Erica Pettener started her student placement with Advance Diversity Services (ADS) in August 2022. Working with ADS’s Settlement and Community Services team has shown her how the theory she’s been learning at university can be applied in practice. It has also sharpened her skills and broadened her worldview.

What drew you to do your student placement with ADS?

I wanted to do my student placement at ADS to learn about the refugee and migrant experience from the perspective of people undergoing a settlement journey in Australia. Prior to this placement I had limited knowledge of the services and agencies available to support these communities, and was previously reliant upon the media perspective.

What are you studying and where? And how has your personal history and/or your cultural background informed your work with ADS?

I am studying a Master of Social Work at Wollongong University. I am a second-generation Australian and I feel there has been a form of ‘give and receive’ in my placement experience. This placement has provided me with a greater insight into migrant settlement realities that my own family would have experienced. In turn, I feel my background has provided me with a level of cultural sensitivity that has enabled me to be mindful and respectful throughout my placement.

What ADS programs have you assisted with and how have you been encouraged to apply your studies and/or expand your skills in your role?

During my time at ADS, I have worked within the Settlement and Community Services team. I have been fortunate to have gained experience in community development – both in the form of assisting with community information sessions and the Migrant Information Day, and also with individual client casework. Working alongside ADS staff with clients has been particularly useful in seeing how theory is applied in practice.

What has been the most challenging work you have done with ADS during your time as a student?

The most challenging work was being privileged to hear the lived experiences of clients interacting with ADS. At times, it was difficult to hear the individual and systemic challenges that clients have experienced in their past but then equally hopeful in how ADS focuses on the strengths of clients to address future challenges.

What strengths have you brought to your placement?

The core strengths I have brought to my placement include active listening, patience and calm. This has helped me to be open to new experiences – creating more learning opportunities.

What has been your proudest moment, greatest achievement, deepest connection in your time at ADS?

I feel that my greatest achievement was assisting a client to improve their knowledge of the public transport system in Sydney and around their local area. It was wonderful knowing that I was able to assist in a small way to increase the confidence of a client regardless of our language barrier.

“Be You With Us” is ADS’ tagline, and it reflects the organisation’s commitment to welcoming and accepting everyone of all ages, gender, culture, sexuality, and religious beliefs. How have you been encouraged to “Be You With Us” during your time with ADS?

I have been encouraged to be myself in the way that I was involved in discussion; I felt that my opinion and perspective was valued by the organisation.

What more should the Australian Government be doing to welcome migrants and refugees and to ensure they find the support they need to adjust quickly and well to life in Australia?

The Australian Government can provide clearer information on government websites to support programs that are available. On a broader systemic level, the visa process and the information of rights under various visa types could be provided in a more simplified manner.

What is your ultimate goal and how has the work you’ve done with ADS equipped you for what you would like to do next?

I am uncertain of my ultimate goal, but this placement experience has made me more confident that my future career is in social work. ADS has provided me with improved interpersonal skills and broadened my own worldview, which I know will be beneficial to me in the future.

Please finish this sentence: I love ADS because … of the warm and collaborative spirit of all team members. The feeling of an attitude that it can be achieved we just need to find a way.

Erica Pettener felt there was a form of ‘give and receive’ in her student placement with ADS due to her background as a second-generation Australian.