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Friendship, the community and finding yourself through companionship.

“It's really important to have that sense of belongingness here so that you know there's someone out there looking out for you, because it's not easy to come...and just blend into a new community.”

Himadri is talking about the importance of building a community for international students, which she and her friend/housemate/fellow international student TJ know about firsthand.

Himadri and TJ began studying at university in Tasmania last year just before COVID-19 hit. They found themselves stuck in their student accommodation, unable to attend in-person classes or events to make friends.

So, they built a community at home.

“We started cooking a lot [with a] group of friends... from different nationalities. So that cultural experience and all combined,” says TJ.

This experience left TJ with a sense of independence she says she wouldn’t have had back home in Sri Lanka.

“When COVID hit...I thought I would be the first person to have a breakdown, but it was really great.

“I learned to become so much more independent. I made lots of new friends, had so many cultural and diverse experiences, and I wouldn't have had those opportunities if I was back home. So I'm so grateful for that.”

TJ and Himadri are now living together outside of university accommodation. They say, even with the university’s safety net, they feel like they are in the real world. Food still brings their community of friends together.

“It's nice. Like on Sunday, we have breakfast out [on] the balcony and it back home, where you have brunch and stuff with your families. It's been amazing,” says TJ.

Himadri adds, “Even if there are restaurants, it's not like a home cooked meal.

“If you say okay, just come over for food, [friends are] always here...Everyone’s happy.”

TJ and Himadri now find online learning more convenient, and are actively looking for ways to connect with the university community. TJ makes a point to do casual work and join a new club or society every semester to meet new people. She says making these efforts is challenging, but she enjoys it.

“As a community engagement leader, working casually at university, we get to meet a lot of new students,” says Himadri.

“You get to see students [in] their first year, first semester, coming into orientation, and I'm going to all these activities, and it's really fulfilling to make sure that we build a community in the university itself.”

TJ and Himadri say when coming to a new country, it’s important to connect with people and build a community around you to make the journey easier.

“You need to reach out to people. Be a bit more social, a bit more friendly because everyone here is friendly. Tasmanians are actually shy, so you need to go up to them and talk to them,” says TJ.

“But that really helps you make new friends, meet new people, and grab opportunities you wouldn't have had otherwise.”