The second day of the hustings kicked off with the three candidates running for the position of the International Students Officer (ISO), Ishika Somarchand from Mauritius, Stephany Shakespeare from Sri Lanka, and Vartika Khandelwal from India.
“Cultural diversity is in our DNA”
Ishika Somarchand, a first-year applied psychology student was the first speaker for the night. She started off by describing her experience in her own country, Mauritius, which is a very diverse nation and having lived in a culturally diverse environment for a long time she really values and is passionate about it. Ishika then dived straight into talking about the main 3 ideas in her manifesto that she appeared to be very passionate about.
Ishika’s idea is for international students to be able to have a Touch’nGO card from the day they arrive on campus. Initially, she said, her idea was to use the university ID cards as a Touch’nGO card. However, after some discussions with IT services, SA execs and others, she became aware that it’s not a feasible option. Ishika has booked a meeting with the student international support office in an effort to find a realistic way of implementing this idea on campus and depending on how feasible it is she will update her manifesto.
Autumn Semester Cultural Event
“Why wait for the spring semester to have an event promoting cultural diversity?”
Ishika posed this question to the audience about the ICN in the spring semester. She feels that another similar event that promotes cultural diversity should happen during the first semester. She suggests that this event should be a cultural food week, considering the love most students have for food she feels that the best way to bring people together is by showcasing different foods, desserts and beverages from each country. She suggested that nations could also compete for best main dish, drinks and desserts. During that week she would also work with the sustainability office to promote awareness about food waste.
Late Arrival Students
To turn down the stress and anxiety of late-arriving students, Ishika proposes that we should add a specific email that the visa office would include in their emails for the late-arriving students to be able to communicate with the ISO. This is because the administration can’t provide the names of the students that arrive. When late-arriving students send an email to her that email address, they’ll be able to get information about induction, freshers week and club fair. She also mentions that when a student arrives this can help create a bridge between them and their ambassadors.
“I hope that all my points matter to you as much as they matter to me”
During the Q&A session, Ishika seemed very composed and calm when answering her questions.
The session started with a question regarding her plan on creating an email for late-arriving students. When asked why is it important to have a separate email instead of just communicating with the visa, Ishika elaborated by explaining that the visa office is mainly concerned with paperwork and is not able to provide all the information late-arriving students need. Instead, this email will be a way of informing students about what is happening on campus and giving them information about people from their country and answer any questions that the visa office might not be able to answer.
Ishika was asked a question about how she will get manpower to be able to welcome those international students. Ishika then confidently responded by saying that it won’t require that much manpower since there is not that many late-arriving students.
Ishika was then asked questions about her autumn event. For example, she was asked about how she will ensure people would participate in the food week since such an event was attempted before but failed to attract enough participation. Since it would be the first year for the food competition we can’t predict how it’ll go however she explains that the dishes don’t have to be huge or complicated and that she wants it to be competitive so that people can put a little more effort into it.
Additionally, she was asked another question from an ambassador about how will ambassadors have time for such an event considering their schedules are already full with preparing for the nation’s cup. She assured everyone that she would discuss this event first with the ambassadors before she implements it and adds that considering ambassadors usually have help from people from their nations, working on a dish or drink is doable.
In her manifesto, she mentioned that she wants to have an Instagram takeover and add activities during the break. In this session, she got to elaborate more on those points. She explained that she plans on using Instagram to let people know more about each nation and culture and intends to include minority students who are not represented by an ambassador in this as well. Regarding her plans to have activities during the semester break after exams, she understands that some international students have to stay during that time and because there is not much for them to do around campus this is a good way to ease their boredom. These events could just be small events like a movie night for example.
Lastly, an audience member inquired about why Ishika wants to provide the Touch’n go cards when they are already available in Tesco, the airport, and the KTM. Ishika doesn’t want international students to have an additional thing to worry about and thus thinks it’s best if the university could provide it on campus.
Stephany Shakespeare kicked off her opening speech by listing off her accomplishments, such as being the events manager for the Sri Lankan Society, journalist for the Science and Engineering editorial department, and her involvement in multiple cultural societies. Going straight to the point, she then talked about what she would do, should she be voted as the ISO.
“Cheat Sheets” for All International Students
First, she intends to create a student hub, or a “cheat sheet” which would be a digitised version of the ISB booklets. She wants to make it available for all students so that they can make more informed decisions. This “cheat sheet” will be targeted at students who are here for the first week, and those who have been delayed from joining for various reasons.
Minority Community Representation
Bringing up the underrepresentation of minority communities, she observed that these students tend to be underrepresented and are reserved, quiet, and can be sometimes lonely or misunderstood. To improve the situation, she hopes to revamp the UNM great race with a slightly different catch and thus increasing awareness by giving these smaller communities a voice and spotlight. Working along the same lines, she wants to bridge the gaps between the ambassadors of each country with the ISB and cultural societies. Through a round table discussion, she hopes that these cultural societies will be able to bring up the issues and problems and get them resolved through cooperation with the ISO.
Reinforcing Feedback For Global Citizen
Using her own experiences with the NAA module, Global Citizen, she notes that there is overwhelming participation for it and wants to provide further support for it. Through the implementation of a feedback forum, she believes that this feedback can be used to improve the module and allow for additional benefits. Adding to this point, she believes that this channel falls in line with her objectives, as well as with the ISB, and thus intends to further bolster the module.
Reinforcing Feedback for ICW
Stephany then praises the effectiveness of the ICW and states that it can be made even better by adding a feedback system where students can state their concerns about the event. She believes that working on this feedback will allow loose ends to be tied up, and allow for a more memorable and enjoyable ICN.
A Second Induction For Late-Arrivals
Finally, she brings up the issue of late-arrival students, and says that should there be enough late-arrival students, the international office and ISB will be willing to hold a second induction for these students to bring them up to speed.
“I wish to care for, uplift, and contribute towards the well being of all students, leaving less space for any negativity.”
In her concluding paragraph, Stephany shares her experiences with making friends from all over the globe, as well as her understanding of the difficulties faced by international students who leave the comforts of their home to study abroad. She chimes in at the end and says that she intends to keep all these inputs in mind when carrying out her duty as the ISO.
“I want to realise my vision of embracing our differences as students that live on this campus together.”
Stephany had stood her ground during the Q&A session and stuck to the themes of her manifesto, these are some of the highlights from her session.
Stephany was first questioned about her role should she be voted as ISO, and how she would do things differently. When confronted, she stated that the items listed on her manifesto are in her opinion, the most realistic and achievable targets and that she does not want to make false promises, and will start working on further issues once she gets voted into the position. A follow up question was directed at Stephany, questioning whether she should head the ISO as she only focuses on existing issues, rather than coming up with new programmes. Stephany harked back to her manifesto by stating that she will extend the activities for ICN, and will work on improving the NAA module, Global Citizen as she believes it is already an amazing programme.
Several questions were then asked regarding the inclusion of minority communities. In reply to those questions, Stephany repeats that she will utilise the UNM Great Race to include challenges based on minority cultures, and that she will push for the ambassadors of each country to play a bigger role in these events. She also intends to bridge the gap between the local and international students through the round table, and to market cultural events in such a way that will encourage all students to attend.
Finally, Stephany stressed the role of ambassadors in programmes such as the Nations Cup. She believes that by providing a direct line of communication with ambassadors, the international students will be able to communicate their problems which can be then resolved through discussions with the ISB and International Office.
“Imagine at this very moment, there was an apocalypse! And before you knew, you were transported into this unknown land where you did not know how to get the needs of your survival. As tragic as it may seem, if you rewind the tape of your memory, you’ll realise you went through the same situation when you arrived at UNM.”
Vartika Khandelwal burst into a story for her opening speech, recounting her life stories of having to move around 9 cities and 3 countries. Being a veteran at moving around, she shared that this experience has provided her with the environment of learning, at which she managed not only to overcome but even thrive, as indicated through her extensive list of leadership roles.
“Leadership is not about being the boss, it is about empowering and serving people.”
Improvements to Induction Week
Quoting Einstein, “The greatest source of knowledge is experience.”, she promised that she would deliver her best as the ISO, and that she believes that her vast experience provides her with the necessary skills to take up the job. Adding on that she does not believe in false promises, she ensures that students will get a great induction week. Furthermore, she intends to introduce students to their ambassadors at the induction briefing, and by providing additional important information such as how to use public transport. As part of the induction programme, she also intends to expand the KL tour to include places that represent Malaysia culture better.
Improvements To Be Made To ICN
Working on the success of the ICN, she wants to increase intercultural awareness through activities and events such as an intercultural quiz or an international beverage day. In addition to that, she hopes to collaborate with cultural societies to organise large scale festivals on holidays such as Eid and Christmas so students feel less homesick during these times.
New Job Opportunities
Interestingly, Vartika promises that she will offer new job opportunities to international students. She intends to do this by bringing in more companies for the careers fair who will recruit international students, and by offering a job as a UNM promoter in one’s home country. To back this up, she mentions that she has been in contact with the Campaign and Alumni Relations Office of the UK campus to bring in alumni who will share their experiences working abroad.
Improving Mental Health Amongst International Students
Vartika makes one final point that she stands for mental health, and intends to organise sharing sessions where seniors can talk to their juniors about living in a different country. The point of these sharing sessions would be to allow the seniors to check in on the well being of the newcomers and to help them adapt to life outside of the home. Finally, Vartika ended off her opening speech with the statement:
“Ladies and gentlemen. I have a dream, I have a vision, and I have hope. But If you do not vote for me, my dreams will remain dreams, my visions will be shattered and my hopes will be diminished.”
Vartika performed well in answering the questions from the floor, remaining confident and sticking to her points. These are some highlights of the session.
Vartika was first questioned on the logistics of the alumni sharing system, to which she replied saying that she has spoken to the Alumni and Donor Relations Office, and has learned that there is only one alumni from Sri Lanka at the current moment. After speaking to them, they have agreed to her idea and they will handle the logistics and bring in alumni from the UK campus in the future.
When questioned on the viability of increasing hirability of international students, Vartika commented that she intends to source in companies that already work with another university at recruiting international students. She believes that by increasing the number of companies at the careers fair, the higher the number of international students that will get hired. Furthermore, she states that internships can be provided through collaboration of the university with companies in one’s home country and that internships themselves can also be provided in Malaysia, and can be incentivised by running these internships as an NAA.
Vartika was then questioned about the feasibility of getting students to work as promoters back in their home countries, and how this programme would be monitered. Vartika responded to this question in glee, outlining the process of how the programme would work. First, a function would be set in place where the university would get in contact with the high schools. Secondly, the high school would allocate a time slot for this promotion. Third, a social media platform would be set up to allow for the documentation of this promotion, which will allow the university to monitor the work of these students. Lastly, Vartika added that she intends to carry out this plan regardless if she gets voted as ISO or not.
“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be and I managed to stay calm so I think that was good. I also had a lot of people supporting me through this. I feel so much better and I feel that I can breathe now. At the beginning, I thought I was the underdog, but now I am a little more confident about what I can propose, and how I am different from the other candidates because I’m really taking the risk of doing new things.”
“It didn’t go as planned. I didn’t want to make too many promises because I didn’t want to promise something I won’t be able to achieve. I’m sure that once you’re in the position you’ll be able to know more about what you can and can’t do. I’m happy with my performance today. I can go to sleep tonight.”
“I was very nervous at first, and while I wasn’t that scared of my opening speech, I was scared about the questions. Although, I did feel like the people were generous with their questions and I am really glad that happened. I am also really glad because I got to attend to most of the questions and that I was able to explain my plans to the people who have approached me. Right now I’m feeling really relieved because my hustings are all done with, however I still want to interact with people to see if there are any loopholes in my plans and plan to work on it. My take away message would just be “Vote for the right candidate.”.”
Each candidate handled the hustings very well and was adamant in delivering their opinions. However, each candidate differed in their approaches to the role of the ISO. Both Ishika and Vartika intend to implement new activities and programmes, as well as provide additional support to the international students, whereas Stephany grounds herself and intends to work on fine-tuning existing measures to overcome the recurring problems faced by international students. Each candidate has also taken the time to speak to the relevant parties and seems to be well aware of the viability of their manifestos, demonstrating their commitment to the role, should they be voted into the role.
To better understand each candidate and what they stand for, check out their interviews here.
Remember to cast your votes for the candidate of your choosing during the voting period (13th to 18th March).
Written by Jonas Ho and Fatma Waleed.
Photographed by Katyayni Ganesan.