Surf’s up for international students at Western

International student Thilini Weerasuriya never thought she’d receive a PhD and learn how to swim while at Western Sydney University. However, after participating in the University’s learn to swim program and Beach Safety Day, her confidence in the water is rising.

“Before attending these programs, I didn’t want to go too far into the sea because I was terrified of drowning. Now I can identify safe places to swim, know how to avoid a rip and swim a few metres unassisted,” she said.

Thilini is one of hundreds of international students who have participated in the University’s learn to swim and Beach Safety Days. While the latter focuses on water safety, Western Sydney University Chaplaincy Coordinator Daniel Jantos, says the days also provide students with a sense of belonging.

“We want our international students to experience Australia in all its richness, and this includes swimming and being at the beach. Sometimes though, its a challenge to build a student’s confidence, not just in the water, but to make them feel like this experience of being at the beach and in the water is theirs to have. Some turn up to the beach thinking that it’s not for them but leave wanting to come back!” he said.

“Beyond teaching the students water skills, it has also translated into students travelling along the coast and participating in beach culture in ways that they otherwise would not have.”

Western’s Beach Safety Day is run in partnership with Surf Educators International. Ken Holloway, from the organisation, says in light of the rising rate of drownings in Australia, teaching water safety and survival skills is vital.

“While most Australians learnt to swim at a young age, a lot of international students did not. For some, it’s their first time in an open body of water. Some have never felt sand between their toes, or tasted salt water. So many are also unaware of the dangers that Australian waters can pose or that it can only take 20-40 seconds for someone to drown,” he said.

“It’s a lot to take on board. So, we try to keep it simple. Our main message is ‘float to survive’. If you can’t swim, float, and if you can’t float, learn how to because it can save lives.”

For more information about Western Sydney University’s Beach Safety Days contact Western Life via or log in at:

For more information about Surf Educators International go to:


9 February 2021

Emma Sandham, Senior Media Officer