A Distinguished Contribution to International Education
16 Oct 2018
Gary Lee is a remarkable person - a former student who not only now advocates for students, but minorities, refugees and the disenfranchised. For Gary the key is inclusion, which is why Study Gold Coast invited him to lead our student engagement campaign during the Commonwealth Games.
Gary has a string of accolades to his credit including the 2016 New Australian of the Year, his most recent recognition was for his Distinguished Contribution to International Education. Trevor Jackson caught up with Gary following the International Education Association of Australia Awards in Sydney.
In what ways did you engage with the Gold Coast student community during the Commonwealth Games?
I felt very privileged to have been involved with Study Gold Coast during the Commonwealth Games earlier this year as the Student Emissary in Residence of the Gold Coast Student Hub.
I’ve been involved with international education for many years so this project allowed me to use my natural abilities to engage with students at a grassroots level. I worked with the Study Gold Coast team to implement some wonderful opportunities for students, visitors and influencers from around the world, which of course was very exciting.
There were so many highlights for me but two that stand out was the experience of hosting the Human Rainbow event at Kurrawa Beach and being on the panel for ‘Trade 2018 – Diversity for Business Growth'. These initiatives challenged me in different ways and in doing so allowed me to share my insights and knowledge with a wide range of people from all walks of life.
How significant do you think the event was for the local student community?
I loved the way that Study Gold Coast took the opportunity of the Commonwealth Games to engage the local community in so many different and creative ways. What’s significant though was the fact that students were always at the forefront of their different approaches.
Those initiatives allowed the local student community to understand their peers from overseas a little better while educating the local community about the importance of grassroots connection for future international business relationships. These initiatives not only is encouraged cohesion during the Games, but also demonstrated that there isn’t (and should never be) a divide of what’s ‘local’ and ‘international’. People connected because deep down we all have the same basic needs and ultimately we all have similar interests and passions.
What role did the Student Hub play during the Games?
The Gold Coast Student Hub is such a welcoming space for all students and works on so many levels - studying, connecting with other students, learning and networking while making new, and often lifelong friendships. While I was on the Gold Coast I had the opportunity to experience such diverse offerings in that space from social BBQs, film screenings, community education workshops, careers advice, handicraft workshops, resume support and a number of karaoke events – which I may have taken part in. We even set up a stylish lounge area outside the Hub and students absolutely loved it as a space to chat, play games or just to hang out as the crowds from the Commonwealth Games sauntered past.
What did you take away from the experience?
It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zones and allowed me to grow professionally. It gave me the confidence I needed to pursue new challenges that I initially thought might not be possible. It also opened my eyes to how important collaborations are in the sector - even across the different states by allowing us to learn from one another and develop best practices to ensure our international students are well taken care of.
More importantly, the biggest take away for me were the friendships and networks I established during my time there. In a short span of time, I managed to build a very strong network of friends and colleagues. I have returned to the Gold Coast multiple times since the Commonwealth Games, and each visit is like going back home.
What continues to inspire you to be an advocate for the student community?
International students inspire me in many ways. They are some of the most courageous, dedicated, giving and resilient people I know. I love their energy. I want to continue to play a role in creating leaders of the future, however small my contribution. I believe international students are such intelligent people and all we need to do is provide them with platforms and avenues to give them the best chance at success, they will do the rest, and will inevitably impress us all.
What do you think the wider benefits were for the community of Study Gold Coast's embracing diversity campaign launched during the Games?
The Embracing Diversity campaign was very successful in changing the conversation around international students. It helped spread an awareness of all the wonderful contributions international students give to their new home, not just economically, but culturally and socially. Their unique perspectives and insights are refreshing and should be celebrated. International students are also passionate givers and are often at the forefront when it comes to volunteering for various events and projects.