To find out more about their policies, News Reporter Emily Darby interviewed this year’s International Officer candidates
The International Officer is the newest member of the Full-Time Officer Team and is responsible for representing UoB’s international students.
The candidates running for the position this year are listed alphabetically by their surname on this page. Voting for Guild Elections opens at 10 AM on Monday 25th February and closes at 4 PM on Friday 1st March, with the results announced on Saturday 2nd March. Vote HERE.
María Araos Casas
Maria Araos Casas has been an international student twice, currently at Birmingham and previously in Lyon, where she began as a languages student hoping to improve her French. She then went onto study an Arts course for two more years.
Now, aged 26, it is this type of first-hand experience and knowledge of life as an international student that makes her qualified for the role of International Officer, says Araos.
Araos wants to address the ‘real’ struggles that come with being an international student and to ‘be there’ for students when these issues arise.
However, she also wants international students to socialise and embrace the fun aspects of student life.
To do this, she proposes to organise trips for students coming from overseas, from international festivals to trips around the UK.
Araos said: ‘I want to take care of us – that means having more information about lifestyle, health and physical sport, visas and all those types of things.’
‘I will guarantee every service in the University is tailored for international students,’ she continued.
Araos also wants to focus on student wellbeing. Her ‘Change For Us’ policy aims to help international students look after their minds and bodies by running events and workshops on coping with academic stress, deadlines, and homesickness, as well as maintaining a healthy diet.
There is an emphasis on employability that will help students find opportunities not just in the UK but also abroad, which Aroas says can be difficult to secure.
On a final note, she tells voters: ‘I have experience with this, I have been an international student twice, so I really understand what it’s like – that is one of my characteristics.
I want to work with the real struggles, so I will carry a box with me throughout my campaign and I want people to chat to me and put all their ideas inside, to have real information.’
Wei-Lun Chen, an active member of Taiwanese Society’s committee, took a break from setting up for the celebrations at the Guild for Chinese New Year when he sat down to talk to Redbrick.
As it turns out, activities, sports clubs and societies are at the crux of Chen’s campaign.
A second-year Sports Science student, who switched after originally studying Computer Science, Chen said when he came to the University he wished he had known more about the extra-curricular opportunities available to students, both local and international.
On his manifesto, he proposes to make sure international students are more informed of what is available to them: ‘They may not be informed of what is out there and they might not have come to societies fair or sports fair because they didn’t know about it,’ he remarks.
Chen says he hopes to make incoming students more aware of how to join clubs and societies by delivering information to them upon their arrival, during welcome weekends and events, hoping it will help them to try something new, outside of their usual circles.
Focusing on the information international students get upon their arrival in Birmingham, Chen further adds he wants to make sure information is summarised and clearly laid out.
He points out that many students don’t have time to read pages of information, so miss out on important advice. For example, many students don’t know they have to register with a GP and that some may have to register with the police.
‘I will summarise my points, post on social media, be direct and simple. It will be a more efficient way to understand how the University works when they first arrive,’ he adds.
Nonetheless, Chen’s top priority is student safety on campus and in student areas. If elected, Chen says he would work with community wardens and Guild Officers to prioritise prevention and work to continue and improve current systems in place to protect students, such as the Selly Express bus service.
‘The challenge will be how to reach the new students, in particular,’ he points out.
Chen hopes that by being present at open days and welcome events, as well as on social media, that he will be able to overcome this issue.
He also plans to work on more schemes like the Global Buddies programme so that home students can share their experiences with international students.
‘I really want to focus on building that environment where international students and home students can share their experience and learn together’ explains Chen.
Joanne Park is the current International Officer at the Guild, and she hopes that her experience in the role will make her the ideal candidate for re-election.
Park wants to focus on representation. She says: ‘When I went to University meetings, I was very surprised at how there was a lack of international input when University staff spoke about running campaigns or a new project.’
Park expanded on how she encouraged staff to include more international students in her role, saying: ‘They have been focusing more on international students and giving them more representation.’
Park also works closely with the ISA (International Students Association) and speaks about the connections she has already made as International Officer.
Looking ahead, Park wants to continue building upon these existing ties by working on improving funding for international students, which was recently defunded by the NUS: ‘I will be working together with other officers to improve international students rights.’
Given the uncertainty of the current political climate and with Brexit looming, Park aims to focus on the two topical issues of post-work study visas and securing rights for EU students post-Brexit.
She is backing the #PostStudyWorkVisaNow campaign, which is petitioning the government to demand post-study work visas for international students.
As well as attending national conferences regularly, Park hopes to raise the concerns with local MPs.
In keeping with her political focus, Park promises to continue keeping EU students at Birmingham up-to-date with the latest events.
She mentions how she worked with the current Guild President, Reece Patrick Roberts, to create an FAQ on Brexit.
Celebrating and bringing together different cultures is also important to Park, who says the launch of ‘One World Festival’ is coming up in March.
The festival will hold events such as talent shows, which Jo referred to as a type of ‘International Students’ Got Talent’ as well as a food hall and a debating hall.
She adds that she wishes to encourage home and international students to integrate more during welcome events so that students ‘don’t define themselves as home students or international students, but simply UoB students, all together.’
Finally, the current International Officer places a particular emphasis on mental health. She recognises that there are unique challenges to international students, and she hopes she can work with the University more to help counsellors better understand these issues.
Also running for the position of International Officer are Ifeoma Odum and Yousef Alqureshi, who were offered interviews but did not accept. Of these, only Ifeoma Odum sent Redbrick their manifesto poster: