Melbourne 1
CYCLE 01 2022

Voices From The Margins

Voices From The Margins

Long Story, Short

A collaboration between RMIT researchers and international students to understand how Melbourne can be a more welcoming and inclusive city.

What We’re Exploring

This research project focuses on the unique challenges faced by international students and the distinct contributions and knowledge they bring to Melbourne. Using a participatory approach, it combines the lived experience of the international student community with the expertise of the research team. From this, the team will form strategies and initiatives to create safe, inclusive and connected transitions to study, life and work post-lockdowns in Melbourne.


Project Team

The Voices From The Margins Project Report is here!

Led by the research of DSC Lecturer Dr Sonia Martin and Social Work & Human Services Associate Dean Robyn Martin, we wanted to understand the impact of marginalisation on international students in Melbourne during – and following – the COVID-19 lockdowns.

We engaged with international students as both lived experience researchers and advisors, asking them to contribute their ideas about how Melbourne could be more inclusive.

We identified key themes within which international students experience a range of vulnerabilities – from emotional wellbeing and social connection through to education and employment.

This study reinforced that many international students experience vulnerability, exploitation, marginalisation and commodification. We found that these factors were only exacerbated by COVID-19 restrictions.

Understanding the impact of these challenges can help education providers and governments develop policies that better support Melbourne’s international student population.

Together, we’re tackling real-world, urban challenges and seeking innovations that improve liveability, connection, and community resilience; and ultimately evolve spaces into places.

This report will be shared with our local government and industry partners. Please feel free to send this on to anyone or any organisation that might be intrigued!

Explore more in our full report available at the ‘Download Report’ button above.

A Green file with the title 'Voices From the Margins'

Voices From The Margins Survey Summary

The survey of international students formed a key part of the Voices From The Margins research project’s data collection. The online survey focussed on the experiences of international students during and following Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdown period as well as their recommendations for making Melbourne a more supportive city for international students.


Use this link to read a summary of the survey results.

Students walking towards the camera, most wearing protective face masks.

Recommendations for education providers to better support international students

Part of the Voices From the Margins project, our online survey aimed to gather information on the experiences and recommendations regarding the COVID-19 lockdown period from Melbourne’s international student population. When asked for recommendations on how education providers can better support international students, the most common recommendations focused on financial aspects. An increase in financial support (8) through avenues such as financial management lessons or more scholarships being the most common recommendation and lowering fees (4) being the equal second most recommended item. Additional social support from education providers, such as organising support groups for international students (4) and mental health (4) were also amongst the most common recommendations.

When asked for recommendations to Local, State, and Federal governments, financial-related support again provided the highest number of responses, with the provision of financial support (5), such as offering more scholarships, and extending unlimited work hours for international students (4), the first and equal second most common recommendations.

Recommendations for governments to better support international students

As part of our Voices from the Margins Research Project, we created an online survey to gather information on the experiences and recommendations regarding the COVID-19 lockdown period from Melbourne’s international student population.

When asked to document their experience, issues of isolation, loneliness and mental health were the most reported. The participants generally reported negative experiences apart from some students who benefitted from the opportunity for self-reflection afforded by the lockdowns as well as from the support of their university.

Experiences of studying and living in Melbourne during the covid-19 lockdowns.

When asked to compare Melbourne in 2022 to the preceding two years, participants generally highlighted increases in opportunities, such as socialising (5), or improvements in an aspect of their life, such as conditions for parenting (2). While most participants stated an improvement in their experience post-lockdowns compared to during lockdowns, some did indicate negative changes, such as more stress (1) and busier (1).

Differences in experiences of studying and living in Melbourne between 2020-21 and 2022 for international students.

How would you describe your experience during the Melbourne Lockdown in one word?

A group of 4 people sit around a round table talking.

The WIL Students and Amina discuss the questions for the Focus Group. Image: RMIT PlaceLab.

The Focus Group was hosted at the Melbourne PlaceLab Research Studio in early November. Facilitated and designed by Research Assistant Amina and the WIL Students Jamie, Kathleen and Cecilia, the participants were asked to share their experiences of the COVID-19 Pandemic.


The workshop commenced with icebreaker games to offer the participants and researchers an opportunity to get to know each other and feel relaxed within the research studio. This informal and relaxed environment continued during the focus group discussions, so the participants were comfortable in detailing their experiences and recommendations.


The questions were broken into the following topics:

  • Social
  • Cultural
  • Health
  • Educational
  • Finance/ Housing
  • Suggestions for improving


Thank you again to the participants of the Focus Group for sharing their knowledge and time with the project. Your contribution is valued.

Two hands play Jenga.
A white board features drawings.
Someone sets up a card game.

How would you describe your emotional state during the lockdown in Melbourne in one word?

Two smiling figures stare off camera.

Research Assistant Amina discusses the upcoming Focus Group and Interviews with PlaceLab-er Luke at RMIT PlaceLab Melbourne. Image: RMIT PLaceLab

Two rounds of interviews were hosted at The Couch International Student Centre. The interviews were held in early November and facilitated by Research Assistant Amina and PlaceLab-ers Luke and Rachel.


The interview questions were informed by insights gained from the focus group held earlier in November. A total of nine former and current international students provided accounts of their COVID-19 lockdown experience in Melbourne and their recommendations for making Melbourne a more welcoming and inclusive city for international students.


Thank you to the participants for sharing your experiences and recommendations during the interviews. Your contributions will form a key part of this important project’s outcomes.


Thank you to Riyadh and the entire staff at the Couch for their assistance and hospitality! Don’t forget to Drop in to The Couch, 6pm to 8.30pm, Monday to Thursday at 69 Bourke St, Melbourne.

Workshop facilitation training session

On the 27th of October, lead academics Robyn and Sonia facilitated a workshop for the Work Integrated Learning (WIL) Students, Amina the Research Assistant and the PlaceLab-ers, to learn more about what it takes to successfully facilitate a focus group.

A group plays volleyball.

Students playing Volleyball at International Student Week, 2022. Image: RMIT University.

Participants were asked about their facilitation experience and prompted to think about, What they would like to know? What would they be able to do? And What would they do differently? After the workshop.


Workshop Breakdown

  • What makes a good facilitator? Good facilitation should be conducted with clear, concise and validating language, time management, respect, and active listening.
  • How do you talk about safety? Ask the participant what they would need from this experience to feel safe.
  • How do we talk about consent? Beginning the conversation by acknowledging that the participant can withdraw their consent at any time is important. A calming tone can help when running through the consent form and remember to touch back on it throughout the experience.
  • How can we ensure the safety of the participants and other facilitators? It is important to ensure that everyone involved feels comfortable at all times. Offer one-on-one conversations or a halt in the workshop if someone appears distressed.
  • How do we move participants onto the next topic? By using connecting sentences such as, “now we can think in a similar way about x topic…”, you can keep the thread going and help to ensure the participants don’t feel disjointed when changing the subject.
  • How do we deal with silences? It is ok to have moments of quiet, but too much can make participants feel as though you do not have control of the situation.


Thank you Robyn and Sonia! This facilitation workshop has been incredibly insightful and we are keen to see these skills in action.

Voices From The Margins Reference Group

Voices From The Margins is guided by a reference group, comprising of the projects academic team, WIL Students, Research Assistant, PlaceLab-ers and key stakeholders; including members from Study Melbourne, RMIT University and the City of Melbourne (CoM) alongside former and current international students.

4 Students playing and smiling

Students enjoy international food festival at the RMIT Bundoora campus. Image: RMIT University.

What is a reference group?

The reference group meets once a month to discuss the progress of the Voices From The Margins Project. Participants were invited to share their insights and expertise relevant to the project design, participant recruitment, research translation and the development of strategies and initiatives to enhance international student experiences.


Why is this important?

The reference group is an important element to the construction of the research project as it gives contributors an opportunity to talk about their knowledge and expertise of international student experiences, concerns, strategies and initiatives.

The team will co-design strategies and initiatives that can contribute to creating safe, inclusive, and connected transitions to study, life and work, post-lockdowns in Melbourne.


Thank you! to all of the reference group members.

Malaysian Night at The Couch

A group of 5 people smiling at the camera

Malaysian Night at The Couch. Photo Courtesy of Gary Lee from CoM.

The Couch International Student Centre in collaboration with Malaysian Students’ Council Australia (MASCA) hosted Marley and Luke from the Melbourne PlaceLab Research Studio for Malaysian Night on Thursday the 18th of August.

The Couch is an initiative run by the City of Melbourne and the Salvation Army that aims to assist International Students in a wholistic way during their stay in Melbourne. Offering activities such as language exchange, dance classes, job application workshops, free meals and so much more, The Couch provides a warm and inclusive space for international students to make new friends in a safe and free environment.

Drop in to The Couch, 6pm to 8.30pm, Monday to Thursday at 69 Bourke St, Melbourne.

Thanks for hosting us Riyadh, Gary & Mary! We had a fantastic time sampling Malaysian cuisine, listening to an incredible band and making new friends!

Amina Hadžiomerović

Amina Hadziomerovic is a Research Assistant working on the Voices From The Margins Project.

A portrait of a woman smiling

Amina Hadžiomerović. Image: Courtesy of Amina Hadžiomerović.

Amina Hadziomerovic is a PhD student at the Centre of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University (Melbourne). She is engaged in ethnographic research and works with Bosnian refugees in Australia and the USA. Amina was born and raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she graduated in psychology with a minor degree in visual arts and communication design at the International University of Sarajevo. Her early research appertained to the transgenerational transmission of war trauma and its impact on the post-war generation. As a social anthropologist, she explores the impact of the unresolved issue of the missing persons from the Bosnian genocide on the everyday lives and social identities of the surviving families in the diaspora. Her areas of interest are missing persons, death rituals, kinship, genocide, migration and memory studies. She also works as a research assistant at RMIT.

The PlaceLab-er’s sat down with the Work Integrated Learning Students (WIL) to learn more about their fields of study and interest in the Voices From The Margins project. WIL programs allow students to gain practical skills while completing their studies, forming a more wholistic understanding of their chosen field.

3 people standing at the whiteboard.

Kathleen, Cecilia and Jamie preparing for the Focus Group. Image: RMIT PlaceLab.

What are you currently studying?

Jamie: I’m in my final year of a bachelor’s honour degree programme in social work.

Cecilia: I am an international student studying Bachelor of Social Work at RMIT. I am currently in my third year.

Kathleen: I’m currently studying Master of Social Work. I started this year, February 2022, so this is my first year, second semester.

Figure prepares a table for the workshop.

Jamie prepares PlaceLab for the Focus Group. Image: RMIT PlaceLab.

Why have you chosen to do your placement with the Lead Academics and the PlaceLab team for Voices from the Margins?

Jamie: For my placement, I chose to work with the Lead Academics and the PlaceLab team because I want to gain a better understanding of the challenges that international students face in Melbourne and develop a better understanding of international students’ support needs. In addition to working to improve the quality of the international student experience and focusing on unmet needs.

Cecilia: As an international student, I think it is an excellent placement opportunity for me to join a program focused on the voices of our group and be willing to make changes to improve. The idea of making Melbourne a more welcoming city for international students touched me deeply. Further, the PlaceLab team and Lead Academics are also friendly and passionate. It is easy to talk or work with them.

Kathleen: I chose this placement because I am an international student who wants my voice to be heard about my experiences during and after COVID-19, which may be of great assistance to the university and the City of Melbourne in determining what simple and common things I want to learn and need to feel more inclusive and enjoy my student life here in Australia. I also want to learn about and connect with other students’ experiences and wish to work in a field other than counselling in the future, so this will be an ideal method for me to begin.

Thanks, Jamie, Kathleen and Cecilia! We look forward to working with you the Voices From The Margins research project!

Dr Christina David and Christine Craik are RMIT Academics working on the Voices From The Margins. They have assisted in key decision making on the project and we are excited to learn more about them and their fields of study.

Students enjoying RMIT Bundoora’s international food festival. Image: RMIT University.

Dr Christina David

Dr Christina David is a critical social work academic with extensive teaching and research experience and is Program Manager for the two undergraduate social work programs at RMIT, the Bachelor of Social Work (Hons) and the Bachelor of Social Work (Hons)/Bachelor of Social Sciences (Psychology). Christina teaches and is also actively engaged in funded research projects mainly relating to the experiences of people living with disability with different policy and service settings, including self directed and choice based funding and services. Christina’s research interests and activities also include projects related to supportive housing models, ageing, and elder abuse service and support responses. Christina is primarily engaged in qualitative research and participatory methodologies, including co-design, which focus on working collaboratively with people with lived experience. Christina also supervises HDR students undertaking research in related areas.

Christine Craik

Christine Craik is a Family Violence Accredited Social Worker and has been a social worker for over 30 years. Christine currently lectures in the Social Work undergraduate and postgraduate programs at RMIT University, where she has developed and teaches the ‘Working with Violence and Abuse’ subject. Christine is the immediate past National President of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW).

Christine has just submitted her PhD focusing on the extent, models and impacts of routine screening with women for domestic violence in emergency departments of Australian public hospitals.

Are you an international student?

Do you want to share your experiences?

A crowd below mingles.

Students mingle at RUSU Multicultural Festival 22. Image: RMIT University

Voices From The Margins is a study about the experiences of international students studying and living in Melbourne. We invite you to share your views on what might make Melbourne more inclusive for international students.

Participation in the survey is anonymous and should take 10-15 minutes to complete. If you are interested in being part of the workshops please indicate so at the end of the survey.

This research has received ethics approval (no.25631).

If you have any questions about this research or your information, please contact the researchers: or

Follow the link to participate.

Why the Voices From The Margins Project?

3 figures stand together talking. A person smiles at the camera.

A group of students talking. Image: RMIT University

Robyn: As mentioned previously, I have a longstanding interest in how students experience and navigate intersectional disadvantage and this project offers the opportunity to highlight the strengths and challenges associated with the international student journey.

Sonia: In addition to my previous comments, I’d say I consider the project important to how we, as academics, think about and engage with international students in our programs and the courses we teach, and how the university and the city itself supports the inclusion of international students through activities, services, and infrastructure. We can do better, and this project helps us to explore how.

What was the appeal of conducting your research with PlaceLab for the Voices From The Margins Project?

Three smiling international students wearing flower crowns.

Students enjoying international student week at RMIT. Image: RMIT University

Robyn: PlaceLab offered a funded opportunity to shine a light on the experiences of international students and I have a longstanding interest in student’s experiences of intersectional disadvantage.

Sonia: My work is informed by a firm commitment to social justice and to making various forms of disadvantage and injustice more visible in order to influence social change. In conversations with international students, I was alerted to some of the distinct challenges international students encounter while studying in Melbourne. These challenges, of course, became more pronounced during the 2020-21 COVID19 lockdowns.

PlaceLab provides a welcome opportunity to further explore the experiences of international students and to develop strategies and initiatives for change in a short and sharp way. A focus on outcomes also encourages us to consider different ways of designing and undertaking research.

Robyn: PlaceLab is innovative and encourages academic researchers to situate their work within community, for community, by community and I resonate with this approach.

What has been the focus of your previous research projects?

A group of people walk along Swanston street in the Melbourne CBD. RMIT is featured in the background

A group of people walk past RMIT, through the streets of Melbourne. Image: RMIT University

Robyn: Broadly speaking, trauma and how it manifests through experiences of homelessness, mental distress, violence and abuse. Lived experience is centred in all my work, including ensuring there are lived experience researchers as equal members of the team.

