A home away from home: An International Student’s survival guide
The University of Pretoria boasts a diverse community of international students. Statistics obtained by PDBY in 2019 indicated that the international student community at UP totalled more than 3600 students, spanning across 100 different nations. To create an easy transition into the UP community, numerous societies at UP have been created to provide safe, nostalgic spaces for international students. While not all international students beginning their tertiary studies at UP are new to the South African setup, these societies provide spaces aimed at promoting a sentiment of smooth cultural integration and social connectivity.
UPI: The Umbrella Society
UP’s International Students Society (UPI) is aimed at integrating different cultural and international societies at UP and assisting international students with concerns such as registration, accommodation, moving and other miscellaneous aspects. Tanatswa Dendere, the Marketing Officer of UPI, says that the society’s “mission is to enhance the interaction of foreign and exchange students with one another as well as with South African students. The benefits of the society and why students must join are so that together we can ‘Dream. Discover. Explore’”. Dendere asserts that UPI is committed to “to making the lives of international students a little bit easier and when [UPI] cannot we are able to connect the students with the right people who can”. UPI’s compilation of a document known as the UNI Help Guide encompasses multifaceted aspects of living in Hatfield and provides key information to guide an individual who has just moved into Hatfield. Dendere states that students can access the document on the society’s Instagram page (@upi_society).
All administration queries or concerns regarding immigration, study visas, or any other crucial information pertaining to international students are to be directed to the International Cooperation Division (ICD) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Should students want to be aware of cultural activities related to the international student community, students are advised to contact UPI via email at email@example.com or on Instagram (@ upi_society). After this, international students will be added to the UPI WhatsApp group managed by the UPI executive committee that will allow students to keep up to date.
Dendere explains that the orientation of international students into the UP space during the pandemic is dependent on the mode of international students’ orientation this year. UPI’s activities for 2021 as of date include self-defence lessons, dance lessons, and sports days with braais. However, Dendere affirmed that UPI is awaiting further communication from UP regarding the lockdown regulations, which would decide the activities permitted. UPI has also devised a mentorship program that plans on assigning new international students with experienced international students to have someone to contact for minor concerns. Former Chairperson of UPI, Elma Akob, states that “we would normally take international students on tour around Hatfield, we would speak to the different residences […], we would get international students together on a bus and take them around Hatfield as for most of them it’s the first time being in the city and if they don’t get that tour a lot of them just find themselves going from home to school, home to school because that’s all they know”. Akob mentions that with the onset of COVID-19, the tour, albeit integral, would not be possible this year.
The Nigerian Students Society
The Nigerian Students Society (NSS) is a society that aims to connect Nigerian communities at UP. Chairperson of NSS, David Ononogbu, expresses that the society aims to extend “to building and promoting a positive image, citizenship identification and create a platform for showcasing the Nigerian culture here in South Africa and particularly in Pretoria”. NSS is primarily set up to cater to the academic and social needs of Nigerian students studying at UP, however, Ononogbu affirms that the society commits itself to creating multicultural spaces, saying “any student from any country is welcome to associate with us”.
With the shift to online activities as a result of the pandemic, the NSS has adapted their physical programmes to operate in a “silo form to reduce the number of participants in each of the programmes”. Ononogbu confirmed that most of the activities planned by the NSS will take place virtually. Furthermore, it was confirmed that Africa Day celebrations planned by the NSS “will be divided into a number of simultaneous programmes where students in close proximity to each other will gather to celebrate.”
Message from Chairperson of NSS, David Ononogbu: “We are a people who intend to, while studying, create lifelong, healthy relationships, learn leadership lessons, access career opportunities, network with senior academic mentors, researchers and coaches within and outside the NSS. We, at the NSS, develop positive tentacles of good relationships in formal, informal, academic and relaxed settings. Everyone is welcome to join us today.”
La Francophone Société
The francophone society is dedicated to promoting French culture “through the use of creative entertainment”. The society aims to connect French-speaking individuals across the world. In addition to creating social spaces for international students, the society is open for any student wishing to learn more about the francophone culture, provided they are a registered student at UP. Chairperson of La Francophone Société, Sarah Gombele, states that the society is founded on three major principles, namely inclusivity in diversity, assertively visionary leadership, and image as a community and student-friendly society. Gombele cited that La Francophone Société will plan on continuing its virtual activities into 2021 by organising competitions and events with potential sponsors, and inviting special guests to the society’s online francophone events. Gombele mentions that the society has a diversity of students, which “include Francophone nationalities and non-French speakers alike”, estimating that the society boasts more than 15 nationalities amongst its members.
Community of Indians At Tuks
Community of Indians At Tuks (CIAT) aims to introduce individuals to Indian culture. Chairperson of CIAT, Leon Panthera, states that “anyone [who] wants to learn about the Indian culture (or just wants to meet new people and have fun) is welcome to join”. In response to the shift to online activities, Panthera mentions that CIAT still managed to make the most of the year, as they had hosted the first year introduction event where all new members were introduced. This allowed the society to host online games, activities, and quiz nights “without the need for extra ice breakers”. Panthera affirms that the society plans on building upon the aforementioned events and keeping the society connected through lockdown by ensuring constant communication between its members. Panthera states that the society plans “to come up with social media challenges that we will incorporate into our virtual events. Nonetheless, we see this as an opportunity to revamp the events of our society”.
The Zimbabwe Students Society
Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Students Society (ZimSSoc), Ralph Hwenjere, describes it as “catering for the academic and social needs of all the University of Pretoria students, with emphasis on Zimbabwean students”. The society is open to all students registered at UP and all students are welcome to benefit from the programmes that the society runs. He cites that “the society is a platform for students to bring matters that need to be taken up with the SRC and ICD to ensure Zimbabwean students and all other international students have smooth experiences integrating in the UP community”. In addition to organising social events where students can interact, Hwenjere confirmed that “this year, the society is daring to be different by opening up the space and taking on the challenge of fundraising, so that it may be able to give financial assistance to its members that may need it”.
ZimSSoc is also looking to devise an online mentorship program for first-year students to provide guidance and assistance during the transition into their respective tertiary studies. ZimSSoc also plans on organising the logistics for a Zimbabwe Independence Day celebration by liaising with the Zimbabwean Embassy in an effort to get the ambassador to attend. To join or find out more about the society, contact them via Instagram (@zim_soc_tuks) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another society affiliated with UPI includes the Eswatini Student Society. International students who wish to join one of the aforementioned societies are encouraged to send a direct message to the societies that have an Instagram page or contact UPI via Instagram or email (details found above) after which they will be linked to an appropriate one, or encouraged to start one if one does not already exist.