For many international students, joining the International Society at their university is a huge part of their study abroad experience.
International societies provide an essential, and often extensive, community that brings together students from all over the world in a welcoming environment, often giving them a home away from home. International societies are often known for their large-scale events, frequent trips and activities, and active presence on campus.
Like most societies, welcome week is a key time for international groups and societies at universities. Tasked with welcoming thousands of students into not only a new university but also a new country, international societies usually pack the week full of activities, trips, and parties, all designed to give international students a base and community in their new home.
But this year, things will look a little different. The large group meals, tours, and club nights that would normally fill freshers’ week and beyond have been at worst cancelled, and at best drastically modified to accommodate social distancing rules.
International societies have a huge task on their hands in terms of welcoming students from all over the globe in a post-pandemic world. Most of their members are likely to have to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, making the possibility of in-person events even more remote. And even once that quarantine is over, societies are still very limited in the activities they can do, with those in local lockdowns unable to even meet other households outside.
So what are international societies doing to welcome students this September? El Mawer, Volunteering and Activities coordinator at Manchester International Society said that they are still organising a variety of activities to help students settle in, both face-to-face and virtually.
Some international students may be unable to travel to Manchester for the beginning of their course due to travel restrictions, so El is conscious that the international society has to cater for those who are unable to be on campus, as well as those who are.
“The Manchester International Society will be running online quiz and games nights, as well as online volunteer workshops with existing members of the International Society, who will be able to chat with new students about their experiences of moving to and studying in Manchester, and answer any questions they may have.
“We’ll also be hosting online tours of Manchester for those students who will remain in their home country for the first semester, and for students in Manchester so they can learn more about their new city."
However El – like many others – is keen for face-to-face events to take place where possible.
“We will also be hosting some face to face events, such as a teatime event where students are welcome to drop by for a hot drink and to meet and mingle with other new international students, and an afternoon tea with sandwiches and scones."
Safety is, of course, a concern for all face-to-face events, and El said that this is a priority for the International Society and universities alike.
“We are working alongside the universities to ensure all face to face events are safe for students.”
If you’re an international student heading to a new country this September, you can get in touch with your international society through email or social media to find out more about what events your specific group is planning. Things might be different this year but one thing is for sure — you’ll still have a group of fellow international students ready to welcome you to your new university — even if at an arm's length (for now).