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Calling all international students – could you be a leader?

As a student from China, voting was never a big part of my life before I came to the UK. That does not mean that I am indifferent to politics – in fact, politics makes up half of my degree (I do Philosophy and Politics). But it does mean that I am rather curious about voting and can get a bit excited whenever I get to vote or stand in an election.

However, this seems not to be the case for everyone. International students make up 27.5% of the student population. We pay more than double the tuition fees and travel across oceans to study here, yet the Officers that lead our Students’ Union and represent our interests often do not share these experiences. I am not saying home students don’t care about the welfare of international students. But when such a big part of the student population is international, it does make me wonder: why are so few election candidates international? What is stopping us from running?

What I learned from standing in an NUS Election (spoiler alert) and not winning

Durham Students’ Union (DSU) has a variety of positions you can run for with elections taking place at various points throughout the year. In my first year, I ran to be an NUS delegate and did not get elected. For those of you who don’t know about the National Union of Students (I didn’t before I ran), it is the largest student organisation in the UK, and to be a delegate means attending the annual conference, discussing and voting on essential issues like further education policy, welfare policy and so on.

A group of people standing in a room

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Last years delegates. Photo credit The Palatinate

When I ran to be an NUS delegate, I initially thought it would be really intimidating and time-consuming. However, when the election came around, I actually gained so much support from the SU and my friends, which made the experience really wonderful. From Charlotte, the SU’s Campaigns Coordinator, I got a goody bag with sweets, markers and information on campaigning, and lots of useful tips. Reflecting on the experience, I wish I’d taken her advice on identifying support early on and finding a campaign team. I was convinced that my friends wouldn’t have the time or commitment to help me do things like drop-in sessions or make big banners for the library square.

However, my friends turned out to be a lot more amazing than I thought they were, as friends tend to do. One of my best buddies said to me after the election: “Aww, you should have asked me! I would’ve been happy to help your campaign!” Another friend in college that I haven’t spoken to for a while helped me to spread the word on social media, getting me at least ten votes even before I asked him to help. Other friends from China saw me on the website, decided to vote for me and messaged me afterwards, saying they were so proud that someone from China was running for the election… These experiences were incredibly heartwarming and empowering and made standing as a candidate a really valuable experience for me.

Give it a go

I vote and participate in student politics, not necessarily because I know my vote will make a huge difference on who wins, but because I like the feeling of making a contribution to something that could potentially change students’ time at Durham, including my own. We often underestimate how much power we have in our hands when we vote or stand in an election.

So, if you are an international student reading this article, thinking: hmm, if running for a position can be this much fun, why don’t I run for a position myself? Well, give it a go. Nominations are currently open to run to be a Student Officer at Durham SU, these are sabbatical positions that allow you to lead the direction of your Students’ Union. There’s lots of information on their website about the roles available and how to run. At worst, you gain a heartwarming experience and an answer to that popular interview question:  what have you learned from failure?

Run to be a leader, and maybe next year we can have at least one more Student Officer who is an international student!

Lijie Dong

I am a third year Philosophy and Politics student passionate about education. I am the president of Durham University Student Volunteering and Outreach, so feel free to ask me anything related to community volunteering. Also a big fan of cooking Chinese food and having bubble tea.

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