A huge leap foward

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This October 2010 sees the start of another academic year at Lancaster University, and like every year we have hordes of excited freshers joining us. Out of every 400 new students coming to each of college, at least a 100 to 150 are International students coming from all over the world.

The first week of university is no doubt a wild and exciting experience, but for some students it can be slightly daunting week as well. Some students that join us from countries far and wide, come from varying cultural, religious and domestic backgrounds, and can find things in the first week new, exhausting and, in a word, overwhelming. It can be intimidating to be surrounded by so many people you don’t know and who may speak a different language, or look different, or for a hilarious and personal example, ask you if you’d like to have ‘tea’ when they actually mean dinner.

Keeping fresher’s week in mind, LUSU’s International students’ committee came up with the suggestion, that along with the fresher’s kitchen reps that help new students settle in every year, Colleges should also have a small group of trained International student reps. A generalized idea of the concept is that these International reps wouldn’t be in charge of separate kitchens or blocks, but be there for all the International students that are to come into the College. Selected International reps received training from the outgoing VP EWD in June, training them to have sufficient information or guidance for International students in matters such as registering at the University house, paper work required to open a bank account in a UK bank, health and medical certificates, location of the LUSU office, who to contact in case if an emergency, information about the JCR, but the more specific duties are more tailored to how the Colleges that were open to the idea, want to administer particular responsibilities for their own reps.

Aside from all the official sounding business, the general idea behind having International reps is for them to be able to communicate and extend a helping hand to students who have just travelled miles to come to University in a strange county. These students might be facing cultural shock, language barriers, home sickness etc, they might not be able to communicate clearly with their new flat mates, understand local terms or be pressurized into doing things they aren’t comfortable with. International reps are there so that they can talk to these students, or find them someone they can talk to, help them out with whatever difficulties they are having, match them up with similar minded people in other kitchens so they don’t feel alienated, and help them out if they are being ignored or confused.

Aside from that, they can also give them more information about the cultural and other societies they can join, about JCR and LUSU positions they can stand for, about LUVU and Green Lancaster and the opportunities they provide and other activities that can enhance their time and stay at University.

From my own fresher’s week experience, I would have liked for someone to have explained to me that the alcohol culture dies down a little after fresher’s week, and being a Muslim student who doesn’t drink, I wouldn’t be ignored or looked at like I was a loon. Or it would have at least been helpful if our kitchen reps had mentioned that there were other alternative events going on around campus that were non-alcoholic in nature and a little less wild for me to have made a better and a more settled start to my year.

International fresher’s reps are the most important addition to Lancaster University Freshers week. They are not mollycoddling our freshers but becoming a vital lifeline for those who are most vulnerable and overwhelmed by their first experience at university. From the point of registration to the end of fresher’s week and beyond, whether it be queries about passport checks, or general advice such as Home Bargains has cheaper food than Sainsbury’s or the International students’ events that happen around the year, so that they can truly enjoy a fully informed, amazing and  completely rounded student experience.

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