Melbourne’s Chinese community is large and it is made up of many individuals. From the Chinese diaspora, to migrant workers to international students, it is a community that continues to grow each year. And while you may be forgiven for assuming that Chinese individuals wouldn’t have a hard time connecting with each other while they’re in Melbourne, it is important to note that not everyone who identifies as Chinese in Melbourne speaks Mandarin or hails from the Mainland.
In 2012, the Cantonese Student Association was formed by a group of Cantonese-speaking students who found it hard to meet others like them at the University of Melbourne. Since then, the student association has expanded, growing from small gatherings to where it is today as a group that actively promotes and spreads Cantonese culture to the international and local student community.
They attract members from different age ranges and ethnicities and in 2017 alone, recruited 400 new members.
Cindy, the club’s secretary, explained the club “provides all the assistance needed by their members whilst (Cantonese-speaking students) live abroad in Melbourne”. They create a safe, friendly and comfortable environment for students and regularly hold activities to help students integrate a little easier and make friends.
Yumcha sessions, games of Mahjong, singing competitions are all activities that the club hold. Additionally, members who wish to learn Cantonese or refine their grasp of the language are provided lessons where they’re taught the language. Club members are encouraged to speak Cantonese at all times.
The club has strong ties to other communities as well and has since expanded its connections to other clubs similar to theirs across other universities in Melbourne. They also encourage other Cantonese students from different universities to create their own association and further Cantonese culture and language at their schools.
Members of the CSA are given a sense of belonging even though they are miles away from home. After three years of living in Melbourne, Cindy is grateful to have formed friendships within the club which have enabled her to make the most out of her time here.
“Although living abroad can be lonely sometimes, at least having a group of friends that remind you of home can make you feel like you never left,” she said.
Clubs and societies can be a home away from home for international students. It is a great way to connect, engage and learn about your own community and the community around you.