Explore the UK are a pre-sessional society, aiming to better integrate international and home students and give them a broader university experience, extending beyond Southampton itself. By running cultural visits to some of the UK’s top tourist destinations, they hope that students will gain a greater sense of what the country has to offer, whilst making friends and socializing in the process.
Previously known as just ‘The Pre-Sessional Society’, Explore the UK are enjoying their first official year of SUSU affiliation and funding, and despite only being up and running for such a short period they have already proved popular. With well over 300 people signed up at the bun fight and the highest number of hits of any society on the virtual bun fight, the committee has been very impressed with the initial response, holding high hopes for a progressively better year ahead.
Pre-sessional English language courses (lasting either 6 or 10 weeks) are available for all international students who come to study in Southampton, giving them the opportunity to improve their level of language and also preparing them for the change in culture. Using this idea as a foundation, and expanding on the social program they run during the summer, Explore the UK have focused less on helping students settle into academic life at Southampton and more on providing the means for them to discover beyond just the university and the city that surrounds it.
Speaking to Explore the UK Society’s President James Brant, it became clear that there is a real need for a society like this within SUSU, as the university often fails to realize that international students come from a diverse range of countries and backgrounds and are not always interested in some of the typical aspects of UK university culture. For example many of them will not have drunk alcohol in their home countries, or at least not to the same excess as we do here, and thus the idea of a bar crawl or a night out clubbing will be completely alien to the most part. As a result it falls on a society like Explore the UK to provide more well-rounded events that cater to everyone’s tastes and not just ones that try and mimic what is already on offer.
We are going out there to any society – Do you want to be involved? What do you want to do? We’re all missing out by more societies not getting involved. Our plan is to get more people on board as we possibly can because there is something here for everyone!James BrantExplore the UK President
This year alone the committee has already organized a multitude of different trips, including typical tourist hotspots like London and Oxford, but also weekend visits to places like Edinburgh and Mount Snowdon. Jade Hearne, the society’s Promotions Officer, explained that it is SUSU’s funding that has made it possible to run these trips on such a low budget; allowing the society to subsidies the trips and providing the students with every chance to see places they might not otherwise see, at a fraction of the price. Additionally, not only does it give international students cheap access to the UK’s top tourist destinations, but also a greater sense of British culture outside of day to day life in Southampton. She also said that people were generally more inclined to go on these trips as part of group and as a result – their Oxford trip at the beginning of November has almost sold out already with two weeks still to go.
I really enjoy the fact that you get to explore yourself more and that you get to meet loads of new people – it’s an extremely social thing!Jade HearneExplore the UK Promotions Officer
However given that it would be impossible to have a trip planned for every weekend of the year, the society also plan to run regular socials where international and home students can mix and have a chance to meet up with the friends they make throughout the rest of the year.
Last Saturday saw ‘Culture Clash’, the first social of this year. A relaxed evening of live music and general chat with other members of the society was held in the newly refurbished Bridge Bar, in an attempt to try and get everyone who signed up, together on a more social basis. Jade emphasized the lack of focus on alcohol: ‘we’re not basing tonight on drinking. A lot of these students don’t even understand the concept of a pub, and we’re aware of that.’ James Brant added that:
There are two parts to the society: Firstly we want to help intergrate home and international students and bring them together as we feel there is a gap that needs to be bridged here. Secondly we want to show students what the UK has to offer – regardless of whether you are an international student or a home student.James BrantExplore the UK President
Instead everyone seemed to enjoy chatting with one another, taking the opportunity to converse in anticipation of the Oxford visit, scheduled for a couple of week’s time and listening to the live acts that were being performed. First to play was Will Dawson, a Southampton history student who played acoustic covers of some well-known classics by bands such as The Killers. Will played his tenth show on Saturday night of which he hopes will reach a grand total of fifty; he is raising money for Cancer Research UK and playing one show for every session of treatment that two of his relatives undergo after they were both tragically diagnosed recently. He was really happy with the response on the night and said that events like these allow him to play to a wider audience and promote his cause further.
Allure – a mixed vocal group were the latter act to perform on the night. They sang glee-style accapella medleys that seemed to really impress the audience. The lead singer Sarah Ellard explained that, having been previously part of Jazzmanix, the group have been singing together for about a year and are always looking to perform at events like Saturday’s. She said that the group felt it went really well and the newly refurbished Bridge Bar was a brilliant venue for performances.
After the night’s entertainment had finished, people stayed around chatting and when speaking again with President James Brant, he strongly believed that the night had been an overall success. He noted that perhaps being the first event, not everyone had been made aware of it, but explained that the society now has access to all the international societies’ mailing lists he hopes for an even better turn out next time. This evidently displays Brant’s commitment as the turnout for the event was extremely impressive, especially when considering the difficulty previously faced when trying to organise international events, as numbers for mixed cultures have categorically remained static.
All in all it seems that Explore the UK have had a positive start to the year. Their SUSU affiliation means they can continue to subsidize things like transport and accommodation and continue to provide exciting trips for their members. However they still would like to include other international societies in order to help expand their membership and would also be happy if any other groups who want to, to get involved. Finally the president noted that he would really like more groups to join: ‘if there’s enough people who’ll come we’ll do things like book out the Cube’. Until then the committee have final preparations to make for their first trip to Oxford on November 10th and lots more socials to organize, for what will hopefully make a great first year for Explore the UK.
Remember to check out the Facebook page and get involved with future events! http://www.facebook.com/ExploreTheUK