently completed a Bachelor of Finance with outstanding academic performance at La Trobe University, and has played a key role in the eFriend program for the past few months. ‘I decided to join this program because I wanted to help others, but in an official role,’ she says. ‘And now eFriends is offered on online platforms, we’re able to guide students to find information in the most efficient way and solve the problem, rather than leaving them to navigate things themselves.’

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