International student experience: what is ISA?

Posted in: First year, International students, Undergraduate

Living as an international student at university is a different experience from living as a home student – obviously because we are coming from another country and culture to a foreign place. Hi – my name is Eman Fareed, and I am an international student here at Bath. My story is a bit different; I am considered an international student, but I permanently reside in the UK, specifically in Cambridge. I came here about 4 years ago with my mother and have continued my education here ever since.

So even though I am an international student, joining the University was not as foreign for me as it is for other international students. I was pretty aware of what it’s like living in the UK, for example, where to shop, eat, good takeouts, where to do inexpensive groceries or how to work the ever so confusing public transport. In this blog, I share my experience as an international student and the things that I think will be helpful for every international student to know before coming here to study at Bath.

Let me begin with first introducing myself a bit more. After joining the University, I had to face some challenges with registration at the University because of some visa problems and delays due to COVID-19. Once that was sorted, I decided to apply for the role of being a representative of the International Student Executive Committee. I said to myself: what better person to be a rep of all the international students at Bath than me who has dealt with her fair share of troubles including just getting herself registered at the uni.

Yes, I have had some visa complications mostly due to delays that came with COVID-19. Because of this, the University was not able to register me on their systems. After a lot of phone calls and running around chasing people, I managed to get myself registered 3 weeks late. Worst of all, I had missed about 3 weeks’ worth of content which I had to catch up on later. It was particularly important to me because I had lost 4 weeks of learning because my registration didn't happen on time, so I was behind on my course from day one.

I wanted to make sure that future international students could avoid such an ordeal upon joining because the stress that comes with it is not worth it! After a month in, voila, I was elected as the chair of the International Student Executive Committee!!! In hindsight, even though it was hard work and required my firm commitment, it was one of the best decisions ever – and here's why.

As an international student, you automictically become part of the International Student Associations (ISA) in the SU. We are a team of about 5 – 6 students. We also happen to be international students running monthly forums and a survey to discuss the key issues faced by our international community to engage the dispersed 6,600 international students at Bath. We listen to you and try to come up with creative solutions to make your overall student experience smoother and more enjoyable.

Check out our ISA logo...Dedicated to our international students 😀

I decided to apply for this role so that I could get hands-on influence to make the international student experience better at Bath. My role included chairing meetings, planning pub quiz nights, movie nights and other social events. It also included looking after international students personally – helping them solve individual issues and signposting them to the relevant departments from where they could get the best help.

We also work closely with different cultural and faith societies as well and run events with them throughout the year to make sure it is inclusive for our diverse community. Last year, in light of the pandemic, it was more challenging than ever to hear about the problems faced by students. Mostly because of a lack of interaction and engagement. However, with determination, the ISA successfully managed to get in touch with the international students and supported them wholeheartedly where we could.

One of the key issues was to reimburse the tuition fee due to learning being mostly online. We actively took part in the campaign for the refund using Microsoft Teams and represented the international student perspective on behalf of our international peers. Other problems,  like visa issues, concerns and delays due to COVID-19 like Tier 3 monitoring – were discussed and taken seriously to best cater to the needs of our students. We also helped with finding the best, most suitable accommodation for students who will be joining us next year as well as trying to find housemates for second-year students.

ISA is a very resourceful platform with driven and enthusiastic volunteers, who are always there for you! We have worked hard to ensure that we come across as approachable and friendly people who are only a message or an email away. We want to make your leaving-home journey and coming to a completely new place, let alone a new country, as smooth and less daunting as possible.

Check out the wonderful and super friendly international exec of 2020/21 here. (See if you can spot me 😉 )

Some of the events we ran last year, albeit online, included things like around the world pub quizzes, talk and eat sessions, and movie nights with the LGBT + society. These events were greatly appreciated by the students and the feedback was very positive. One of our most successful events last year was organising the “ISA Families” whereby around 200 international students were split into groups of 4-5 with similar interests like hobbies. Our first event concluded recently where we hosted an icebreaker meeting for all groups. I highly recommend joining this as it is an awesome way to socialize, meet new people and make new friends from different backgrounds, courses and cultures all around the world.

Do check out ISA families. A lot of effort went into organising this, making sure that you don't miss out on meeting new people and making friends because of  COVID 🙂

 

The SU is really good at keeping in touch with all the students at Bath, be it through social media, pub quizzes or even emails. The SU and the ISA collaborate monthly to send out newsletters to all the international students. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for those and scan over them every time because they are enriched with all the information that you need to know for the upcoming months. This includes all the events happening, wellbeing opportunities, government guidelines, anything relating to mental health, different societies etc. It provides a good overview of what’s happening at the University that month.

With that being said, social media is the main way the University gets to interact with students in a more casual way, particularly over Instagram, which is the most popular. We have a whole separate ISA account, @subathisa besides the SU's and Bath's official accounts. (Make sure you follow those to get a good feel for what’s new like events, opportunities etc). We, as a team, did regular Instagram takeovers where we answered some frequently asked questions one-by-one over the stories – of course, all being anonymous which is one of the reasons why we received so many! It's a quick and easy way of finding out the latest information.

Throughout the year, we post about different events, celebratory days, cultural days and much more! We share insights into cultural societies and the events happening as well as pictures and some behind the scenes of events. For example, for International Women’s Day, we dedicated a whole week to celebrate this on Instagram, we did something similar to celebrate festivals like Holi & Eid etc.

One of my most favourite things was to organise our Sunday spotlights on ISA Instagram page. Here, we asked for volunteers from different societies and cultures to share insights on their culture and language and even a day in their life as international students. This really showcased the diverseness of our community. Feel free to browse through those on Instagram @subathisa – they are more interesting than you think!

With COVID hitting, it has not been easy to have a full university experience, but we can't get this time back, so it's important to make the best of what we've got. It took me a while to get used to this idea and so I feel frustrated that a lot of my time had been wasted and I missed out on my crucial ‘uni experience’ that everybody talks about. I made sure that, somehow, I reflect this during my role as the chair – to ensure that students don’t feel nearly as bad. I tried to be as approachable and helpful as I could. All being online, made this at least a bit easier. Having said that, all of the execs are like that – they work hard, are caring and have a considerate attitude for representing your voice in the SU and bigger platforms that end up making a difference.

Posted in: First year, International students, Undergraduate

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