The HERDSA Fellowship: Dong Mei Li

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My HERDSA Fellowship journey started with registration in the Talking about Teaching and Learning (TATAL) workshop at the HERDSA conference in Auckland in 2019, which I would like to call an event of serendipity. For someone who was almost completely new to the scholarship of teaching and learning and HERDSA, a free full-day pre-conference workshop was the easiest decision to make. What followed proved that was one of the best decisions I made in my career. The monthly meetings following the workshop in the next three years till—today sharing teaching practices and problem solving, expanded collaboration, presentations, publications, friendships, working with my mentor, followed by further collaboration, and then becoming a mentor myself—are making me a better practitioner in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTLer).

International education is my passion. This passion drives my academic endeavour as a teacher and a researcher to support international students’ experience. I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on a journey on a more personal level as an academic and an international person, hoping it will provide a more vivid understanding of the international students journey through the last challenging few years.

A traditional Australian Indigenous wisdom that I appreciate greatly is connecting with our homeland. Home was one of the key words for me in the last two or three years. Many of us spent much more time home during the pandemic. Being in Melbourne, we experienced the longest lockdowns. It was challenging.

Reflecting is one important skill that I have learned from becoming a HERDSA fellow. As I reflect on those locked-down days, I would like to pick the learning amongst the hardship. One thing that I think I have gained, is, I was ever more connected with home. The reflective experience was one of revelation. Even as a Chinese national and an academic of Chinese studies, the word Chinese had never hit me so strongly until these two years. There were so many sensitive and strong emotions associated with the word during those days. As we all might remember, at the onset of the pandemic, theories of the origin <p>of the infection came through media. As a Chinese living in Australia, I was able to read information both from China and the rest of the world. Sometimes these two strands of information could be contradictory. I was confused and ashamed depending on what I read. Soon, reports of racist incidents in Australia increased. I was angry and scared. As the Australia-China political tension increased, I felt even more unsafe. Even though as an academic I was cognitively aware that I should not let media reports affect my personal feelings, it was not easy.

As the situations developed in my home country in the following two years, including the zero-covid policy and the ban of international travels, those feelings became more personal. There did not seem to be hope to reunite with my family any time soon. When pandemic cases soared in China towards the end of 2022, I was worried about my elderly parents’ health.

The situation then suddenly had a sharp turn at home. Restrictions were lifted, and international travels started to open up, even though covid cases were peaking. I was excited and anxious. I had been separated from home because of the travel bans. I am longing to go home. I am worried about home. Will my family stay well? Do they have appropriate health care? There is no answer. The only certainty is that I am not at home. Even though I have sort of made home in Australia over the years, I do not feel at home.

Each time when I reflected on my reactions to the changing circumstances, I wondered how those international students were coping in Australia. Did they have the support that I had from an established circle of friends in Melbourne? Did they know the support services and seek help from them? Were they able to find ways to feel at home? What, after all, is the purpose of international education? Would it be also important to provide a learning experience in which students feel at home, whether they are domestic or international students?


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