July 26, 2019, by Simon Langley-Evans

Reflections on 20 years of supporting international students

For over 20 years, it has been my great privilege to have supported students from all over the world in my role as part-time International Chaplain at the Sutton Bonington campus. As a Christian I believe that each person is precious, unique and has value in God’s sight. I have walked with many, irrespective of their faith or cultural background, sometimes though very difficult and challenging times caused by bereavement, loneliness, stress, difficulty in adjustment, financial worries or poor health – but also through times of joy.   Some students greatly miss home whilst studying here. I help connect some students with local people where they can find a ‘home from home’ to support them through their university life. It has been a pleasure to welcome many students to our own home, developing some friendships that continue to this day.  This has led to the huge privilege of visiting a number of students back in their home countries, and keeping in touch with, and praying for many through their journey of life.

I love the diversity and richness of culture of the International Community here at Sutton Bonington and am keen to help others experience and appreciate it. It was with this in mind that the weekly Globe Café was started, together with students from the Christian Union. We are very grateful for the use of the Graduate Centre. Globe is a place where friendships can flourish – especially between UK and International/ European Students – giving the opportunity to learn from one another and gain an understanding of other cultures. These friendships can be lifelong. At any one Globe café there can be up to nine different nationalities represented – to the amazement of some British who participate! The time is mainly informal, with available games and a short theme each week- such as ‘Strange British customs’, things to do local to Sutton Bonington, sharing culture and customs, idioms, crafts  (and homemade cake!) This feedback received just last week from a European student shows how important the Globe Café is:

 ’Thanks for the Global Café. It was such a good opportunity for me, such a chance to meet all of those International students, but also British people. I will never forget it, never… It is one of the best memories I have of the university. It is in this place I have met many of my friends.’

One of the most important areas in which I have been involved is with the International Student welcome on the Sutton Bonington Campus. There have been some challenges in recent years regarding logistics and practicalities. In order to ensure that our welcome to international students is as good as it can be, I helped coordinate representatives of the Student Guild, Sodexo (catering), CLV (accommodation), the Warden and Tutor team, Student Services and others to meet together. The result has been a coordinated welcome- the café/shop have extended their evening hours preterm with hot food available; bedding is provided to all new students; tutors are on call to help with late arrivals; and improved signage has been introduced. Better communication, and raising awareness of the needs of newly arrived international students are also benefits. As well as improving the situation locally, the group extended to involve those organising welcome on University Park, helping them to understand the situation of international students here at the Sutton Bonington campus. The results of these interventions could be seen on the smiling faces of those arriving last year.  It is a pleasure to work together with the SB Student Guild especially when arranging welcome events that include International students and those who may not wish to drink alcohol.  We’re now looking forward to welcoming the 2019 intake!

The Love Recycling Project, initially inspired by a member of staff, was set up to make available kitchenware from past International Students to new incoming International students. As well as reducing waste, this has been of huge help to those arriving from overseas, some of whom may be on a tight budget, only here for a short while and still adjusting to life in the UK. One year I was just leaving the campus in the evening after a busy Saturday of welcome when I spotted an African student sitting forlorn on a bench. She had just arrived, had no food, no pans, kitchenware, or bedding and found her room very cold. To her amazement I was able to provide her with sheets and a clean duvet, pans, cutlery and plates, as well as take her to a local shop to buy some food and a phone card. A home student I knew, passing by, was able to help her operate the heating in her room (in fact she had moved into this student’s old room!) All within an hour!

Financial donations from the Love Recycling project have supported a rural hospital in Madagascar, a Child Care Centre in Kenya, the Yemen and a local charity for men with addictions. Excess items have gone to locally needy, and the very poor in Romania.

We also organise a wide variety of social events to enable international students to experience British culture. This includes tea in a local home; toasting teacakes over a log fire; soup and cake after a village Bonfire and Fireworks night; Christmas parties and in particular a huge feast at Chinese New Year, with over 40 Internationals, in a local Chinese friend’s home. I work with the International Chaplain at University Park to organise day coach trips to York, Oxford and Cambridge which are very popular and always sell out!

I count it my privilege to have been involved with supporting many international students over the years –  I trust that it has made a real difference to their lives here in Sutton Bonington, and I look forward to continuing to offer a warm welcome to future students too.


Val Owens

Posted in EDI