Hi everyone I’m Onyinye Okonkwo, your Vice President Welfare. I am from Nigeria, came to the UK in 2015 as an International student to get my BA degree and I am here to share a bit about my experience of my time as a student here at Brighton University, the passion that leads me into my current job and explain one of my key point manifesto, the Language Café and the reason behind this and why I think having spoken to many students and staff about it, it will be beneficial to all students and even to our University as I believe there is a need to develop and grow our social environment and making it more diverse and inclusive as much as possible so everyone have that sense of belonging in the space they find themselves.
What is the language café?
Language Café is built on the concept of cultural awareness of all diverse people. It provides an informal, social setting in which to practice languages and share cultural interest. Our Language Café will be used to encourage peer to peer support through the exchange of language, a great way to meet people from different cultural backgrounds and enhance their language skills and yours.
Most importantly, is also a goal set with the purpose of improving student mental health and wellbeing for all students and creating a distress environment, where students can embrace and learn about the similarities and difference of various cultures which is a wonderful way of understanding others, making friends and a platform to distress while talking to others.
What will language café consist of?
Language café will consist of different tables of language led by native speaking volunteers representing that tables in order to make it more easier for those who are learning or already familiar with the language, there will be two setting in each tables which means half of the table will be for beginners and other half for intermediate but will still leave room for conversation and mingling. There will be provision of tea/coffee, snacks and even pizza. You can lead any language of your choice and everybody is welcome.
Why do I want to lead a Language Café?
Early this year I gave a speech at the BAME conference that took place at the University about my survey to find out other students interests and opinion on the Language Café. I came up with five points that has shaped my experience as a student both emotionally and physically of which I will only be talking on three and its connection to Language Café.
Before writing this blog today I have asked myself what is it that I have to say that students can relate to, what are those experience I might have had that has shaped my experiences that will somehow be similar and inspire others, and my passion in running for the position that I am in now and has influence my manifesto points and while speaking to many students out there and hearing their experience and analysing it with my own experience. So, in order to provide information on it I decided to write this blog post and explain my experience and idea behind Language Café, I have a story to tell and so will others who will one way or the other relate or have had more or less similar experience or not. It is necessary to understand that every students have different experience right from back home and toward being here, and also necessary to understand not to generalise as those different experience shape our different needs and adapting. But above all we are common and for majority of us our experience are quite similar.
- Coming to University, and how that shaped the start of my journey from the visa to the different educational system and how my learning was shaped. I didn’t have the luxury to go to a better school that has British style of teaching or environment in it and like others where the system is quite similar to that of here or had the opportunity to travel out while growing up for a better experience and because I’m an elder daughter I had to give opportunity to my younger siblings (and just in case you wondering how many younger ones, well there are quite a lot.) Moving here without knowing what was going to happen through a scholarship was the best new start I could ask for but above all was the hardest because my first 6months opened my eyes to more adventures and struggles towards my academic and social life and being away from home, I felt alone in my own space.
- Language barrier and socialising after my arrival and afterwards. This isn’t just about my own experience but for others who I have spoken to have also had similar experiences. Being a full-time Officer I feel has given me the opportunity to look into things and one of those things is establishing a language café which will be a great way students can meet different people from all cultural backgrounds and enhance their language skill while creating that social environment as well as aiming to break the isolation and stigma surrounding mental health and mixture of people learning their difference and cultures. I believe that when people know about your culture and background things become easier. It will also aim to create a more cultural awareness and will give way to better improve of experience.
- I didn’t join any societies or activities and wasn’t active and didn’t involve myself in other activities and all. Being the first child comes with a huge responsibility and as I was the first to go to the University in my family, there was always a pressure from family to concentrate and focus only on education and work. Coming to the UK and starting my studying here I never imagine that I would involve myself in something that has to do with helping people and representing the voice of the students as this is very crucial because looking at my life I have always been the type of person that goes to lectures and then straight back home to my private space because I have a responsibility that is demanded of me and one thing I didn’t do as a student was to find myself, my Interest, my passions and involve myself in many things around the university that will help me meet people who have the same view and mind-set as me. And that alone has been something I wish if the clock should go back I will focus on doing things that will improve my experience and better adapting.
In conclusion, to my fellow student, it will take time, you might face struggles and pressure of everyday life but you will get to the top where you wish to be and it will be a story that will encourage other and shape their experience, be mindful, be open, and inspire other with your wonderful stories and supports. Get involved in activities and events as much as you can, do not isolate yourself from the world, meet people and talk about your difference to create a more understanding environment, support one another to create more love. I am excited about the Language Café that will be happening soon and I believe that if it helps one person feel a sense of belonging and create a more social and inclusive space then my aim is achieved and we the SU are constantly looking out for those who will get involve and create activities that can bring everyone together.
So, if you do like to volunteer for Language Café and you are interest in being part of the audience please look out for more information that will be coming very soon. Make use of all the time you have and make the best student life experience that will be an inspiration to other and together with University we will look to make sure that you receive and have the best experience ever. Thank you!