HELPS is at hand

24 May 2018

HELPS Buddy with student

Photo: Julia Hwang (left) with her HELPS buddy, YoonJin

Julia Hwang is one of many volunteers helping UTS international students master the art of conversation through the HELPS Buddy Program – and she has found that the benefits go both ways.

UTS nursing graduate Julia Hwang knows what it’s like to feel overwhelmed in the first year of university. Making new friends, finding tutorial rooms and writing essays can be daunting enough, but like many other students, Julia also faced a language barrier.

“During the first orientation week at UTS I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I felt lost,” says Julia, who migrated to Australia when she was 12. “I didn’t have the confidence to talk to people I didn’t know, let alone speak in front of a crowd.”

In an effort to build her confidence and to meet other students, she joined Conversations@UTS, a program run by UTS HELPS (Higher Education Language and Presentation Support). For Julia, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

“I tried to utilise HELPS as much as I could in my first year of university. I attended daily workshops, writing support sessions, went to U:PASS student learning sessions for first-year nursing subjects, and even the Holiday Intensive Academic English Program,” she says. “By the end of the year, I was able to refer other students to HELPS services that they might benefit from."

During the second year of her Bachelor of Nursing, Julia began to volunteer with the HELPS Buddy Program, which partners up international students with UTS alumni, fellow students, staff and local community members. Through regular informal meetings and conversation practice the program helps to develop the students’ speaking skills and confidence.

“I know from my own experience that students have already pushed themselves to take the first step and join the program, and they are eager to improve their conversation skills,” explains Julia. “They’re trying to find more opportunities where they can speak in English, as many of them might have less of a chance to practice their speaking skills when they’re not on campus.”

Now in her third year as a volunteer, Julia has found that sharing her own challenges with her buddies is a great way to break the ice.

“Knowing that I can be that person who other international students can approach and discuss issues with is very rewarding and inspires me to continue working as a volunteer.”

“What I have learnt is that students find you more approachable when you share your experiences first. I usually spend the first meeting introducing myself and talk about my experiences and the hardships I faced when I first came to Australia,” she says.

“I can see they immediately relate to it, and it gives them opportunities to talk about their own experience.”

While the program has clear benefits for the students, such as general confidence building and improvement in listening, conversation and pronunciation skills, conversely, it is an excellent opportunity for the volunteer buddy to learn about another culture, exchange languages, and – perhaps most importantly – to make new friends.

“Once you are out in the professional world, the people you meet are mostly from the field that you work in,” says Julia. “Meeting new buddies from different fields of study can open up your mind.”

Before she began her rotations as a registered nurse at Westmead Hospital in 2017, Julia continued to work with HELPS as an intern and as an assistant administrator. She says the positive experience she’s had with HELPS – and the skills she has gained as both a student and a volunteer – keeps her coming back every year.

“One thing I wish I had as an undergraduate was a family member or a friend who I could ask simple questions and talk about the issues I would have to face out in the workforce,” she says.

“Knowing that I can be that person for other international students is very rewarding, and inspires me to continue working as a volunteer.”

Volunteer for the HELPS Buddy Program

Already this year, more than 700 participants and volunteers like Julia have signed up to the HELPS Buddy Program.

As a volunteer, you will be meeting with an international student, six times across a semester, with the purpose of providing casual conversation. You are not expected to be a grammar expert or prepare anything for your meetings – just turn up and talk!

For more information about being a volunteer buddy, check out:

How to sign up

Interested in becoming a volunteer? Sign up as a UTS volunteer here.

Check out this two-minute video for a step-by-step guide on how to register as a volunteer.


If you have any enquiries or questions, feel free to send an e-mail to

Byline: Alex Wise