UNE settles international students into the driver’s seat

Published 28 March 2012

Sahar Alshamma is one of a growing number of international students at the University of New England who are taking advantage of a new UNE program designed to prepare them for driving on Australian roads.

Ms Alshamma arrived at UNE from her home in Iraq last August, and is undertaking a language program at the University’s English Language Centre (ELC) before embarking on her PhD research.

An experienced driver, she holds both Iraqi and international drivers’ licences. To drive in Australia, however, she has to adapt to driving on the opposite side of the road in a car with a right-hand steering wheel, and become familiar with the local road rules. “The rules are much the same here,” she said. “But the steering wheel’s on a different side – that’s the main problem.”

“At first I intended not to drive, and to rely on public transport,” Ms Alshamma said. “But as I have limited time, and need to fit shopping – even on Sundays – into my busy schedule, I decided to enter the International Student Driving Initiative here in the English Language & International Services (ELIS) Directorate. If I’m going to drive, I need to feel confident of my own and others’ safety.”

The new program – the first of its kind at UNE – is attracting considerable interest among UNE’s international students. “We’re trialling it at the moment,” said Mark Cooper, the Deputy Director of Studies at the ELC. “We had a really good attendance at our first meeting – with students of nine nationalities. And now they’re coming in and asking lots of questions – questions such as: “Can I drive my friend’s car?” and “How do I get a licence?” and questions about insurance.”

“We’re printing copies of the Road Users Handbook in their own languages and making them available to students,” Mr Cooper said. They’re part of a “library” of relevant material that they can borrow. They can come in and practise doing the RTA’s online quiz and, when they can do it in front of us to our satisfaction, they’ll be ready for driving lessons. The students who’ve come with an international licence, in particular, will need information. We’re really keen to get them connected to a driving school to have their driving appraised and to get any necessary instruction.”

“Many of our students are under 25, so having the right insurance is a problem,” said Bronwyn Gilson, Manager of International Services and Compliance at ELIS. “We’re able to give them information about that, and about licensing and buying a car, and to put them in touch with a driving school in Armidale.

The Armidale driving school involved is William Smith’s Aussie Blu Driving School. “I’m very interested in helping drivers from overseas,” Mr Smith said. “I’ve had people from various countries – including South Africa, The Philippines, Malaysia, and Arabic-speaking countries – and most of them have been successful the first time. We have the odd language problem, but we can cope with this.

ELIS will include information sessions in all future Orientation programs, and is keen to hear from any international student who would like to participate in the initiative.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here expands to show Sahar Alshamma in the driver’s seat with driving instructor William Smith beside her.