Last issue we printed an opinion piece titled «The second-class existence of international students». Now Deputy head of the Student Organisation (STA), Olea Norset, replies. You can read the original piece here.
In the last edition of Unikum we could read about an international student being a class representative and experiencing not being heard or met as a student voice at the university. I am sorry to hear this. I cheer for your voice, I want you to be heard, and I hope that, together, we can make some changes here at UiA. However, we need to get some facts straight here.
I think there has been some misunderstandings during our three-email short correspondence. You got our overall goal right. It is working for the professional, social, economic and welfare interests of students at UiA – and we do, every day. I can assure you.
But, to address your last point first. “There isn’t currently a single organization in UiA I can find that is willing to stand up for foreigners.”. You found us, STA. We work for every student at UiA in different ways. Today’s situation for international students is not an optimal one. We want UiA to be better, and that is what we are working for wherever and whenever we get the opportunity. The work started way before my time in STA, and many times we only see baby steps. Therefore multiple voices working towards a common goal is important. We have made a suggestion for the university’s action plan regarding diversity and equality; that they inspect how they facilitate in a way so that diverse groups of students can take part in, and actually influence, the formal decision-making groups at UiA. Language will become an obvious factor in this work.
Secondly, you found ESN, they also work for the international students. Often in the social aspect and the biggest group is, as you mention, the exchange students. Both, STA, and ESN, have contact with the international office at UiA, and we raise questions, issues, and suggestions for improvement to the office. There we also have the engaged, helpful, and hardworking interns at Global lounge. They are doing a great job being a link between students and the international office concerning small and bigger questions.
I can see that you refer to our email conversation about that STA has been using many resources to make an international advocacy group, and that we have stopped that job. That is correct. That does not mean that we have stopped working for the international students. Instead of being one organization starting up and running another organization, we have decided to continue our work within the already existing structure at the university. By doing this we can achieve bigger and better breakthroughs for the international students at UiA. We do not want the important international voice to become a top-down initiative that flops after a year because all the student board members are replaced. A new student group should grow and build itself stronger by the student engagement, ensuring the sustainability of the group for years. With that in mind; STA always supports students at UiA that wants to start a student initiative. The amount of student activities grows every year. Sometimes it can be a challenge to establish and organize an activity, but that is why STA offers support in this process. In addition, we also help when the activity is up and going, when there are bumps in the road or any questions that need answering.
To circle back to the notion of to the multiple student voices. Take my word for it and come grab that virtual coffee I invited you to. Come join in on the dialogue, embrace the issues and find new solutions alongside your fellow students. That would be great!
Written by Olea Norset, STA