Category Archives: Teachers’ Stories

IST-China Rachael’s story (2)

The Great Wall of China

It has been an amazing couple of days. I have a headache and I am seriously tired. This particular study tour is full-on. There isn’t much down-time (not for me anyway due to the multi jobs an academic has while completing overseas teaching – it never stops back at home) and there is a lot to get through in terms of: preparing the students appropriately, making sure everyone is engaged and doing well, as well as all the learning along the way. We have a big group (24) so I always knew this was going to be an exciting challenge/journey as the Academic Supervisor.

I am so very grateful I have a fantastic cohort of students that require a bit of support with the learning, but who are very quick learners and once they are directed take it in their stride.

We went to the Great Wall of China today. As it was a 1.5 hour bus ride, we took this opportunity and turned it into to a bus-classroom. Two students (Sophie and Amelia) facilitated the activities. We used this time for the different groups to get together, to get to know each other, and to brain storm what cultural awareness means now that they have spent some time in China (Beijing). It was so very nice to hear the students’ different stories about this and how they feel: that there are more similarities between Australian culture and Chinese culture than differences.

Copyright owned by the author
Copyright owned by the author (at the Great Wall of China with Kathy, Dun Li and Dylon)

China: my first impressions

My first impression of China is: impressive, vast, huge, organised and efficient. I arrived in Beijing yesterday and after a pretty long flight from Melbourne that involved a lot of calmness and problem solving. Today, was our first tour day and we went to the Forbidden City.

Emperor's Palace
Emperor’s Palace

I found the experience awesome, because I have always been interested in Chinese history and how it is portrayed in the cinema. I thought I knew how big the Forbidden City was but until you are here and get the opportunity to walk the palaces within the palaces you don’t really understand the complexity associated with both the historical politics and private life of the different Emperors, for example. If I had more time I would have waited in the two hour line to see Chairman Mao!

I have never been so cold though. I felt (as did the students) that my nose, cheeks and ears were going to fall right off from frost bite. It was freezing, and it was hard not to buy every fury hat that came my way.

After the Forbidden City we headed to a restaurant for an authentic Chinese banquet that also had a shadow puppet show as our backdrop. We (students and me) learnt that it is always the host who gives permission when to eat. The food was exceptional and I enjoyed the authentic Chinese foods on offer and especially the sharing style of a Chines meal/banquet.

In the afternoon, we visited two social enterprise Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) to find out about the various environmental projects that are occurring in China. One organisation was the Protective Ground Friend System and the other one was Magic Cat. We had the chance to hear first hand how China is beginning to move into action for environmental concerns and how rubbish can be turned into artwork. Not all students are always aware of NGOs in terms of how closely they may work with Government and small communities to help them economically, spiritually and for the well-being of a whole community. I always love hearing from students that they have learnt something new and begin to think ‘big’ and what it means (to them) to be a global citizen.

Two students (Louis and Al) presented Swinburne gifts to the two NGOs. These students were purposely approached just minutes before the presentation concluded. The students were invited to represent Swinburne in thanking our hosts. I always really enjoy the opportunity that this brings to our students; to take the lead with these important ceremonies and especially when it is asked at the last-minute. It is employability-important that students have the opportunity to welcome and execute adaptability, be very flexible and be willing to use their oral communication skills, and at short notice. I was very proud.

Written by Rachael Hains-Wesson (PhD)

IST-Malaysia (+ 3 month internship)

Kuala Lumpur

It has been a very hectic, busy and an amazing teaching time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the IST-Malaysia (+ Internship). I will be here for ten days meeting Workplace Supervisors, providing students with feedback, facilitating a reflective practice workshop and grading students on their in-country group assessment. In addition, I will be completing an evaluation of the program by collecting information from as many perspectives as possible (industry and students). This will help the the IST team to improve the next delivery of the program, which is scheduled for Summer 2016.

Six students are taking part in a three month internship in various industries across KL. Some of the industries I have visited so far are communication/media, finance and law firms. I have been warmly welcomed by the Managers (and founders) of these companies, learnt about the work that they do, and how the Swinburne students are supporting this work as they learn about themselves, others, culture, being adaptive, creative and becoming professionals with an ‘authentic’ global mindset.

The last time I was personally in KL was over twenty years ago. I have used my down time to explore the city, and take part in the amazing selection of street eateries. I did the city’s ‘hop on and hop off’ bus tour to the main tourist attractions in KL. This was a great way to quickly immerse myself in the diverse culture and learn about the important iconic buildings and KL’s history. I do realise that this is a very touristy thing to do but with the short amount of time that I have in KL, I felt that this was the best way to quickly remind myself of how much KL has changed since my last visit. What has remained the same (for me) is the eclectic selection  of food, products on sale, items galore and the warm hospitality from the KL community.

copyright owned by author (2016)
copyright owned by author (2016)

Tomorrow is another busy day, due to visiting the final three companies where the students have spent nearly three months as interns. In addition, this week we gather together to complete the group oral presentation and touch base on how to ‘get back’ into the groove of university learning and teaching.

Story written by Dr Rachael Hains-Wesson (Convenor of the IST for the Swinburne Advantage).

IST-Malaysia (+ internship): a very good beginning

A very good beginning…

Six Swinburne undergraduate students have departed for the IST-Malaysia (+ internship) just a few days ago. We were able to organise a networking dinner on their first night in KL with Swinburne Alumni members. It was a fantastic opportunity for our students to mingle with professionals, while getting to know the culture of KL. Students will be living and working in KL for three months while they complete the IST unit. This will enable them to be completely immersed into the Malaysian culture and increase their employability skills as they continue to develop their global citizenship credentials.

Malaysia image for Alumni

This offering is also a challenge for the IST support and academic team; as we need to nurture and encourage students to be very resilient, self-motivated and to take-up the initiative when needed. Often this takes place online. Not everything goes to plan with most study tours little lone when we decide to add an Internship. But, the benefits to students out-way any challenges associated with such an undertaking.

Additionally, we are experimenting and completing research around how the IST can work better with its third-party providers; when it comes to delivery and maintaining high quality industry engagement opportunities that are linked to experiential learning outcomes.

For me, what I am really interested in, is the integration of mobile learning and online platforms for collaborations as a type of blended learning philosophy of practice for the IST model. We talk so much about these types of techno-advances but rarely do we put ourselves out there with our students to experiment, take risks and truly learn from one another. I am personally looking forward to touching base with the students, using Collaborate while I am in Melbourne and the students are actively engaging and being pushed out of their comfort zones in KL.

Interestingly,  one of the six students came to Samoa with me for a previous IST and he has been a valuable asset to the team by helping to lead the group when travelling from Melbourne to KL. I think it is important to give students the opportunities (when appropriate) to actively use their past Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) experiences to improve upon their leadership skills. As Swinburne begins to offer more and more of these opportunities, I am starting to see many students taking on additional and/or multiple WIL units. A great opportunity to tap into student-mentoring frameworks for study tours perhaps?

Samoa trip by Rachael (reflection eight)

From the left – Bryney, Nicole, Kathleen and Rachael

I have spent some more time back in Apia. It has been great for me to spend some quality time supporting students with their industry engagements. One student in particular has made some great progress with their interest in acquiring as much industry engagement as possible for their career area while in-country. I am very proud of how students are showing initiative for themselves and for being excellent leaders for Swinburne. It is very impressive. For example, another student successfully presented their ideas to a rural community village program on how to improve their marketing strategies. A fantastic outcome for both the community and students.

I am very excited about the future of this particular Industry Study Tour (Samoa). There have been some great industry contacts made that will help allow this program to become even better for 2017. For instance, a full day workshop with students at the National Samoa University to problem solve ‘what does global citizenship mean?’ Women in Business industry engagement, LifeLine, National Health Services, Victim Support Centre at the Campus of Hope to help develop programs, deliver, discuss and evaluate for improvement that is completed via a collaborative approach – where all thoughts and ideas are aired in a culturally sensitive and inclusive way.

It is my final day in Samoa. We fly out at 10pm tonight and we all have a long stop over in Auckland in the early hours of the morning. We will all be very tired and grumpy, I am sure. I am hoping that everyone will use what they have learnt while on this Industry Study Tour (including me!), about being adaptable, inclusive and flexible to have a safe and smooth transition back to Melbourne.

Finally, I am looking forward to heading home to be with my family, but I am also going to miss Samoa, especially all the fantastic and dedicated Samoans I have met along the way. I look very forward to coming here again in 2017 with a new cohort of eager students and to deliver an even better program for The Swinburne Advantage.

Written by Dr Rachael Hains-Wesson


Samoan trip by Rachael (reflection seven)

Industry Study Tour students and the Women in Business (weaving) community, Saavi’i, Samoa

On the second phase of the trip I have spent time on Savai’i (an island near Samoa’s main island – Upolu) which takes 45 minutes by ferry to reach. I met Gillian Stewart who is now living on Savai’i, working with Women in Business. I received a very warm welcome and felt right at home.

