My Story – Svetlana Khalif

I am an oddball and I do oddball things.

Origami – the Japanese art of paper folding – is one of the things I do in the workplace. It’s gained me a useful reputation and great relationships within my workplace at Monash University.

In 2009, I took lots of origami paper with me to Malaysia where the Australian contingent of academics from the Faculty of Medicine, were meeting with Malaysian colleagues from Monash Medical School on re-working the curriculum. This mini conference was held at a rural resort with not much to do, and no place to go.

At the conference, I had a tough task of convincing academics (I was the only non-academic in the Australian contingent) to work with something they didn’t believe in, so I needed to make connections and build trust. It’s been my experience that people are always fascinated by paper folding. It gets attention, particularly when it’s out of context – like medical education and curriculum review.

I would fold paper during the breaks when I didn’t need to be capturing things for the group in a spreadsheet – it stopped me from being bored and gave my hands something productive to do. Seeing me fold paper, people would get curious and start a conversation about something non-academic and personal. They would ask questions, wanting to know why I fold paper, how it came about, and where I get the paper from.

To entertain myself and create more opportunities for connecting, every evening I would sit in a spot in the resort’s main thoroughfare where I could be visible and do more origami creation. One piece of paper after another would appear on the table in front of me, and with each added piece I gained a growing audience. Anyone who turned up to look and talk, would walk away with a little paper gift. It wasn’t just the academics who stopped by, they even brought their children. By the end of the week, everyone had something to take home.

I visited Malaysia again in 2019 and was chuffed to see the little paper creations on people desks and shelves in the Medical school, so proudly displayed. People remembered me even though I had not been in touch at all in 10 years. I had a wonderful reception from people who treated me like a friend even though we had not worked together. Some of the academics told me that watching me make things and talking with them about how my work with them was just like folding paper and building beautiful things from seemingly nothing, was the most memorable part of that gathering.

I have my own collection of origami objects around my desk. They go with me when I change jobs. They become a great talking point as I get to know new team members. I love making things then presenting them to colleagues as a gift. My creations have a way of making people feel very special – because the objects are pretty, and because they received a hand-made gift.

The power of paper folding and gift-giving is just amazing. And when I can tell a story and relate it to the task at hand (I do love story telling and metaphors), I have the chance of creating a team of paper-folders, and bringing them along for a mindset-shifting ride.

Origami has become my superpower in building relationships and rapport. It gets people talking to me, being curious, and open to explore something they don’t normally see. So many relationships have developed from such moments, and many workplace social obstacles have been overcome, and I treasure this.


Svetlana Khalif’s workscape is currently 27 years old. She’s always attracted to roles that involved solving problems and connecting people.