Gary’s commitment to putting international students centre stage
Gary Lee understands the exciting and daunting challenges that come with being an international student, and it is the reason why he has dedicated so much time to helping students make Melbourne home.
His service to the community, through various organisations, saw him recently awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), a recognition he was “extremely humbled, and very, very grateful” to receive.
“I do what I do because it’s part of who I am, and because I can, so to be recognised this way is absolutely heartwarming,” Mr Lee said.
“Everything I do is for the people and causes that I care about. So, I hope this recognition helps shine a light on the communities that are important to me, that being international students, migrants and people seeking asylum.”
As well as being Manager of the International Education portfolio at the City of Melbourne, Mr Lee currently volunteers as an ambassador for Welcoming Australia, Bully Zero Australia Foundation, the AFL Multicultural Community Program and Melbourne Victory.
When speaking with CBD News, Mr Lee expressed that during the past few years he had experienced many career highlights, but of the long list of achievements a few extra special moments stood out.
From supporting thousands of students to connect through The Couch International Student Centre, a lounge space run in partnership with The Salvation Army, to helping students purchase essentials at Queen Victoria Market (QVM) through the $2 million Our Shout food voucher program, Mr Lee strives to help others.
“Projects aside, my greatest aspiration is that I inspire others; that I help them get to where they need to be, and connect people to their dreams and goals,” he said.
International students are a huge part of what makes Melbourne such a great place. They are some of the most resilient people I know, they are enthusiastic, they give back, and they thrive.
While serving the community may have been what Mr Lee received his OAM for, he has also been renowned for dishing out some great dance moves and fun vibes through the hip-hop dance crew he founded, PoisE’n.
Although it started as a hobby when he was studying at RMIT University, PoisE’n soon became part of the RMIT Union Arts Collective.
“Dance became an escape for many international students, a way to connect and an opportunity to express themselves through the art form,” Mr Lee said.
“Most were beginners but being connected to the dance crew meant they could develop their confidence, build teamwork and cross-cultural dialogue, and it helped them engage with the local community. It was also my opportunity to showcase international students on centre stage!”
Mr Lee then set up PoisE’n Bollypop, a collective of dancers who perform a fusion of Bollywood and hip-hop dance at cultural events.
“Bollypoppers are my little army of diversity champions,” he said.
“Many eventually became volunteers for the many events that I was part of and giving back ultimately became a way to feel that they belong. Most have gone off to do amazing things in their lives.”
This coming March, Mr Lee will be playing an avid role in welcoming students back to the city through a series of City of Melbourne events, while also continuing to advocate for international students.
“International students contribute to Melbourne’s exciting, vibrant and inclusive culture - they bring the vibes as residents, employees, business owners, volunteers and friends,” he said. •
PHOTO CREDIT Wilari Tedjosiswoyo.