Many international students come to Australia to pursue their tertiary studies – but not Harriet. In 2019, Harriet arrived from Vietnam to complete her final year of high school in Australia’s capital, Canberra.
I decided to step out of my comfort zone as I want to learn new things and achieve more goals in my life,
Your comfort zone is a huge aspect of how you define yourself, and studying abroad early [in my education] is a great opportunity for me to experience and enhance my cultural awareness.
Volunteering in Canberra
Between her studies, Harriet began volunteering with the ACT Vietnamese Youth & Student Association (ACT-VYSA), which aims to connect the Vietnamese community with all other international communities around Canberra to promote and exchange cultural ideas, traditions and events.
During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harriet was able to assist the ACT-VYSA team in making masks.
"We work in cooperation with another Vietnamese company, H&N,” she says. “Most of their employees are international students, too, so they understood how difficult it was for us during the coronavirus outbreak. The H&N team would put their time and especially love in each mask they made. These would be passed on to us at ACT-VYSA, and we would send them to students who were in need."
Supporting students’ mental health
Harriet and the ACT-VYSA team quickly found out how vulnerable international students were during the COVID-19 crisis, and sought to support the community.
The uncertainty and stress of the global outbreak, plus spending time in quarantine, can take a serious mental toll. As schools and businesses closed, people became stressed and anxious. Realising that mental health is one of the most important aspects at this time, the ACT-VYSA president sent out a form for students to fill out in order to keep in touch and catch up on the students' status and health.
We also hosted many mini events to encourage community engagement, like the ‘Stay Positive after COVID-19 with ACT-VYSA’ competition, where people could submit a poem and win prizes.
Staying resilient, even after a crisis
Harriet offers sound advice for fellow international students, which she hopes will help students even after the pandemic has passed.
It is crucial to acknowledge that everyone faces and copes with stress differently. It's more difficult to make decisions or get things done when times are tough because you don't want to ruin your plans or your journey,” she says. “It’s time for everyone to slow down, take a rest and look after their mental health before going back to their busy normal lives."
Regarding the ongoing pressure of COVID-19, Harriet encourages students to stay connected and stay strong.
"Try to keep in touch with your family, even if you are a thousand miles apart from them. COVID-19 has been discouraging for everyone but this new challenge and experience is a wonderful way to make ourselves become more adaptable, more resilient, and healthier."