Each new school year at the University of Saskatchewan signals a flurry of ratifications for new students groups, and one such new group seeks to bring together a large body of students on campus.
The newly formed International Students’ Association held elections for a five-member executive team in March 2017. As members of student council for the U of S Students’ Union, Nancy Eze, a third-year physiology and pharmacology student, and Kozy Ugo-Okeke, a second year finance and third-year sociology major, recognized the need for a collective body of international students on campus. With the help of Renata Huyghebaert, the former USSU vice-president student affairs, the ISA was born.
Eze, now president of the ISA, believes that the new group holds an important place in the Canadian context. “This group is really important … since Canada as a whole is an internationalized country and the U of S is becoming more and more internationalized day by day,” Eze said.
Eze explains that any undergraduate student can join the ISA, whether international or local. Interested students can visit the ISA booth during Orientation and Welcome Week or contact Eze anytime by the group email or through the ISA Facebook page.
Although the U of S does offer services to international students through the International Student and Study Abroad Centre, Eze explains that the new student group meets a particular need.
“International students [are] a broad body, so ISSAC handles … undergraduate international students, graduate international students and exchange students,” Eze said. “It’s not like their work is specific … so we really needed a [representative] body we could communicate to that could advocate for us, and that is what made us think about creating this association.”
Ugo-Okeke, speaking from his experience as an international student representative on the University Students’ Council, also believes that the ISA will fill a gap on campus.
“As councillor for international students, we didn’t have that body,” Ugo-Okeke said. “What we had was different groups. It was really difficult … because how do we talk to everyone at once? We needed that unity, and that was how the ISA came about. We need a group that we can really talk to and get their input. Also, what about other people from different countries that don’t really have a group? How do we know if they are doing okay?”
He further explains that international students at the U of S face different challenges than local students, which may be heightened by an impending increase in tuition.
“Lots of international students have problems with tuition, paying up tuition and paying up rent,” Ugo-Okeke said. “The current increase in tuition [is] going to have a really big effect on international students … Converting that money into your money back home, that might really make a big difference.”
Eze praises the 2016-17 USSU executive team for a trip they took to the United Kingdom in November 2016 to discuss internationalization and support for international students with other student unions, citing it as part of her inspiration for forming the ISA.
She also commends the university for its Blueprint for Internationalization, a document drafted by the International Activities Committee of Council, which is meant to provide institutional direction for international research, partnerships and activities. However, Eze also believes the university can take further steps to support international students.
“I feel … what the university could do better is communication, which is something that the university lacks a bit,” Eze said. “I personally wouldn’t blame the university, since there wasn’t a large body like the ISA that they could ask directly.”
The ISA presents both an opportunity for university governance and students to build community on campus, and Ugo-Okeke encourages international undergraduates to reach out to the new group.
“I just want to tell international students that if they are going through any issues, they should know that they have someone they can talk to. They can always reach out to the ISA or to the USSU,” Ugo-Okeke said. “That is the whole point of these bodies. Just reach out, if you are faced with any issues. We are here to serve you.”
Graphic: Supplied/Nancy Eze