UKCISA Annual conference 2023: Days two & three

Blog for members
05 July 2023
0     1

After a hugely successful launch on Wednesday, UKCISA Annual conference 2023 continued on Thursday with a full day of sessions, including two UKCISA Stop press’, and another chance to hear from our #WeAreInternational student ambassadors.

Kicking off at 9am, UKCISA Advice & Training officer Sarah Rimmington led a popular Stop press session on recent immigration changes, whilst fellow A&T officer Deepa Chadha and UKCISA Head of Advice and Training Heather Knight led a training session on the power of saying ‘no’ and understanding the limits and boundaries of advice provision. Elsewhere, Julia Jago and Angelina Bianchi from Royal Holloway led a session on international student enrolment, focusing on the challenges as a sector regarding the changes in the international student market, and Kaodi Umenze and Fay Harris from Keele University presented the outcome from a research project exploring the lived experiences of international students at Keele.

After lunch, the Thursday afternoon plenary session focused on a student voice panel where our #WeAreInternational Student Ambassadors shared their diverse experiences of studying and living in the UK, featuring ambassadors Adityavarman (Aditya) Mehta (University of Leeds), Diana Catana (Kings College London), and Lindsay Nygren (University of Glasgow). Speaking on how universities can better support international students, Aditya advised that, “Life essentials need to be taken care of, so they [international students] can focus on getting acclimated with their programmes and meeting their peers, instead of finding accommodation or sorting banking.” Diana and Lindsay shared similar thoughts on the daunting experience of starting university in a new country, with Diana explaining that, “Everything looked so foreign. I did speak the language, but it was still all very weird to me.” On university and student union communications, Lindsay added, “There was an overwhelming sense of ‘I don’t even know where to begin.’” The ambassadors all were in agreement that the #WeAreInternational student charter, launched a year prior, could be important and influential in making meaningful and impactful change at universities and within their cultures.

The afternoon continued with more sessions, including another UKCISA Stop press led by Andrew Humphrey and Christopher Benjamin, with Andrew and Christopher even finding time to post a BeReal mid-session. Rounding out the afternoon, UKCISA Chief Executive Anne Marie Graham hosted a session on contributing to and developing UKCISA’s new organisational strategy beyond 2023, and there was a closing plenary with members of the Home Office.

Once sessions concluded for day two, we celebrated in the evening with our drinks reception and gala dinner at the beautiful National Museum of Wales. Delegates were able to view some of the museum’s fabulous artwork and displays, including dinosaur exhibits, before eating, drinking and chatting, and then dancing the night away – we know the UKCISA staff certainly did!

Day three kicked off bright and early again with a half day of sessions on offer, including a UKVI roundtable and a look at the British Council’s Global Alumni Programme. In the conference’s closing plenary, #WAI Student Ambassador Xiaoxiao Hou welcomed delegates in with a stunning performance on her Guzheng, a Chinese instrument that has a history dating back over 2,500 years, before we heard some inspirational stories from ambassadors Xiaoxiao (University of Liverpool), Vartika Khandelwal (University of Liverpool), and Gino Obaseki (Glasgow Caledonian University).

Having packed 18 years of her life into two 23kg suitcases and moved abroad to study, Vartika said that she “Realised my purpose in life was to make a difference in the community.” She went on to share just a sample of her incredible experiences over the years, including conducting a research project into police eye witness tests and how to prevent them from failing, interning at a high security women’s prison in Kenya, and doing similar work here in the UK to help prisoners with challenges upon reintegrating into society, such as writing CVs and sorting accommodation. “I am 22 years old, and the world is still my oyster,” she proudly declared in closing.

Fresh off of winning The Dean’s Award for being his cohort’s Top Performing Student – he was in fact missing the presentation to be with us in Cardiff – Gino shared details of his incredible work in his home country of Nigeria. His work in Lagos, the country’s capital has impacted 30,000 people, and he has specifically helped 39 women over the last month in the community to learn transferable employment skills such as cutting hair, making shoes, and baking in order to help them be able to find work to make a living independently from those who have sought to take advantage of them previously. Finally Xiaoxiao, a psychologist and musician, shared her story of how she has conducted research in music intervention for people with dementia, taught Mandarin, worked at Manchester airport to collect south east Asian students when they arrive in the UK, and performed her music around the UK, including a performance for John Lennon’s son.

As Xiaoxiao again gave us a live performance on her Guzheng to end the plenary session, UKCISA Annual conference 2023 came to a fitting and poignant close, celebrating and highlighting the remarkable achievements of some remarkable international students. A genuine, beautiful reflection on the work of UKCISA, its members, and the students whose lives the organisation has helped transform. We can’t wait to head to the University of Kent in June of next year for UKCISA Annual conference 2024!