Civic-minded Christian Nnanyelugo Mbonu (pictured, centre, back row) was already actively representing the needs of fellow visiting students in his local Sydney community when he took on a second volunteer role that has a national perspective.
The ACAP Master of Social Work Qualifying (MSWQ) student became a City of Sydney student leader and ambassador in March.
In July, Christian was elected to the position of National Secretary for the Council of International Students Australia Conference (CISA), through which he is committed to working for change on behalf of his peers facing the many challenges of academic study in a foreign environment.
“I hope to use this role to raise awareness of the issues facing international students, by being their mouthpiece, advocating for their rights, and promoting cross-cultural awareness in the entire international student community,” he said.
Christian brings direct experience to his new role, as he previously held a provincial secretarial position for a student body, but personal reasons also drove him to apply for the CISA vacancy so he could make a difference to other people's lives.
“I have been a victim of work exploitation here in Australia. This has been my source of motivation to advocate and fight for international students, to avoid them having such an experience,” said Christian.
“I also felt that a social worker is highly valuable and needed at the helm of affairs of CISA. This is because we understand these problems and have acquired the skills to empower, liberate and advocate for change in our communities. I felt it was the time I started somewhere, and to prove that ACAP has raised me for this task.”
Targeting positive change
Christian says the priorities for international students vary and are relative to the individual, but at heart, they simply want to focus and reach their education milestones, like every committed learner.
“All that international students want is to enjoy their studies and make the best use of their time here in Australia,” he said.
“Although, we cannot forget other issues, such as workplace exploitation, accommodation, social isolation, lack of internship opportunities, discrimination, lack of career support services, lack of networking opportunities with local students, alumni engagement, lack of student representation, and so on. In some states, there is a lack of transport concession and pre-arrival information, which makes each situation relative. With a look at all these issues, the priority is to address them and engage with relevant stakeholders to make the students’ time here as pleasant as possible.”
Making a difference
As CISA secretary, Christian has the administrative responsibility of updating the organisation’s constitution, editing policy documents, managing governance correspondence, organising the Annual General Meeting and taking minutes at meetings.
“Aside from this, I have the duty to represent CISA and international students who need my service and to be an inspiration to my fellow students and colleagues,” said Christian.
The benefits of Christian’s connections are likely to flow to his own professional development and to assist those in his close-knit network at ACAP while his own studies continue at the Hyde Park campus in Sydney.
“The role will help prepare me for my social work practice in life, as I hope to use this experience to be a better advocate for social change and development in any community I find myself,” he said.
“For my colleagues and ACAP students, they can rest assured I will provide them with relevant information and they also have my support on any positive project or plan that would benefit students in ACAP and Australia.
“I hope to work with them to address some of the issues facing international students and to propose solutions for CISA to take on board. Furthermore, in working with my teachers, I look forward to engaging in discussions with them on how learning could be improved to help international students enjoy their study and stay in Australia.”
According to Professor Sharon Moore, ACAP’s MSWQ Coordinator, the benefits of Christian's extra-curricular activities are already being experienced among his ACAP Social Work cohort.
“Christian is empowering international students at ACAP by assisting them with housing advice and support, with transport and generally advising them on their rights and responsibilities, to help make living and studying in Australia a great experience," said Sharon.
Find out more
ACAP offers three Social Work programs on-campus at Sydney and you can find out about international student applications here. Read about how CISA advocates for the rights of international students in Australia on its website.