August 21, 2017

Out of the Box

The program in a nutshell

Out of the Box is an experiential learning program that aims to equip international students with the tools and mindsets to embrace the out-of-campus environment as a place for experimentation and personal transformation.

Why Out of the Box? 

International students come to Australia for a range of reasons: beyond acquiring skills and completing a degree through university, their studies in Australia are also an opportunity for personal transformation and growth and – for many – a pathway towards potential migration. However, the cognitive and emotional pressure of living in an unfamiliar environment often makes it difficult for international students to thrive socially and academically in the Australian context. This is particularly the case when students are unclear as to their desire to remain in Australia or return to their own country after their studies.

As a result, international students often limit the scope of their social interactions to small groups of people from the same background, and narrowly focus their attention on course and classroom activities, meanwhile neglecting to engage more broadly with the urban and social environment offered by Melbourne. At best, this is a missed opportunity for them to practice English extensively, learn about Australia, and reflect on their own cultural perspectives and aspiration. In many cases, it can lead students to feel frustrated, isolated and disconnected, and develop mild to moderate mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.

International students represent a great opportunity for Australian universities. Not only does international education represent one of the biggest exports for the country, but international students bring a cultural diversity that greatly enhances the experience of other students and the vibrancy of our cities. Over the longer term, international students can be a source of rich and extended networks, whether they return to their home country or settle to Australia, where they greatly contribute as workers and entrepreneurs.

The challenge that Out of the Box aims to address is thefore: “how can we equip international students with the tools and mindsets to embrace their out-of-campus surroundings as a place for experimentation and deep personal transformation?”

What is Out of the Box?

Out of the Box is an experiential learning program for international students at university level. The program offers three facilitated in-presence workshops and three guided group activities, and finishes with a graduation ceremony. Workshops invite international students to reflect on their comfort zone and how to stretch it, articulate their present understanding of Australia and how it differs from places they identify as familiar, build skills to observe and reflect on their surroundings, and clarify what they understand a conversation to be. In between workshops, students, in pairs, go through guided activities that gradually stretch their comfort zone, bring them in contact with local landmarks, people and events, and create positive experiences of local engagement. At the end of the program, students graduate ‘out of the box’ by pitching one original activity to do with their friends out-of-campus.

Out of the Box is currently in the piloting stage, and three different modes of delivery are being tested:

  • as a four week program with one point of contact per week
  • as a one week program, with one workshop every afternoon or evening
  • as an intensive one or two-day program.

What are the outcomes? 

The leading assumption is that Out of the Box will increase the readiness of international students to engage with their out-of-campus environment, which in turn this will have the following benefits:

  • International students develop a greater sense of belonging. In the short term, this increases their well-being, creating the conditions for better study and a better experience. In the long-term, this results in better/faster integration for students who choose to remain in Australia after the end of their studies, and a deeper lasting connection for students returning to their home country.
  • International students are more able to observe Australian culture and increase their English skills through exposure to and engagement with a broader range of local environments. This in turn contributes to greater capacity to understand and adopt Australian cultural codes, leading to increased employability.
  • The range and number of interactions with locals increases – opening the possibility for new networks, leading to job and internship opportunities, or the formation of stronger local networks of support.
  • International students become visible members of local communities, and are seen as potential audiences, clients, customers neighbours, friends, partners and contributors to various initiatives. In turn, this increases their capacity and readiness to become valued members of society.

How advanced is the program. 

Out of the Box was designed in collaboration with three students from the Melbourne University faculty of Business and Economics, as part of a 2-week student internship program. An early prototype was conducted with Monash College in May 2017. Marco Polo Project received funding from the City of Melbourne to run a set of pilots in 2018. Monash College and RMIT, as well as two independent language schools, have expressed strong interest in Out of the Box, and are expected to partner on pilots in 2018.

If you would like to know more about Out of the Box, or think the program might be of benefit to your organisation, contact us!