COVID-19 Advice for the JCU Community - Last updated: 8 June 2022, 12pm (AEST)

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Written By

Bianca de Loryn

College/Division

College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

4 August 2021

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Working in a remote location

JCU International Student Aditi Meena tells us about her placement experience in Mount Isa while undertaking a Master of Social Work, and about the importance of hot chocolate for mental health.

Taking the plunge and working outside the big city

Aditi Meena, an international student from India, started her Master of Social Work in February 2020. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, she undertook her first placement in early 2021.

Instead of choosing to stay in a big city, Aditi decided to apply for a placement position in remote Western Queensland, which was a big step for her. “Before my time in Mount Isa, I never experienced life in rural and remote Australia. My exposure was limited to Townsville, Gold Coast and Brisbane,” Aditi says.

“Like many international students, I was afraid of leaving the city. My classmates would say, ‘why are you going there? You will be very lonely’. And I said, ‘no, let me have a go’.”

Between February and June 2021, Aditi worked for headspace Mount Isa, which is operated by Gidgee Healing (Mount Isa Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service).  “The majority of the clients, I would say, about 30 per cent, are Aboriginal people,” Aditi says. “But it is not only Aboriginal people, a lot of different nationalities are also living there.”

Overcoming language barriers

Aditi found the first week at headspace Mount Isa especially challenging, as it meant working in a multi-cultural and multi-lingual environment.  “In a meeting, there would be like five or six of us, everybody speaking in a slightly different accent,” she says.

That was something that took some getting used to.  “The first issue I raised with my supervisor, Sigrid, was, ‘how am I going to do the whole five hundred hours if I don't even understand what people say nine times out of ten?’ But Sigrid reassured me, saying, ‘give yourself some time.’”

That worked well for Aditi. “In about two to three weeks’ time, things got easy for me,” she says. So, she stayed for five months in Mount Isa and loved it.

Aditi Meena
Aditi Meena
Aditi Meena working at the headspace coffee cart in Mount Isa

Placement in a relaxed environment

What Aditi enjoyed most about her placement in Mount Isa was the stress-free and supportive environment. “The whole vibe at headspace is very positive. Everybody is relaxed and easy to work with.”

As headspace is a free health service for 12 to 25-year-olds, most of the clients come in after school. “A lot of them were coming in for a yarn and to have a chat. They just need somebody to talk to,” Aditi says. In terms of work pressure, she adds, “sometimes appointments were back-to-back, but there would be days when we had only a few people in.”

Conversations by the coffee cart

Headspace doesn’t only invite their young clients in, they also go out into the community. “We would take our coffee cart into the community, and wait for the people to come. We would serve free coffee for the grown-ups, and hot chocolate for the children,” Aditi says.

“It's a way of initiating a conversation while we were making them a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. We were hoping that maybe some of them wanted to come in for a chat later,” says Aditi, who enjoyed doing community work from the coffee cart. “It was a brilliant strategy, to get the conversation started about mental health and neutralise the stigma attached to it.”

Social Work students getting to know the real Australia

Overall, Aditi found that living and working in Mount Isa was a great experience. “Moving to rural and regional areas for placement allows international students like me to better understand Australian realities outside of large cities,” Aditi says. “In future, I am hoping to draw from these experiences in helping my clients.”

Going into the second placement with confidence

When it comes to her second placement at Longreach Hospital, which starts in August, Aditi says, “I also didn’t want my second placement to be a ‘typical experience’.” Again, she wanted to go somewhere rural, as she felt she could make a difference there for herself and others.

The second placement is going to be less daunting for her. “At my first placement I always had this apprehension: was I doing the right thing? Now I am much more confident, and I just want to make most of this opportunity,” Aditi says. “Now, for me, it’s ‘come on, let’s just do this’.”

Aditi will be finished with her Master of Social Work (Professional Qualifying) in November 2021. She says she is probably not going to look for work in the big city then. “Maybe I’ll go up North again. It’s been a good experience working and exploring the country,” she says.

Master of Social Work (Professional Qualifying) placements

Outside of COVID-19 restrictions, Master of Social Work students do coursework followed by the first placement, which is followed by more coursework and a second placement. Each placement lasts five hundred hours, and students can choose when and where they would like to work.

Headspace – helping young people get back on track

People aged 12 to 25 seeking help for mental health should contact headspace at headspace.org.au

Discover JCU Social Work

Taking the plunge and help get the conversation started when it comes to youth mental health