For some time, Judy Gao has been looking for the perfect way to help Chinese students engage with Australian culture and recently, she found the perfect vehicle.

“International students face a lot of difficulties while they’re studying abroad. It’s hard to be out of your comfort zone and find that sense of belonging and happiness,” Gao told North Media.

“I want to help the Chinese community be more engaged in mainstream Australian culture, and AFL is a big part of that.”

Last month, Gao brought 50 Chinese exchange students to participate in North’s ‘Welcome to AFL’ which culminated in them attending the Good Friday match against Essendon.

“I can’t play footy, but I can bring people together and make them happy and help them enjoy and understand the game,” Gao said.

“The North staff were so great with helping the Chinese community who came to the events feel comfortable and like they belonged. They staff was so enthusiastic and explained everything really well.”

Moving from China ten years ago, and now an official North Melbourne ambassador, Gao knows how important it is for students to connect and feel welcome in Australia.  

“People who had never seen a game of footy walked away from Marvel after the Good Friday match and were so sad that North didn’t win, but they were really invested in AFL, just after one day.”

Gao was acknowledged for her outstanding work, named the AFL ‘community ambassador of the month’ in April.

 After working with North’s community engagement team, Gao has launched a program of her own.

“I’m currently leading the ‘National Association of AFL Fan Clubs’,” she explained.

“We launched the program at the North Melbourne Football Club on May 3, and we had Chinese international students from four universities.

“The goal of the program is to help international students get engaged with the community and feel a sense of belonging, as well as improve communication and networking skills at these events.”

A big congratulations and thanks to Judy Gao on her commitment to growing the game of AFL!