Tell me briefly about the International Students’ Society?
The International Students’ Society is a group of diverse students that meet on a weekly basis to socialise and get involved around Bangor. We are open to anybody who is interested in different cultures, languages or people; whether from the UK or abroad. We try our best to make people feel at home at university and help them fight against problems they might be experiencing whilst studying abroad. Most of the time we just offer a platform to send queries to, form connections at, and get involved at events across Bangor, be it those of other societies we advertise or our own.
What kind of activities does the International Students’ Society carry out?
We have four main types of events: trips, cooking sessions, socials and cultural events. For international students who are visiting the UK for the first time ever; trips to castles, Snowdonia and other local areas of interest are often the most interesting. With these, we try and vary, offering trips from Welsh castles and medieval country houses, to expeditions in howling gales to the highest mountain south of the Scottish border.
Our cooking sessions consist of people from different countries teaching us their traditional recipes and favourite snacks. For these we meet in St Marys kitchens to socialise and relax, whilst cooking together and enjoying the varied foods.
At socials we usually mingle over free pizza, games or the one or other pool game. Occasionally we also watch cultural movies or relax in one of Bangor’s excellent cafes.
Lastly, we try and bring as many cultures forward to represent our university’s immense cultural diversity. As our Societies Guild currently holds 16 (soon to be, 18) different international societies, a strong collaboration through various cultural events has always been very important to us. Examples of recent events we’ve been collaborating on include; Kamariya Choreography dance classes, a traditional style of dance from the Indian festival of lights Diwali; a cultural video series with the Indonesian and Bangladeshi Societies; and a selfie competition for International Students’ Day has also been on our activity list over the past semesters.
What kind of cultures are involved in the International Student Society?
Having a highly diverse student body of 123 nationalities, everybody is welcome; regardless of culture, religion or nationality. Our members consist of students from around the world, each of them bringing their own culture and background. We have British and European cultures, as well as ones from the Middle East, Asia and the Americas. Since we are a fairly international university, internationalism is apparent in many societies across the board, but the special thing about us is that we actually use this to learn from one another and that we get to dive into another culture, without even needing to go abroad.
To what extent do all the different cultures within BISS mix together?
In my opinion they mix a lot. Not only in our activities we have together, but also as we give the opportunity to work and co-organise events with other national societies who are focused on their specific country. We also have members in our committee who take part in other cultural societies, making it easier for us to collaborate with these and enabling us to learn from them and other students. Mostly our events target the general (internationally interested) audience and do not target specific interest groups, bringing in different cultures and getting us interactive amongst one another. Our events certainly show how easily people from different cultures and backgrounds mix once given the chance to meet and socialise, even if this might not be applicable to every person and in every scenario.
One event series we have been hosting specifically for this, is a film screening produced by the NGO ‘Crossing Borders Education’, which compares western and Islamic cultures, African-American segregation, and the communication barriers between Chinese people and people from the west. The screenings were followed by a discussion about the problems we face nowadays and what can and should be done about them on an individual level. The topics discussed about racism, communication barriers and difference through religious beliefs opened up interesting discussions and touched on experiences and stories that everybody in the room could relate to, which allowed for a wider interaction and a new understanding of what other people have gone through.
As an international student, how important is it to find a society to help with homesickness?
For any student, regardless of being international or from the UK, it is extremely important to get together with other students and get active within one’s areas of interest. Creating a social space that one feels comfortable in and making friends is the first step any student has to go through when moving to a new environment. This helps students gain confidence, fight loneliness and homesickness, and gives them a home away from home. For international students, this connection is just as essential, but immensely problematic if lacking. As many of us can’t go home more than once or twice a year, and face numerous changes in environment, culture and climate; smaller problems that we get confronted with daily become much bigger problems than under normal circumstances. Providing the social space to be able to chat, meet friends from similar backgrounds or with similar problems and giving opportunities to overcome the barrier with daily interactions and language barriers with kin that share associations of home, even if still open for interest groups from the UK and other countries.
How does the International Society interact with the wider student community?
Generally interacting with all students is just as important for us as interacting only with those that have faced issues or are new to the UK. With us being open to the entire student body, the interaction between old and new members helps carry the momentum with many regulars creating the friendly and open environment that most of our members love. This of course also extends to UK students that are interested in what we do and how others live. Creating a connection between internationals and home students is vital to understand each other, learn from one another, and fight racism and prejudice. Many UK students even gain more interest in other countries through joining our events, and foreign students get acquainted to the system within the UK. To help promote this interaction we hold all our events in spaces as publicly as possible, as well as publicising these through Facebook, Instagram, and every now and then over WhatsApp and email. Even some committee positions are filled by UK students.
What’s it like being the Chair of such a diverse society?
As the chair, some difficulties are naturally part of the weekly agenda. Hosting such diverse events requires a large amount of coordination and a super active committee that make sure that all the strings are pulled in the right place at the right time. As none of us are experienced in any one area, we often require help and knowledge of other people, societies and organisations to pull off events we’ve never done before. Establishing an interesting and diverse schedule for the semester that incorporates as many cultures and topics as possible, so that we keep open to everybody, is further challenging. All the positive interactions and superb turn-outs usually overweigh the challenges though, and it is fantastic to experience the enjoyment and pleasure with which some of our members often come.
Why should people join International Students society?
I think this question can be answered by every one of the sections above. We offer a place for every student to be a part of a bigger and wider family, to socialise and learn new things. Whether fresher or master student, knowing no one can be extremely difficult and making friends is vitally important when travelling somewhere new. The societies at Bangor, just like us, are here for exactly this purpose. We make students part of what it really means to be a student. An experience you only get once, and a place you can break free from studies and endless Netflix. And most importantly, to lose a few hours from being homesick, a home away from home.