Until I joined the University of Bristol, I didn't really know much about student politics. Based on what I had seen of student politics on the internet, I envisioned it being messy and suited to loud, hot-blooded people. It could not, however, be further from the reality.
Joining any university in the UK means automatic admission into the university’s Students’ Union – a place for meeting new people, joining societies and clubs and enjoying a drink every now and then.
At the start of university, I visited the union almost every other day – to grab breakfast, attend dance lessons and watch plays. But it was only later on that I started to recognise another aspect that often goes unnoticed, especially by international students. That aspect was student representation – standing in elections, listening to your peers’ issues, bringing them up publicly and figuring out how to resolve them.
At the outset, I was sceptical about participating in such an open platform of discussion, having been discouraged by the fact that there were so few international student representatives I could relate to. But that fear quickly disappeared as soon as I started interacting with people at the union and seeing the kind of work that I would have the opportunity to do.
Follow Arya’s journey here:
Consequently, over the past year, as a representative of my faculty (economics and finance), I have gained a lot of knowledge about how British educational institutes function and their culture. I have been able to speak for both international as well as local students, thereby increasing my understanding of both groups and their issues. I have voiced my opinions and influenced university and union policies, thus helping me to leave behind a small yet significant legacy in a place away from home.
I understand, however, that this might not be your cup of tea, especially if you are an international student.
International students, like me, often underestimate the variety of opportunities that we have on our doorstep. I often think that I am less qualified to participate in, let alone lead, activities and positions predominantly held by local students.
But speaking from experience, I don’t think there can be a better opportunity for international students to interact with a wide spectrum of students and step out of their comfort zones, without participating in some form of student politics. Students can choose from a range of issues to get involved in, such as education (which I did), diversity, welfare and well-being, the environment and so much more, without burdening yourself or affecting your studies.
You do not need ambitions to become a politician or a policymaker in the UK, or elsewhere in the world, to participate in and make the most of student politics. It is important to disregard the notions surrounding it, like I did, and use the vast number of opportunities to enhance your social experience while at an international university.
And if these incentives aren’t attractive enough, participating in student representation will also definitely elevate you in the eyes of your prospective employers.
So go ahead and give it a shot!