Alumni open their homes to new students

27 May 2015

Welcome to Sydney participants with Dr Rabbi Dovid Slavin at his Our Big Kitchen event.
Welcome to Sydney participants with Dr Rabbi Dovid Slavin at his Our Big Kitchen event.

Newly arrived international students at the University of Sydney are receiving a special initiation into their temporary home city through the Welcome to Sydney program.

This innovate program introduces international students to each other and to Sydney at small group gatherings hosted and organised by local University alumni.

A number of Welcome to Sydney events have been held by generous alumni of the University so far this year, including alumni from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Education and Social Work, with students taking part in activities ranging from a formal dinner at home to hands-on cooking classes in an industrial kitchen.

One of the first sessions of the year kicked off in an unlikely setting, with ten students donning aprons and hairnets with alumnus Rabbi Dr Dovid Slavin at his Bondi-based, non-denominational charitable organisation, Our Big Kitchen.

Students cooked meals not only for their own dinner but also for the homeless and needy as part of Our Big Kitchen's vital work in the local community.

"I think it's very valuable as it gives overseas students an anchor in what can be a turbulent environment," said Rabbi Dr Slavin, Founder and Director of Our Big Kitchen.

"It gives alumni a chance to reflect on their own studies as well as the chance to give back to the university by contributing to a more cohesive environment."

Dr Slavin completed a PhD in the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies at the University of Sydney in 2013. His thesis examined what was lost in the Holocaust for Eastern European Jewry, and how life has continued through the methods of training Rabbis and Jewish leaders.

For Manson Tam, a Master of Education (Management and Leadership) student from Hong Kong, hearing about Dr Slavin's work with Our Big Kitchen was a deeply inspiring experience.

"Giving a helping hand to people and communities in need is not a priority for my home city," he said.

"However, Rabbi Slavin reminded me everyone can do simple things to make a difference, and every little bit really does count. His thoughts inspired me to rethink what makes a harmonious society and how to make the world a better place."

Another session was held at the home of Annie Crawford, the Founder of Can Too, a fitness-focused cancer fundraising organisation.

Crawford is an alumna of the University's Bachelor of Arts/Social Work degree, and won the University of Sydney Alumni Achievement Award in 2011.

In April, six students joined Annie and her family in their home for a relaxed lunch to experience life as true Sydneysiders.

"I loved the fact that the students were from a range of ages, with incredible life experiences of their own. They were all really open and fun and had fascinating stories to share," said Crawford.

"It can be really lonely for overseas students and this is something really small that we can do to make them feel more at home and welcome in our country.

"It is important for us to show that Australians are hospitable people that care about people from other cultures, especially when the news is filled with how terribly we treat refugees and 'detainees'."

Alumna Dr Ditta Bartels, who was a former CEO of a small Australian electronics company, also hosted a Welcome to Sydney event in April, with ten international students joining her for a meal at home.

Anna Morabito from the University of Venice, who is undertaking a PhD with the Department of Linguistics, said the Welcome to Sydney program had provided an excellent opportunity to make new friends at a time when she didn't know many people in Sydney.

"I think one of the best aspects of the events was the quality of the time: meeting new people, sharing perspectives, bridging experiences of those who are still studying and those who have experienced life and work afterwards, which was truly precious."

Faculty alumni interested in participating in the Welcome To Sydney program are encouraged to contact Kate Macfarlane, Manager Alumni relations: