It’s a self-evident fact that international students are different from British students. Even though cultural and linguistic differences can be minuscule, the divergence still exists. This seperation may stretch into social life, segregating international students from societies.
With this division in mind, the Wessex Scene approached twenty-two societies, picked at random, to report on their relationship with international students. Nine responded.
A third of the societies in question acknowledge the difficulties an international student can have when trying to get involved in societies. The Feminist Society links this to the British drinking culture:
If you are not open to that for a number of cultural reasons, it may be harder to feel welcome or integrated.
The Medical Society (MedSoc) agrees, but also adds that English as a secondary language, and the difference between ‘socialising’ and main meetings can be other reasons. The Handball Club furthermore observes the cultural differences:
Many don’t know how important (involvement) can be in the UK, because it might be different or entirely non-existent in other countries.
Other societies demonostrate, however, why joining University social life is as easy for the international student as it is for the British student. The Street Dance Society comments on the universality of dance:
It does bring people together and so international students should have no trouble meeting new national as well as international people.
Wessex Films develops on the idea: ‘The difficulties probably depend on the activity in question’. The Life Sciences Postgraduate Society (LSPS) remarks that problem in joining societies depends on ‘if one is an introvert or extravert’.
Frankie Fry, the VP Welfare and Communities, comments on the possible exclusion of international students:
All students are given equal access to societies, and this should be the case throughout SUSU.
Still, considering that a third of the societies interviewed believe that international students have difficulties, should societies have specific strategies on how to involve them? The majority of the societies explain that they market their society to anyone who is interested, including international students. The Feminist Society explains this general focus:
To target international students would be to downplay the significance of other small communities within the union, like postgrads or mature students.
Still, some societies have taken extra measures to involve international students. The Handball Club used to put flyers in international welcome packs, the Triathlon Club distributes flyers in the International Café, and LSPS holds events to celebrate international holidays.
A closer look at the percentage of international members in each society perhaps gives a clearer picture. Half of the societies surveyed showed an international membership of about 10 to 15 percent. Wessex Films and the Street Dance Society have higher percentages, with the handball Club in the top with over 50 percent. MedSoc and Wessex Films, furthermore, have international members on their committees.
It’s worth asking whether the exclusion of international students really is a problem. And if it is, how do we solve it? Is it up to each and every student, or do societies have an altruistic responsibility?