What Is the International Student Forum and AIS?
In light of the upcoming HSE St.Peterburg International Student Forum, HSE Illuminated interviewed Florence Ibuowo, a member of the Association of International students of the campus, on her experience at the University and the aims of the association and the forum.
HSE Illuminated: Florence, please tell us a little bit about yourself. What made you decide to come to Russia and study at HSE St. Petersburg?
Florence: My name is Florence Ibuowo, I’m currently a Bachelor’s student of Political Science and World Politics, and I’m from Nigeria, Africa. I have a keen interest in research, especially in the fields of Human rights and political corruption studies. I also love singing and exploring new places. It was during a conversation with my mother a few years back that I decided to study in Russia, and now here I am in St. Petersburg. I chose St. Petersburg because the course I applied for was not available in English at HSE Moscow, so, after applying through HSE Moscow, I decided to come here to St. Petersburg.
HI: What was the hardest thing you faced here as an international student? And how did you handle it?
Florence: During my first year at HSE St. Petersburg, I didn't really understand how things were done within the university and, as a result, had problems navigating the system. I did not know how the classes were done, how to check my timetable or find out the assigned readings for the seminars and some other basic things. It was quite problematic for me then, but I handled these issues by seeking assistance from the study office of my programme.
HI: Today, you’re part of the Association of International students (AIS). How did you decide to join?
Florence: After observing the problems that were faced by the English-speaking International students, I realised that there was a need for us as International students to have a formal organisation or community that can speak for us, a community that can help us to relay our queries and requests to the university administration. So, I told my study office co-ordinator (Arkadii Naboka) about this organisation and he agreed with me and helped with submitting a formal request to the admissions office, and it was during this period that I came up with the idea to form a Forum for International students and the administration of the University. After a series of meetings with the administration and the student union representative of the university, a decision was made to make our community a part of the AIS, thus forming two branches within the AIS - i.e. Russian-speaking International students and English-speaking International students. That’s, in a nutshell, how I became one of the pioneers of the English-speaking Association of International student.
HI: Can you please tell us about the motive and aims of the Association?
Florence: The Association of International Students at HSE Saint Petersburg consists of two wings or branches, because there is the English-speaking international students and the Russian-speaking international students - i.e. students who are not Russian citizens but are of the Russian heritage. The motive and aim of this community are to be of aid to international students studying at HSE St. Petersburg, and irrespective of the fact that we consist of two major branches, we all work together with the common aim of helping out International students.
HI: Speaking of working together to achieve goals, what are some of the main goals you wish to achieve as an association, if you have any?
Florence: Yes, we do have goals we want to achieve for the students and also the University. As a community working together for the betterment of international student life, we organise various programmes not just for the sake of it, but as a way of reaching out to the international students. Through our various programmes, we try as much as possible to make sure that the contents of these programmes are of great importance and benefit to our students. So, in a nutshell our target as a community is to be of aid to the international students of HSE St. Petersburg, help serve as a link between the students and the University administration so as to diminish the communication barrier which is experienced by students. I have realised that many international students have problems with expressing their concerns, because they oftentimes do not know who to turn to when they are faced with problems, so we hope to be able to help solve this problem as a community.
HI: This will certainly be an important addition to the University. What about extracurricular activities? Do you have any ideas about organising some activities, such as recreation, quizzes and other non-academic activities?
Florence: Of course, we do have some interesting activities. The University already has the culture day for international students, and we plan to make it more interesting by involving most and possibly all our international students, including the English-speaking students. We also have a forum coming up. It is going to be more of a formal type of meeting, because we will have both the students of the university and the top administrative personnel of the University in attendance at the event. There are also other fun activities that would be held. More information about those will be available later.
HI: Great! Can you please tell us more about the forum? When will it take place? And it is going to be a one-time forum, or we will see many forums in the coming future?
Florence: The Forum is a programme which is aimed at providing assistance and solutions to international student concerns. At the Forum we will talk about issues that affect English speaking international students the most, such as getting internships, part-time jobs within the university and also within the city of St. Petersburg and also other basic issues together with the representatives of the University which who will be present at the Forum. Although, this Forum is the first of its kind in the history of HSE St. Petersburg, so we do not want it to be a one-time event; we hope to continue holding it annually. The Forum is slated to take place in the month of May, but a date hasn’t been approved or confirmed yet.
HI: What are some of the main concerns that will be discussed at the forum?
Florence: Communication is important everywhere. Most of the international students cannot speak Russian, so it’s difficult to express themselves and, moreover, last year some English-speaking international students who graduated had problems with their documentation (diploma translation) and internship problems. It was hard for them. We want to help with providing solutions to some of these issues in order to make international students enjoy their stay here without having to face any major difficulties.
HI: In closing, what would you like to tell your fellow international students and Russian students as well?
Florence: There’s a lot of things, I would like to say, but to keep it short I would like to tell them to always try to persevere, despite any type of difficulties they face. I know sometimes it might be quite difficult being in a foreign land and having to put up with the strange weather, but always remember - if you think of this place as your own you will always feel at home. So, always make sure that you try as much as possible to make things work out positively. We don’t always get what we want or bargained for, but we must try to make maximum use of what we have at hand. To the Russian students, I love you guys, but please don’t be shy around us and also try to interact with us because we don’t bite and we’re very nice people. =)
John Kwofie and Oxley Dodoo
This article has been prepared within HSE Illuminated project.