Newcastle students at St Columba School Port Macquarie

A cultural exchange program organised in partnership between Manning Valley Neighbourhood Services – Migrant Settlement, Northern Settlement Services and the Multicultural Neighbourhood Centre in Newcastle is giving regional NSW students an opportunity to meet and mingle with counterparts from around the world.

This year the project ran July 21-22 in Taree and Port Macquarie with 18 visiting students from four high schools in Newcastle — students who originally arrived in Australia from Afghanistan, Syria, Congo, Rwanda, Liberia, South Sudan, Burundi and Sierra Leone.

Some had only been in Australia for eight weeks.

The Newcastle students listened to their Taree contemporaries discuss living in regional Australia while also sharing their experiences and what it was like for them living in Australia and the challenges they faced. It was a rare opportunity for the Taree and Port Macquarie communities, where there are only a few refugee families. 

The project aims to break down barriers, raise awareness, and educate the students from regional areas and provide the Newcastle students with the chance to learn about regional Australia and meet regional kids. It focuses on an exchange of learning and on providing a personal and informal approach — so students can get to know each other in an informal and non-threatening way.

The July 21 Taree High visit involved discussion groups. While a bit awkward at first, students had some pre-set questions to help them along so the conversation flowed more freely.

Students had the opportunity to ask questions and get to know each other. Lunch was provided in the general school area so kids mixed with the whole school.

An informal soccer game played between Newcastle and Taree is always the highlight and very competitive, with Newcastle winning in the past three years. Migrant Settlement Project Worker Jane O’Dwyer said, “It is a lot of fun with lots of photos taken and friends made.”

Students then went to the school’s Aboriginal room where the Elder in residence and his team explained a number of Indigenous artefacts, shared some dance and rhythm, and invited everyone to try throwing a boomerang — much harder than it looks.

The July 22 visit to St Columba Anglican School (Port Macquarie) started with some informal dance and singing performances from the Newcastle students. They then moved into a game of soccer followed by discussion groups.

Ms O’Dwyer said, “Overall the students from Newcastle, Taree and Port Macquarie gained a lot from the visit and really enjoyed themselves. After breaking the initial ice, as always, they find they have a lot in common — sport, music, part-time jobs, the joy of homework!”

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