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Initiative and passion sparks new support, learning program

Published:05 July 2016

Students from the Language and Cultural Exchange (LACE) program, held at CQUniversity's Sydney campus.

CQUniversity Academic Learning Services Unit Associate Lecturer, Ruth O’Neill, understands how difficult it can be for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to settle in Australia because of language and cultural challenges.

So she took it upon herself to take some action and provide a helping hand by creating the LACE (Language and Cultural Exchange) program.

“The main aim of the program was to provide participants with the language and communication skills that they need to function effectively and confidently in Australian society,” Ms O’Neill said.

“I also wanted to provide a safe and supportive environment for students to meet new people from different cultures and share their experiences.”

Held at CQUni Sydney, the program is open to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who are no longer eligible for government-funded courses.

Two, two-hour classes, for beginner and intermediate level students, are offered on Friday during term. The classes are now in their fourth term and have grown from a handful of students in Term 1 to 40 students in Term 3.

Participants passionately spread the word and organisations, including Mission Australia, the Asylum Seekers Centre, Settlement Services International and the Community Migrant Resource Centre, have embraced the program and actively promote it to their clients.

Ms O’Neill said students came from all walks of life, nationalities and circumstances.

“We have had students from 12 countries including Iran, Iraq, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and China,” she said.

“We have had a neurosurgeon, a university professor, a doctor and an 83-year-old housewife studying together.

“We have people recently released from detention centres, people who have suffered incredibly in their home countries and people who have simply come to live with their loved ones.

“But the one thing that unites them all is their desire to improve their English, assimilate into Australia and make a better life for themselves and their families; that’s what makes this program so rewarding – it does genuinely make a difference.

“One participant told me that before he started the class, he felt ‘hopeless’ and now he feels ‘hopeful’.

“Another told me that he was so ashamed about his lack of English that he would cover the television and yet he now uses it to pick up new vocabulary and develop his listening skills.”

Such progress would not be possible without the support of the Academic Learning Services Unit.

Sydney campus staff members Gabriela Toth and Edward Pember both teach on the program and Melbourne campus advisors Kaye Sutton and June Sanderson have piloted the program there.

Moving forward it is hoped that the program will also be offered on other campuses and involve people outside of the unit.

One such initiative has been developed by David Beddoe, law lecturer, who has helped to organise a legal and financial counselling presentation for LACE participants and CQUni students.

This program continues to strengthen CQUni’s community links whilst facilitating the transition of participants into Australian life. It is wonderful to think that they have a place in LACE.