Sonia: My research is broadly concerned with social inequalities and the ways in which government policy impacts the wellbeing of people in receipt of income support payments. Previous research has also focused on place and the ways in which geographic location shapes social divisions.

Associate Professor Robyn Martin & Dr. Sonia Martin

Students enjoying RMIT Open Day in Melbourne, 2022. Image: RMIT University.

Robyn: Robyn Martin commenced Social Work practice in 1990. Since that time, she has practised, taught and researched in trauma, violence, abuse, homelessness and critical mental health. Robyn is particularly interested in creating the conditions for the meaningful involvement of service users and their supporters in service delivery, research and teaching. She has co-led university-based projects which bring lived experience educators into the academy and in turn, influencing future health and human service graduates to value lived experience. Robyn is a critical social work academic and her research and teaching is informed by post-structuralist, feminist and intersectional theories and concepts.

Sonia: I am an academic member of staff working with colleagues in Social Work and Human Services (SWHS). My employment at RMIT includes 5 years as Program Director of the post-graduate and undergraduate social work degrees, extensive teaching in social policy, research and sociology, and work on a range of research projects. I currently coordinate the Social Work Honours research courses and a large first year introductory sociology subject.

My scholarly work is primarily concerned with poverty, inequality and social inclusion informed by a commitment to social justice. Building upon my PhD, my research interests are primarily on social policy issues and welfare reform and I continue to research in this field. My research highlights include work on several ARC grants, securing other competitive research grants and offering invitational presentations. Another highlight was being awarded a Human Rights Award (non-fiction) with a team of researchers inquiring and publishing on the lived experiences of welfare in Australia. In addition to my research into stigma and welfare, I am currently working on a range of initiatives aimed at developing innovative approaches to research translation to inform industry and teaching practices.

I have a strong commitment to advancing a higher education system committed to innovative research and teaching practices that are responsive to diverse student learning needs and to contemporary social, economic and environmental challenges.

What is Participatory Research?

The Voices from the Margins research project considers the lived experience of international students in Melbourne through Participatory Research Methodology.

A student and staff member talk over some paperwork during international student week.

Student and staff connect as part of Melbourne International Student Week. Image: RMIT University

Participatory research refers to research designs, methods, and frameworks that involve collaborating with people whose lived experiences are the subject of the study. This approach emphasises co-designing research through partnerships between the researchers and those with lived expertise or who represent the interests of those who are the focus of the research. By collaborating with community members, stakeholders, and end-users in the research process, participatory research provides outcomes that are informed by and relevant to practical contexts and results that can be effectively translated into real-world applications.



Banks, S., & Brydon-Miller, M. (2018). Ethics in participatory research. In Ethics in participatory research for health and social well-being (pp. 25-54). Routledge.

Vaughn, L. M., & Jacquez, F. (2020). Participatory research methods-Choice points in the research process. Journal of Participatory Research Methods, 1(1), 13244.

Voices From The Margins at Melbourne Knowledge Week

Students sitting in an auditorium.

Students enjoying international student week. Image: RMIT University.

RMIT PlaceLab was introduced as RMIT University’s new research initiative at Melbourne Knowledge Week in May 2022. This included a first look at our research projects for Cycle 01, including Voices From The Margins.

The event was held at The Capitol as part of the RMIT Culture Talks series. Researcher Sonia Martin spoke about the Voices from the Margins Research Project, asking the community what would most effectively to a warm and welcoming Melbourne for international students.

Follow along here with the Voices From The Margins project as we explore how Melbourne can be a more welcoming and inclusive city.

A woman gives a speech at the podium at the Capitol Theatre.
A panel discussion sits on the stage at the Capitol venue.
The audience at the Capitol Theatre.

Photos from Melbourne Knowledge Week 2022. Images: RMIT University.

RMIT PlaceLab acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the Eastern Kulin Nations on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University.

RMIT PlaceLab respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present, as the original and continuing Makers of Place.

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CYCLE 01 2022

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