Trip to Australia Gives Kent State Resident Assistants Global Experience | e-Inside | Kent State University

Trip to Australia Gives Kent State Resident Assistants Global Experience

Kent State University resident assistants earned the opportunity to embark on an adventure of a lifetime to experience a new culture at a university in Australia.

The Department of Residence Services and the Office of International Student Affairs at Kent State worked together to develop the International Resident Assistant (RA) Exchange Program.

“In my role, I provide leadership in finding innovative ways of internationalizing the different areas of student affairs at Kent State,” says Director of International Student Affairs Eron Memaj. “With this in mind, I decided to explore the idea of developing international educational opportunities for our RAs by designing a short RA exchange program with universities abroad.”

After much research, collaboration and planning, 10 resident assistants were selected for the first opportunity to partake in the exchange and headed to Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, from Nov. 9-18.

“The partnership between Deakin University and Kent State University was a natural fit,” Mr. Memaj says. “They showed a genuine interest and were very supportive in making this exchange happen.”

While in Australia, the resident assistants participated in the Global Housing Training Institute scheduled at Deakin University and hosted by the Association of College and University Housing Officers – International (ACUHO-I).

ACUHO-I is a professional organization that serves global membership of higher education institutions and is the leading organization for campus housing and residence life professionals.

“The goal was to position Residence Services as a global leader that provides international opportunities for its RA staff to help them develop global cultural competency skills necessary to better serve our students,” says Residence Services Executive Director Jill Jenkins.

The Exchange Program involves Kent State’s Residence Services partnering with housing departments in other countries to develop an exchange program.

“During the visit, the RAs had the opportunity to engage in cultural exchange with their peers, learn about practices as it relates to the RA position and gain perspective on how housing operations differ in another country,” Ms. Jenkins says.

Before the trip, the Kent State student resident assistants found this to be a rare opportunity and were hoping to make connections along the way.  

“I knew that if I didn’t go, then I would forever wish I had,” says Vinnie Tharnish, a senior fashion design major.

Mr. Tharnish hoped to come back with a broader perspective and appreciation of Resident Services.

“I want to rediscover the reason that I wanted to become a resident assistant in the first place,” Mr. Tharnish says.

Residence Services and the Office of International Student Affairs facilitated an application process to express interest in participating.

“I initially got involved in the program through being an RA and because of a childhood dream to go to Australia and an opportunity to be an ambassador for Kent State,” says Noelle Elliott, a junior theatre production major.  

Ms. Elliott says she is very excited to make connections with the leaders at Deakin University.

“In college, it’s all about networking and this opportunity could prove to be one of the best chances to network with people abroad, as well as my fellow Kent State staff and students,” Ms. Elliott says.

“I’m hoping to get a fresh new perspective on the work that I do every day as an RA here at Kent,” says Casey Edwards, a senior biology major.  

Staff members included Mr. Memaj, Assistant Director for Residential Communities Stephanie Meyer Wismer and Ms. Jenkins. They also attended the exchange to Deakin University, and in the future, other staff members will have the opportunity to participate.

“This was an amazing experience for all of us!” Ms. Jenkins says. “I’ve been working in higher education for over 17 years, and I have to say the International RA Exchange was one of my best professional experiences to date. We learned about the university system in Australia and the role of campus housing as planned but beyond that for me personally it was equally exciting to witness the student learning. This trip was one student’s first time on an airplane and many students first time traveling abroad and being part of their experience and learning was incredible.”

The Kent State staff and resident assistants were grateful for the exceptional, warm hospitality from the colleagues at Deakin University, as it set the foundation for a mutually beneficial, long-lasting professional relationship.

“We often use the term ‘building bridges’ when it comes to developing relationships,” Mr. Memaj says. “I prefer to use a more literal term such as ‘crossing oceans.’ It is more realistic, tangible and can signify a bigger accomplishment. Only by ‘crossing oceans’ are we then able to ‘build bridges’ of communication and cultural understanding around the world.” 

In June 2019, the Residential Leaders from Deakin University will cross oceans to visit Kent State.

“Now that the KSU delegation has returned to campus, we will get started on planning their visit,” Ms. Jenkins says.

For more information about ACUHO-I, visit www.acuho-i.org.

For more information about Kent State's Department of Residence Services, visit www.kent.edu/housing.