Roar writer Haleema Ayyub interviews KCLSU International Student Network officer, Saffana Siddique, about how she’s trying to bring international students back together after the pandemic
“It is always wonderful to work with passionate people. Learning from their work ethic and
determination makes me believe in my goals. As the International Student Network officer
at King’s, I feel it is important to have our voices heard. It has been so hard to get our
money’s worth out of the student experience. A lot of international students came to
London to stay because we were promised ‘blended learning’. However, as the pandemic
worsened, this was not possible so on top of paying the fees, they are now paying rent for
living spaces they aren’t using. Understandably, there has been a lot of dissatisfaction.
We’ve also been trying to get a response on a national level so some real change can
hopefully be made. I started a local campaign at King’s as I want them to respond to
international students directly and help us with these issues. International students need to
be more supported. Currently, it’s very hard to access help as an international student
whether it’s financial or well-being related.”
The myth of “crazy rich” international students
“I feel there is a misconception that all international students are very well off. People just see the rich international students and then assume we’re all like that. However, we all have different lifestyles and various obligations. I think people need to stop seeing us in such a one-dimensional way. International students should be able to access hardship funds. We don’t all have ‘easy money’ from our family. Many of us have to work to support ourselves and get loans. International students’ wellbeing really suffered this year; to have access to counselling at King’s, you have to be registered with a GP in London. Many of us were unable to come to London so it makes matters very hard. For those of us who are in London, some of us have no choice but to be here. And then there are students who have to come to London because they would rather be anywhere than at home. I know people who are coming to London and are ready to pay 6 months’ rent, even if they are not there for the entire period, because they can’t do their exams from home.”
Bringing people together…during a pandemic
“When I first came to King’s, I was quite surprised to find how disconnected the
international community was amongst themselves. It’s no one’s fault- there are so many
international students, so many different campuses. I wished to create a sense of a larger
community this year. My goals as the International Student Network Officer were that I
wanted international students to get better career opportunities and mental health
“Then, the pandemic happened, and these goals changed dramatically. However,
having said that, I feel that this academic year connected us. Even if we come from different backgrounds, we are all in the same boat. Whether we are standing in solidarity with various protests, taking part and spreading awareness about the issues in our own
countries, dealing with changing pandemic measures or just actively learning about the
social injustices happening. We now have such a broadened understanding of the world. This year, I could talk to a much larger range of people without having to run to different places. Virtually, I met so many amazing people who are doing such great work. My world expanded to include all these different people from different communities and backgrounds which I am grateful for.”
Mental health takes a hit
“For students, this year was really hard, because studying at such a competitive institute, there is a stigma around asking for help. As an international student, we leave our entire life behind to come to a different country to study while carrying the ambition of our family and communities. It really is a struggle for many. Students aren’t necessarily comfortable enough to come forward and admit they are on the verge of becoming homeless or can’t afford food for the weekend. Getting a part time job due to the pandemic is hard and many don’t want to call back home in fear they’ll worry their parents.
“And with the multitasking that comes about as a result of online learning, you work
anytime, and you sleep anytime and as long as you are in the meeting room when you are
supposed to be, everything else is up to you. It’s so easy to put on a happy face when the
only way people know how you are doing is through a screen. People knowing you are hurt,
hurts you, and people not knowing you are hurt, hurts you too. That is why it is so hard.”
The struggle of finding one’s place
“As cringe as it may sound, I really do feel that Law was written for me. Just before I made
the decision to study Law, I had already done my exams and had a place at a medical college. However, I changed my mind quite suddenly and decided I really wanted to do Law even though I didn’t understand the path. I didn’t want to study law because of what the career looks like to society. I wanted to study law because I see it as a tool to help others.
“Ultimately, all careers are about serving others and you have to choose how you wish to do that. I felt being a solicitor is what I would be most comfortable as and I really want to
support my community through my future work. When I came to King’s, I was surprised to
see how glamourised law was – the pressure of networking, getting a training contract.
“It was a very new environment to me, especially as an international student. I feel that the atmosphere is not exactly accommodating for everyone that is ‘different’ and it feels very exclusive. I had a lot of anxiety figuring out if I’d be accepted into the legal community because of my dyslexia. I’ve always had to deal with comments like, ‘you don’t look dyslexic’, or ‘you perform so well for a dyslexic’ and it’s so frustrating. It is horrible how people compare me to other dyslexic people who perhaps act differently and use me as a comparison to judge others. I definitely think people need to be more educated about this.
“I also feel like because there’s so much pressure to find your ‘own’ place in the community, it’s sometimes hard to accept the help people offer. I found it really hard in first year to find my place but eventually I found the societies and people I love to be around. I definitely think I’ve gained more confidence. Next year, we’re planning to start King’s Commercial Awareness Society and Storytelling Society and I feel like I’ve finally found my type of people. I’m really looking forward to my third year. Hopefully, this year will be better for us all.”