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'There's no need to be ashamed': Support available for struggling international students

Many students from China haven't been able to return to their studies in Australia. Source: AAP

The Australian Homestay Network provides low-cost accommodation and meals for international students with Australian families. Bangladeshi international student Sadman Oshan says it's an "excellent initiative".

The International Student Support Network (ISSN) was formed at the initiative of the Australian Homestay Network (AHN). The COVID-19 crisis has had a profound effect on the Australian economy, and international students who came to study in Australia have fallen into particularly hard times.

The Australian Homestay Network is among various organisations coming forward to help, providing low cost and short-term accommodation for international students.

The international education sector is Australia's fourth-largest export earner.

In 2019, about 758,154 international students came to study in this country. The sector contributed $37.6 billion to the Australian economy in the 2018-19 financial year, generating around 250,000 full-time equivalent jobs and supporting Australian livelihoods.

International students in Australian families are provided with low-cost accommodation and meals through the Australian Homestay Network. 

David Bycroft is the founder of the Australian Homestay Network.

About 12 years ago we established the Australian Homestay network to help international students settle into the study routine by placing them with an Australian family", he told SBS Bangla. 

"So they could learn the culture quicker, learn the language quicker and also assimilating to the community a lot better.

This opportunity is usually not available for free. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, many international students have faced food and accommodation problems. Mr Bycroft said he formed the International Student Support Network (ISSN) as a special project to help them to encourage Australian host families to keep international students at home at a very low cost.

In the last 12 years, some 60,000 international students from 180 countries across Australia have been provided with such housing assistance. 

One of them is Sadman Oshan, a Bangladeshi international student at Southern Cross University.

"What happened was as soon as we launched this special support program because of COVID-19, Oshan was one of the very first applicants who wrote to us needing help” Mr Bycroft says.

"He had lost his job. He was struggling with accommodation and he needed help. So, he wrote to us and we found him a placement in Sydney and he staying fully sponsored for 8 weeks."

"The main criteria is we check through the education provider of the student."

"In Oshan's case, we wanted to work quickly to get him settled because we knew from his email that he was studying with (a) struggle that he was very vulnerable so we were able to place him very quickly."

"We mainly liaise with their educational institutions when it comes to student selection."

The best way is to go to the education provider and tell them honestly what their problem is and they need help. And we are working most of the education providers in Australia and also with the government sectors. So, I would encourage students not to be shy. I would encourage them to make sure they let their education provider know they need assistance and they can refer to their education provider to our program.

Mr Bycroft said they mainly provide accommodation, food, emotional support and WiFi facilities so that international students can study. His organisation has a partnership with the government of New South Wales "so, we will be able to arrange accommodation in New South Wales faster than other places in Australia,” he said.

"Excellent initiative"

Sadman Oshan, a Bangladeshi international student at Southern Cross University, has received housing assistance from the Australian Homestay Network.

"Ever since the pandemic of coronavirus started, there have been a lot of small and big organizations trying to help more or less," he said.

“In particular, some Bengali communities, here, they have been really great. They actually tried to help everyone, in many ways. ”

He said that the Australian Homestay Network has played a special role in providing free accommodation. 

"It's an excellent initiative," he said. 

“They (the host families) are amazing. The family I live with is actually a teacher. It's a very nice house, very big house. I'm on the second floor, they're on the ground floor. They are very welcoming. I am feeling like home. "

Sadman found out about the Australian Homestay Network through Facebook but many other students may not be aware of its existence.

Masood Al Shams is pursuing an advanced diploma in a private college. He appreciated the free two-course meal assistance from the Lakemba Bangladeshi community.

Ajmeri Afrin, the wife of Masters student Atiqur Rahman, said she had never heard of any other family offering free housing.