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A passion for enriching students' university experience

There’s nothing like having a friend. They share in our experiences and enrich our lives. A friend’s support can make the best of a bad situation, and there’s nothing more rewarding than helping out a friend. But reaching out to make a friend can be intimidating. That’s why JCU’s Alex Salvador creates opportunities for students at JCU to connect and build a valuable support network during their uni experience.

Alex Salvador has been an International Sponsored Student Advisor at JCU since 2003. Why has he stayed in the same role for 18 years? Because it is perfectly aligned with what he is passionate about. In honour of International Day of Friendship (July 28), Alex shares his passion for fostering friendships.

“I love this job so much — it’s amazing,” Alex says. “The primary responsibility of my role is to manage students at JCU under the Australia Awards Scholarship, and the other part of my role is to provide support for our international students. That support can include everything from helping them find accommodation to providing crisis counselling.

“But the most fun side of the role is when we organise social activities and events to engage with our international students. We’re providing opportunities for them to connect with each other and with JCU staff, which then facilitates their learning as well as making their university experience a much more positive one.”

These events build social connections with fellow students and with support staff. Students have a stronger foundation to build their studies upon and can find greater support and enjoyment along their journey at university.

Two international students laugh together
Two international students enjoy coffee together

Creating a diversity of opportunities

Alex and his team put on a wide variety of events, starting from the day that international students arrive at JCU. The student support staff host a large orientation day for the new students arriving from all over the world. It’s a full day of engaging activities where students are provided with important information about their studies as well as living on or around campus.

“We get really creative by incorporating games, ice breakers, problem-solving activities, and of course, food,” Alex says. “We do student panels so that new students can meet and learn from current students. We also created a mentorship group called CROCS: Champions Responsible for Orientating Commencing Students.”

“It’s all about finding creative ways to give students individual opportunities to connect with other students in their first week here. I find it really exciting.”

Alex Salvador, JCU International Sponsored Student Advisor

The fun doesn’t stop after orientation week. Alex and his team organise activities and events throughout the semester to help students engage with each other as well as the student support staff.

“Every Tuesday we hold Café International, which started in 2013,” Alex says. “It’s a pop-up café where the student support staff make real coffee and put out food for students, and run activities with the students. It could be anything from playing games to cultural-specific activities.”

They also have Free Lunch Fridays a few times throughout the semester. “We do a lot of food-related things, because students love food,” Alex laughs. “But it’s not just offering ‘come and get your food and go away’. Students come to enjoy a meal together, and that’s really important.”

One of the most exciting events that the support staff run once a semester is JCU’s Got Talent. “We actually have a perpetual shield that each semester’s champion gets their name engraved on. I have to say, it’s pretty cool and the students do a great job!”

Alex and the student support staff are also heavily involved in Harmony Day celebrations. “We engage the different cultural groups within the University to put on cultural presentation performances and activities,” he says. “That includes dances, games, henna tattooing, turban wrapping, sari wrapping, and other things that the students might suggest doing.”

Students in a drumming circle
Female students with drums

Drumming up a friendship

One of Alex’s favourite events is one that he has facilitated both on and off campus and helps students connect by moving to the beat.

“I’ve been fostering drum circles outside of JCU for twenty years,” Alex says. “To be able to bring the drums into the University and facilitate the activity with international students gives me a real satisfaction in my work. It’s a medium that’s been proven to have many benefits to the mind and to the body. I’ve found it to work so well in creating connections.”

Alex invites students to join a drumming circle, providing several types of drums and walking them through a few different beats and rhythms to get the circle started. “Many people haven’t touched a drum before,” he says. “They say ‘I don’t have a musical bone in my body! I have no rhythm!’ But anyone can make a sound on a drum.”

“When they start to drum and realise they can do it, you see a sense of wonder and amazement come over them. And when they join in and collaborate spontaneously with others, that’s when the atmosphere comes to life. The dynamics change so much from the start to the end of the activity. The buzz, the energy, and the friendships that are formed around these circles are a real magic.”

Although Alex is a talented and experienced musician with many instruments in his repertoire, the reason he is passionate about using the form of drumming circles is because it is an enjoyable, free, and creative way for people to connect with each other and with new parts of themselves.

“Connection with others is a human need,” Alex says. “When we connect with others, we feel a sense of belonging. Our mental health improves, our view of the world becomes more positive, our confidence increases, and we feel ready to move forward, try new things, and live a richer, more fulfilled life.”

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