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YUSU Elections 2017: Agnieszka Gziut & Muhammad Hassan (International Students’ Officer)

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Image: Agnieszka Gziut

Agnieszka Gziut and Muhammad Hassan are running jointly to become the International Students’ Officers in the 2017 YUSU officer elections.

What inspired you to run for the position?

Agnieszka: I think it was through engaging in the Polish Society and going to international students’ events that made me more aware of the problems our community faces. After discussions about life at York in general with my friend Muhammad, we decided to run for the position.

Muhammad: Being the President of the Islamic Society this year made me realise that I can offer my time and commitment to a great deal of people, and having made a lot of friends, I feel like I am approachable to a lot of people, just like Roberto on the same post.

What makes you different from the other candidates?

Agnieszka: Muhammad and I combine two very different worlds – as I come from Poland, a conservative and largely Catholic Eastern European country with a lot of ambition to become part of the Western World, and Muhammad comes from Pakistan, a country in South Asia that accepts Islam as the state religion.  We have ties to our ethnic and national communities at York, which has given us a lot of experience in managing society structures. At the same time, both communities have a more controversial position in Britain, although I would like to stress that I have been received in a very positive way in the United Kingdom. Our backgrounds may prove us controversial in the elections when considering the recent political developments, or conversely, may be seen as an advantage to some students.

Muhammad: I think it is our collective strength that sets us apart, starting from the diverse backgrounds – different age, gender, religion, countries. Just by that one can see we are very flexible and no one should and hopefully will not hesitate to approach us.

How would your policies change student life at York?

Agnieszka: They are quite ambitious goals. If we would succeed to implement the policies to the full extent that we wish to, first and foremost the university experience would become more affordable for international students. If the level of tuition fees could be bargained to go down to the level that British students have to pay, this would significantly improve the financial situation of internationals. Secondly, the introduction of drop-ins for international students would make students feel more comfortable and confident at York, and hopefully will improve their academic performance and wellbeing. The drop-ins will tackle all kinds of issues e.g. accommodation, financing, learning etc. and will also aim to help us build a framework for dealing with these issues in the longer term. Thirdly, we want to raise awareness about racism and xenophobia, but only through facilitative and open discussion, and not through prance schooling. We realise that the university community has been very welcoming to international students, and we want to build on that considerate response. Lastly, we hope that by expanding the already successful chain of events for international students will bind our community more, which I think is crucial to make newcomers to York feel at home.

Muhammad: YUSU currently does a lot for the international students anyway, we just improve further on the foundations laid down by our predecessors:

  1. when there are voices raised in order to reduce the tuition fees for the local and EEA students, we want to make sure the voices of the international students, in the same regard, are heard as well
  2. there is a need in the university for the hate crime to be addressed, and why hate crime comes under our ambit as well is because a lot of the hate crime is on grounds of racial and ethnic differences. We want to ensure there are sufficient measures in place to tackle the issue
  3. one of the lecturers in the university raised the issue of discrimination with the Tier 4 students on campus, I heard from someone else that sometimes international students face issues with their thesis merely because of the fact that they are not local students. We aim to conduct an anonymous study, in each department, collecting different academics opinion on the matter and will go on from there to carry out further studies.
  4. experience of an international student is not easy, it is very intimidating. We want to facilitate university and students contact should they face any issues, even if they want to remain anonymous for some reasons.
  5. obviously, continuing with the amazing ISA global week and weekly coffee meetings.

What challenges do you expect to face in this position and how will you respond to them?

Agnieszka: As I have mentioned, our goals are very ambitious, and practical considerations will be our main obstacles. People frequently doubt our lobbying power and the extent to which we can actually change the situation for international students, especially when it comes to finance, that is governed by more macro-economical structures than other areas. However, we believe that these issues need to be raised in order to at least try to solve them. If the higher echelons of university structures or government are not notified of them accurately, nothing will ever be changed for the better.

Muhammad: I am not worried about any challenges of personal nature, I am just worried and working on strategies to make the contact between us and the students more easy. I would be disappointed if students are facing issues and do not know who to contact.

What has been your most enjoyable experience at university?

Agnieszka: I can’t possibly choose one experience, and most of the more enjoyable ones have been in the domain of private life.  As my friends know, I am overly enthusiastic about food, so probably both Polish Independence Day Meals with our society and last year’s Food Fiesta would be my pick.

Muhammad: I think being involved with a lot of stuff on the university, late night takeaway meals with friends and making so many friends from different backgrounds is the best part of the experience of an international university, especially York which has been rated as one of the most diverse universities.

 

What challenges do international students face on campus?

Agnieszka: Financial hardship is by far the most significant challenge that students face – it more often than not prevents students from going to university in the first place. This is perhaps the most relatable issue to me, having experienced some form of financial hardship during my first year at university. All the other issues like accommodation or mental health in some way or other is related to financial issues. Fitting in is perhaps the second most difficult challenge. International students not only face problems of bonding with British students, but with other international ones as well, which is very worrying. Although this might not sound as significant as financial issues, it can seriously affect the wellbeing of a student and the quality of their experience here.

Muhammad:

  1. Homesickness
  2. opportunities to know more people
  3. options available to them should they face any hate crime.
We are working on (3), and for the first two ISA has done a really good job so far.

As told to Amy Banister