Students and I received a tour by car of the island, stopping to meet social impact business women who are working for Women in Business such as certified organic farming of vanilla and coconuts and those who make the special art work from a large stick. I was lucky enough to see how coconut oil is extracted from the coconuts and watch students taste the oil as soon as it was extracted. I was also lucky enough to visit and see the women who weave the traditional Samoan mats. These women spend every Wednesday together as a community and weave the extraordinary resource intensive mats. It can take up to a week to just weave a small section. The mats need to be 12 hands long and 9 hands wide. Organisations and individuals can sponsor a mat making process via Women in Business with a particular artist and pay it off by installements. The mats are time consuming, delicate and have certain criteria to meet in order for a mat to be classified (1, 2 or 3) with strand 1 being of the highest quality. Mats sell for $4000 Tala.

Savai’i is a beautiful island with a simple and welcoming village approach to living and completing your daily work commitments. We saw some amazing beaches and swimming holes. The only negative for me was that I was challenged by some of the accommodation, as the bookings were lost on arrival (no confirmation of our bookings when arriving late into your accommodation is always a challenge at the best of times). The standard of one of the accommodation options was an issue with less than desirable bedding and holes in the mosquitos nets. However, by using humour and laughing about the situation that I found myself in with other students (thanks Nic!) I was able to overcome the various issues and problems successfully (only just!). In the bigger scheme of things, this was a minor set-back compared to the overall experiences I’ve had on Savai’i such as talking to Gillian about her work with Women in Business, and the challenges of managing cultural diversity and expectations from a Western perspective.

Students have also completed their presentation assessments while in-country. Each student group was expected to work as a team and present their learning, the group’s employability skill development focus and their personal learning outcomes (so far) via a team approach that illustrated collaboration. The students were a bit nervous (who wouldn’t be when you have me sitting in the background taking notes!) but they were also glad to get this part of the assessment process finalised.  Well done team!

I have endeavoured to complete regular reflective seminars with students and to include CERES when appropriate. Our final session was a few days ago and two students led this process for the group; which was just so great to see and be a part of. Adrienne and Bryney, you hit the nail on the head for your facilitation role, well done!

My time here as been cushioned wonderfully by how many of the students are really improving upon their employability skills around communication and teamwork. Students are articulating their individual learning growth and personal employability improvements, wonderfully. I am honoured to be a part of such an experiential learning adventure with the Swinburne students in an international context.

I won’t lie. I have had my challenges and I am constantly being tested both professionally and personally. I don’t always get it right, I make my mistakes and often. However, one thing I know I am good at is making sure that the integritity of the academic program remains at a high standard and continually meets students’ learning requirements for the credited Industry Study Tour unit for Swinburne as part of the Swinburne Advantage.

I have also tried to focus on making sure that I listen to students’ voices and continually look at how I can improve my own practice as a Senior Lecturer during complexity in order to support the group as a whole.

I love Samoa!

Written by Dr Rachael Hains-Wesson


Samoan trip by Rachael (Reflection six)

There is always something to learn when you travel and work in an overseas destination, especially one such as the island of Samoa. I visited (with students) Women in Business in Apia today, which was set up on 1991. We had an awesome introduction to this organisation by the Executive Director (Adimaimalaga Tafunai).

Weaving a plate Apia

What a wonderful organisation that supports Samoan women (in rural) areas to support their families, pay for education and other important economic opportunities. Samoan is not poor in the sense of not having enough food to feed children and families but rather it is ‘poor of opportunity’ such as employment and education for all. Women in Business is slowly helping to fill these gaps buy selling organic foods, materials, cultural weaved mats and cosmetic items (both locally and internationally) on behalf of women in Samoa.

I was thoroughly impressed with the welcoming nature of this Non Government Company (NGO) and to be eager with hosting our Swinburne students in the future for short term placement activities. The staff (Gillian Stewart) who is from Australia and now living in Samoa and working for Women in Business) showed us the factory where coconut oil is manufactured via its pressing station and the various future ideas that will soon turn into a reality. For instance, Women in Business will soon build a factory that will also house an education centre to support Samoan community members to receive organic certification to act as officers. This will allow Samoan organic officers to monitor and evaluate Samoan farms to provide the owners with organic certification (NASA).

Interestingly, Women in Business sells the Samoan coconut oil to the UK Body Shop, which has now just recently been sold to L’Oreal. What a huge undertaking. The Body Shop approached Women in Business due to their Interest in organic materials for cosmetic creams and lotions that are of a high quality and organically certified with the added bonus of the social impact this particular NGO is having on the community. The organic ingredients such as coconut oil are becoming high demand items internationally.

My aspiration is to see Swinburne students take an active role with this NGO and in the near future by completing short term placement activities where students’ skills and their university experience can be used to help brainstorm ideas, collaborate and share knowledge with the Samoan community for improving opportunities.

Written by Dr Rachael Hains-Wesson