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International students lend a helping hand to improve vaccination uptake at Melbourne Town Hall

Sean (Shavhin), 19, is from South Korea but came to Australia five years ago to go to school. He lives in the Docklands with his sister, Wendy, and is studying cooking at Crown College. 

Last week Sean got vaccinated at the cohealth Melbourne Town Hall vaccination centre. His friends from cooking school had told him about the vaccination centre, but said they wanted Sean to come with them because his English was better than theirs and he could help translate.  

But his friends weren’t the only ones struggling with language barriers. 

While Sean was waiting in line, he saw the nurse was having trouble communicating with people who couldn’t speak English. cohealth uses a telephone interpreting service for people who need it, but the phone service is often busy, and can take a long time to connect people with the interpreter they need. Logistically and financially, having multiple interpreters onsite every day is not viable.  

Sean said, “I thought maybe I could help. I speak Mandarin, Korean and English, so after my vaccination I stood at the entrance and if people seemed to be struggling with communication, I’d ask ‘hey, do you speak Chinese or Korean’? Can I help you?’ 

“At the end of the day I asked the head nurse, Brieneka, if I could come back and help again, and bring my sister Wendy.” Wendy is studying at the University of Melbourne. 

Sean is no stranger to volunteering, and does a lot of community service through his Korean church. He says this is just his way of giving back to the community. 

“Most of the people that I’m translating for are older people, and helping reassure them about things they’re worried about. They want to know that they’re getting the right vaccine, that it is safe, and that nothing will happen.” 

Sean says that the international student community is close, and looks out for each other. They have felt some of the harshest economic impacts of the pandemic, having lost casual work, and being ineligible for government support payments. Sean works as a chef at a Korean restaurant to support himself, but says many of his friends have lost their jobs. 

“I have my sister here in Australia, but for many international students they’re separated from their family back home. It’s pretty lonely for them. When it comes to getting vaccinated, people feel scared, they feel nervous. If I can be there to speak their language and answer their questions, then they’ll be more likely to go ahead with the vaccination.” 

 

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