When the call went out for volunteers for the UTS HELPS Buddy Program in 2013, staff were delighted with the response which has since grown to over 3000 buddies since it began. Buddies currently connect via a customised online matching platform that filters preferences for your perfect match. Volunteers are made up of students, staff, alumni, and the general community who join to give back, learn a language, have a break from work and study or gain volunteer hours for UTS award programs. 

It’s simple – once a week buddies meet on campus (or right now online!) for friendly, relaxed conversation that helps international students improve their English fluency and confidence while they make friends and learn more about life in Sydney. It’s hoped that the program will continue to grow as more staff and student volunteers discover the cross-cultural benefit – and more international students, whether here in Sydney or across the globe, look for opportunities for connection, like Anthony (aka Tony) Baker, Emeritus Professor (Science) and Rund Awwad, an Engineering PhD Student, who share their personal story below about their inspiring relationship.

When Tony met Rund

Tony: Well, we had a bit of fun getting the first meeting going with Zoom invitations not working. I think that we just had a phone meeting that first time. The Zoom meetings have worked well since. Our regular slot has always been 6-7pm on Fridays because Rund has the kids settled by then – I am not sure what she uses, it must be some mesmerizing signal from the TV. Omar does pop into view from time-to-time, which is very sweet.

What has helped greatly is that there is a natural fit in our interests: Rund is working in energy policy and I had done some work with University of Melbourne colleagues in preparing Gippsland for the post-brown coal future. So, we are both interested in renewables and issues such as energy efficient housing, micro-grids and the hydrogen economy.

Anthony Baker, Emeritus Profesor (Science)

Rund impresses me with her passion to make a difference in the world. I have the sense that she is politically-savvy and very well-connected in Jordan. Clearly, she is very concerned about ensuring that Jordan, currently importing much of its energy, will be able to exploit renewables in the future and engage in best practices with respect to housing design and distribution networks, using developing technologies where appropriate.

It is great to work with a doctoral student who has the life experience, and international experience, that Rund has had. She brings maturity and poise to her research. I have always enjoyed working with research students and have always said that supervising post-graduates is the most satisfying aspect of academic life. I do not claim that I can help Rund directly with her research, but our common interests helped to cement the relationship.  I know that I can help her improve her already excellent English – she wants to speak and write English like a first language person. That is the main focus of our work together.

For myself, I am pleased to be giving something back to UTS, the institution that supported the great majority of my career.  The online buddy program, designed to help international students in the time of COVID-19, is a great initiative to fill a void that the government policy has left open.

When Rund met Tony

Rund: Tony’s presence in my UTS experience is a game changer. It happened that we started our buddy journey right after the lockdown measures started to ease-off. At that point in time I was greatly suffering from the impact of COVID-19 crisis on both my study as well as my personal life. On our first meeting Tony was so warm, so welcoming and so easy to talk to that he gave me the sense of relief that I aspire to have in a mentor.

When I started exploring the buddy program, I was looking for a buddy with an academic profile, a staff member and someone ideally related to my field. Tony’s profile exceeded all my expectations. His long and broad experience and his previous prestigious yet vital positions as chair of academic board at UTS and his previous roles in many other reputable academic institutions, regionally and internationally, made every word in our discussion count. Over and above, he is very knowledgeable and very interested in renewable energies, passive technologies, and the socio-political and economics of these choices. Moreover, he values the tremendous opportunities these technology choices can bring to Australia and the globe.

I’m so glad that Dr. Tony picked me, and I believe his experience played a great role in that and I also believe that the tools provided in the buddy program for participants helped us a lot to communicate prior to starting and ultimately helped us to choose the right partners.

Rund Awwad, Engineering PhD student

I initially learned about the buddy program from HELPS after I attended an informational session and was very impressed by the content, level of engagement and opportunities available for students who have English as a second language. Sadly, that was one of the very few face-to-face sessions I attended since I started my PhD, but it was most impressive.

I think this is one of the best programs offered for international students as well as for domestic students who are keen to improve their spoken and academic English. I do hope and if I may encourage you to invest more in this program and other similar programs as the benefits and outcomes could be really significant. My gratitude to Dr. Tony is infinite!

Find out more!

The UTS HELPS Buddy Program was started in response to international student requests for speaking practice and the HELPS team noticing their need for friendship and engagement with the university. Language exchange particularly benefits local students intending to study abroad. 

Photo by Hybrid (Unsplash)

  • From my point of view running this program, Tony and Rund are the best example of what it’s all about. I know how wonderful these connections can be – thank you both again for taking the time to let others know.

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