‘The Couch’ – A Hub for International Students Has Reopened

The Couch International Student Centre, an initiative by The City of Melbourne and The Salvation Army that supports international students, has reopened its doors.

The Couch provides a safe space where international students can have a home-cooked meal, make new friends, learn new skills and acquire volunteering experience. The initiative has also dealt with issues specific to international students such as migration law and employment by inviting FairWork to offer resources and advice. 

A focal point of the space is an extravagant red couch which has become a symbol of commonplace for international students to gather, and interestingly once sat reality television stars in its past life.

The Couch was donated to The Salvation Army and is said to have once belonged to the reality television show ‘The X Factor’.

To celebrate the reopening, The Salvation Army and The City of Melbourne held an event that highlighted the voices of those behind and for The Couch.

The space, which closed in 2016, is now back to help international students who have struggled over the past year due to the pandemic.

Major Brendan Nottle from The Salvation Army, who leads Salvos Project 614, spoke with Meld Magazine about what The Couch is about.

“[The Couch] started back in 2011 and was in response to a significant number of international students that were living here in Melbourne and were experiencing social isolation,”

Mr Nottle continues, “What we found was The Couch was actually providing a really good opportunity for them to socialise with other students.” 

The Couch will operate in a bigger space than it previously did and will require online bookings to ensure capacity limits are met so that students can keep COVID safe.

Brendan Nottle said he has been keen to reopen The Couch for some time now and is excited to see international students gather again.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp attended The Couch media conference and urged international students and Meld readers to make use of the services or volunteer, expressing “For our international students, this program is here to say: We value you, we understand that from time to time you need support. Come in, you’ll see others that are experiencing the same things, you’ll find people that can help you and if you’ve got the capacity to jump in and help others then this is a great way to get involved with the community as well.”

Kimberly Mitchiko Clemencio from the Philippines spoke at the media conference as well to share her experience of being an international student stuck in Australia. She is an active member of the international student community as a Study Melbourne Ambassador and was also awarded Victorian International Student of the Year in 2020.

Kimberly said she was impacted mentally from the lockdowns brought on by COVID-19 and that The Couch is a space that she and others need more than ever.

“I definitely will use the services in The Couch and now more than ever it’s very helpful for international students; after almost a year of lockdown, many international students would want to be outside, would want to be with their friends, would want to build connections again and build that confidence they used to have before lockdown,” she said.

 Lord Mayor Capp said the intention of The Couch is to be “as welcoming as possible”.

Ms Clemencio is an advocate for international students, she was awarded Victorian International Student of the Year in 2020 and is a Study Melbourne Ambassador.

After a year of isolation, The Couch is a welcome space for international students to build connections and utilise valuable community services.

Ms Clemencio explains, “The couch is a great place to do cultural activities, foreign language exchange activities and use the drop-in centre as well as inform international students about their rights and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.” 

Drop into The Couch for free food, cultural activities such as Bollywood nights, board games, dance sessions and mindfulness classes.

The Couch International Student Centre is located at Level 1, 69 Bourke Street Melbourne and is open from 6pm-10:30pm Monday to Thursday. You will need to book your spot on Eventbrite here due to capacity limitations. 

To keep up to date with their events you can follow The Couch’s Facebook page here and to express your interest to volunteer, email internationalstudents@melbourne.vic.gov.au.

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