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Australian scholarship is win-win

Orienteering clubs in Australia have invented a scholarship that is best described as a win-win situation. The Australian club gets help with coaching, mapping and teaching in schools. At the same time, a young enthusiastic orienteer from abroad gets to experience a new country and practice coaching.

Australian orienteering clubs have figured out how to use young traveling orienteers as a resource. The clubs offer them accommodation with a local family, pay some of their expenses and a very different orienteering terrain compared to what they are used to. In return, the young, often European, orienteer helps coaching at trainings, teaches in schools and brings new ideas.

The scholarship started back in 2012 by initiative of David Poland. His local club in the Australian capital Canberra experienced a boom in new members that demanded coaching. A job that quickly got to extensive for volunteers so David Poland started to think in new ways.

At that time, his son was in Sweden on exchange and it gave David Poland the idea for an ‘orienteering exchange’. The first scholar came to Canberra in 2013 and since the concept has spread, so every one of Australia’s eight states have had a scholar.

Théo Fleurent was a scholar in Canberra in the Australian summer period 2015/16. He describes his seven months stay as perfect, feeling very welcomed and useful in the Canberra orienteering community:

Australia offers incredible orienteering areas. Here Kooyoora in the state Victoria.

– I could orienteer in a totally new country, improve my English, travel Australia, the host families were all wonderful and I escaped European winter for a hot Australian summer. I have no negative points about my experience, he summarizes.


Do what you like

So what do you do working as a scholar in Australia?

– I was very free in my schedule. A big part was to offer training sessions for the club during the week. I also did orienteering sessions at schools, some workshops, interval training for the junior group, prepared modified maps for the weekly competition, some mapping and worked on permanent course projects. The days were very varied and there was no routine, Théo Fleurent says.

He estimates he worked around 30-35 hours a week but he did not consider it a real job:

– There was no obligation, it was just because I liked the tasks!, Théo Fleurent says.

Théo Fleurent in action.

Théo Fleurent in action.

As the concept has spread to all Australian states, the setup can vary a bit. Most states provide accommodation and free food living at a host family together with payed entrance fees for events. By doing some mapping, the scholar can earn extra pocket money which is often spent on subsequent travelling.

Théo Fleurent’s tasks were typical for Canberra, and could have been different if he had been in another state. Even in the same state, the tasks can vary, David Poland explains:

– We ask the scholar on their third day what they want out of the stay. We give the scholar some ideas, but it is up to them what they are interested in and want to focus on. If they are good at mapping, do mapping. If they like teaching kids, do stuff with kids. If they are interested in technical aspects, do that etc., David Poland says.

No need for super elite

Théo Fleurent had experience with both mapping and coaching before he went to Australia. Of course, you need a certain level before you can coach others, but qualities such as drive and enthusiasm are at least as important:

– The scholar does not need to be on an elite level. Of course they need a certain level, but the best have usually been outside of the national teams. The main focus is teaching ordinary orienteers with varied experience. Therefore, what’s important is your drive and enthusiasm. In addition, a reasonable level of English is a necessity since you will have to communicate with scholars and at trainings but usually the scholar will improve quickly, David Poland says.

After he had finished his studies, Théo Fleurent was looking for a journey and describes his trip to Australia as one of the best decisions in his life. Living with a host family he learned the Australian culture way better than if he had just travelled the East Coast. The terrains offered a completely new orienteering experience in high quality, as the World Cup in 2015 in Tasmania was a great example of.

The first World Cup round in 2015 was held in Tasmania. Here the Long distance with a massive 3.8km leg.

For the Australian clubs, the scholars are a great help in the daily training and bring a new look at things:

– For instance, Livelox has been introduce due to a Swedish scholar, and Théo introduced a standard for school maps. The coaching raises the level for the medium orienteers which gives them strength and confidence so they can start coaching beginners.  In my club, we have some very popular training camps at the weekend that we would not have had without the scholar, David Poland says.

The scholars are not only a help for the Australian clubs but also for the European countries when they return. The scholars come back with a huge experience in coaching and as they have brought new ideas to Australia they can bring back some of the things that works well in Australia.


Vision of international setup

Since the beginning in 2013, the scholarship programme has developed rapidly. At the moment, ten scholars are spread out on a wide range of states chosen from 15 applications. The first year David Poland received only two applications and he explains it was hard to get the message out in the beginning:

– It was difficult to get the information out and get the Europeans to apply. I sent e-mails to 30 federations whereas my impression was that many did not do much about it, David Poland says.

The offer of a scholarship has been spread by mouth from scholars that returned, together with a webpage providing information about the scholarship and how to apply. From an Australian perspective, David Poland aims to extend the scholarship to also take place in Australian wintertime and have mapping scholars that can do mapping and not least teach mapping. He also has a broader perspective:

– The big vision is to make the programme international. Imagine the flow of ideas and knowledge we could have within the orienteering community if young people could travel to and coach for many clubs all around the world, says David Poland and in same breath refers to the sub webpage that intends to gather offers for scholarships outside Australia.

International offers would allow young Australians to go abroad coaching orienteering as many Europeans already have in Australia. An exchange expands one’s horizon and, as for Théo Fleurent, it offers new experiences:

– Once I made a mistake attacking a control because I had to avoid a large group of kangaroos. Orienteering with kangaroos around you is definitively an experience that can be recommended!


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