Umair Tariq Siddiqi was voted International Officer last week. With the responsibility of representing the over 4,000 strong international student community at University of Southampton, Umair is to take care of the welfare of international students. Who is he? What ideas does he have for this year? The Wessex Scene took the time to interview him.
What made you enter the by-elections as the International Officer?
It has always been my aim to represent myself and others at university level. I thought this would be the best opportunity for me to get involved with the Students’ Union. I do not want any international students to face the problems that I faced and I want to bridge the gap between home students and international students, and get international students more involved in the Student Union activities. Before nominating myself, I met up with presidents of some of the international societies and asked about the concerns their members have in general and how I could address them if elected.
What is your role as the International Officer and what do you want to achieve this year?
As the International Officer, my main role involves representing all international students of the University. I will be working together with my committee to ensure that international students’ voices are heard with regards to academic, administrative and extra-curricular issues. I will see that their welfare needs are met through available resources by working hand-in-hand with the other Student Union Officers. I believe information concerning international students’ rights should be made more accessible; this will help students get the necessary advice when the need arises. All international students will be able to approach me or any committee members regarding any problems or personal experiences they may have faced or may be facing relating to welfare, discrimination or inequality, and we will direct them towards the appropriate authorities who can help.
Besides this, the international committee will be organising more events targeting international students. Some of these include an International Cultural Event and International Food festivals where all different international societies portray their diverse cultures and traditions. Some of these events are already on the drawing board of the present committee.
What problems do you think international students encounter at the University?
Before the elections, I spoke to many international students about any problems they encounter at the University. One of the main concerns many students had was regarding the security situation in the University’s surrounding areas such as the Flowers Estate and Portswood. International students need to be more aware of what areas they should avoid, especially at night.
Another problem faced by international students is finding good private rented accommodation after they move out of halls of residence. International students need to be briefed on how to look for good private rented accommodation in secure areas and they need to be made more aware of their rights as tenants.
Some international students also feel left out of Freshers’ week events. This week is important as you make new friends and start off your university life. Making new friends is the quickest way of settling down and not being homesick, which I think is something that affects many international students. We should bridge the gap between home students and international students by integrating and catering the needs of international students when organising events.
What positive experiences do you think they have?
International students find the welcome week very helpful. They find the “Meet and Greet” service very convenient as there are University representatives to help them out at every stage, from when they arrive at the airport until they are taken to their accommodation. There are helpers present everywhere around campus, even on the buses to help students find their ways around the city. The Student Union also organises international workshops which are an excellent forum for international students to discuss any concerns they may have. Also, the kind of support available all around the University and the Students’ Union is remarkable.
What are your personal experiences as an international student?
I have had a wonderful time in Southampton as an international student. It was very easy to settle in and get along with everyone. I did face some problems but there was always someone at hand to help me out. I think students should not conceal their problems but instead should discuss them with the relevant authorities as there is a lot of support available around the University and the Students’ Union. A very good example is the Student Union Advice and Information Centre which many international students are not aware of.
How can international students get in contact with you?
The easiest and quickest way of getting hold of me is to drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or you could catch me on campus. I’ll either deal with the matter personally or give the responsibility to one of the members of the international committee and we’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.