What a challenging time to be an international student.
Imagine if you moved to a new country and everything had changed – social context, health risks, and your course relocated online – and then keeps changing just as you thought you understood what the situation was!
Unfortunately, this uncertainty and upheaval is likely to continue for another 12 months. This means the work of Friends International and local churches to step in and support students is absolutely vital.
A Busy Summer of Activity
Friends International has had a busy summer supporting international students isolated in their residences, or back home far from their course mates. We have been able to train staff, church leaders and Christian Union International Secretaries for new forms of outreach online. We have been asked by universities to offer English language practice groups for new students and have contributed many hours of input.
We appreciate your valuable support along with all our volunteers. It has been a bewildering time for all of us but thank you for your encouragement of local staff – many of whom have seen exciting new opportunities. In Southampton we have had an unexpected opportunity to meet with around 100 pre-sessional English students online over the summer, through our partnership with the University of Southampton Students’ Union. International Students, University Staff and Friends International volunteers all enjoyed the weekly meetings and the sense of community they gave.
In Edinburgh we have had a similar opportunity arise. The Edinburgh University International Office messaged us saying:
“Thank you to your team for supporting international students in Edinburgh. All the creative projects that you’ve developed, your kindness and strong commitment of your team to enhance students’ experience in the UK are valued by students and the university community. It is very impressive how quickly you adjusted your programmes and could provide a safe space for hundreds of students during the lockdown and continue to do so.”
Over the summer, we kept our weekly online Globe Café running for students coming to the Sutton Bonington campus of the University of Nottingham. Last week an Indian student connected, almost in tears with the anxiety she felt about coming to the UK. Our Globe Café volunteers, which includes a student from India who has just finished their studies, were able to answer many of her questions and fears, and by the end of the evening she was the last to leave the Café, with a big smile on her face!
New Staff and New Projects
We have been glad to recruit ten new staff during this lockdown period, and they met together with the training team and directors for two days’ orientation earlier in September. The gathered potential was palpable – strengthened teams in places like Birmingham, Edinburgh and London, and a new Centre starting in Sunderland.
There is more to be done, such as the writing of a Wellbeing course, to offer to universities in this time of high anxiety.
One thing you can directly get involved in is our Just Say Hello Day for churches on Sunday 18th October. It will be a day to raise awareness of the challenges that international students are facing and to ask more churches to get involved through giving to the work of Friends International. Please use the Church Resources Pack and invite others to do the same. These are challenging times, but the opportunities remain significant as we seek to offer friendship and faith to international students. We value and continue to rely on your partnership with us in so many ways.
Finally, I’ll leave you with these encouraging words from a student we recently got to know from India:
“Studying abroad can be a significant and incredible experience, but my experience could have been seriously affected by the pandemic which has disrupted life as we know it, across the globe. Being a part of Friends international is like being a part of a wonderful family, even when you’re thousands of miles away from home. And during a time when everything had been so uncertain and worrying, I felt so blessed to be among such lovely and caring friends. From checking up on me daily, to making sure I had help whenever I needed it, I cannot express my gratitude enough for all the love and warmth that I have received through Friends International.”