By: Via Reyes and Drew MacEachern
Voting starts today for the UPEISU Fall Election but some of you still may not know who to vote for or who all the candidates are. For many, this might be the case with one of the more competitive races this year; the four-way competition to be the International Student Representative. Comprising roughly one-fifth (or more) of UPEI’s student population, international students have had a hard time fielding a competitive slate of candidates in the past. Two years ago, no one ran a campaign and the Rep had to be appointed by Council; last year only one person ran. That makes this year’s campaign a positive sign of increased participation, a fact which didn’t go unnoticed by some of the candidates. The four candidates this year include Buddy Program Coordinator Teresa Tu, transfer student Miguel Spencer, the Cadre’s own Elizabeth Iwunwa, and Esomchukwu Obinna.
Why are you qualified to be the International Student Representative?
Migel Spencer: I’ve been on the student body for quite some time now in my previous institutions. I was the VP Finance for the Junior Company of Entrepreneurs. I was [also] on the Academic Affairs Committee in my previous university. I think I possess the knowledge, the capabilities, the requisite skill, and the experience, of course, to lead such a population that has a very high percentage on this campus. Doing my campaign so far, I have interacted with many students and I’m not sure if you’re aware of a lot of the struggles international students are facing. I feel the international students need a representative who will take all these things into consideration. Mind you. all of the other candidates are very suitable, more than suitable. I interacted with a few of them and I know their capabilities. So I mean, whichever one of us comes out victorious, the international students will be represented at its highest quality and you can see that from the amount of students who are vying for the post. I think it’s about five and I think that’s a record so far. So you should know that we all have the international students at heart.
Teresa Tu: I am an international student and I’ve been an international student for more than five years so I’ve been through a whole lot of things, from language to the culture shock and everything so I think I understand why it’s really hard for international students. And also, I have been working in the IRO (International Relations Office) for almost 6 months and I have developed a really good relationship with them and students are pretty happy with my help and through the Buddy Program, I have met a lot of international students as well. And I just think if they have any issue, any problem, they will come to me anyway. So I think it will be great taking this position and it’ll make things easier for them.
Elizabeth Iwunwa: I think the experiences I have are not unique to me. They are experiences that can be found across the board. I’m a thinker so things I have seen as issues I have thought about them and brought up viable solutions. I am also a people person. People can talk to me without me scaring them away. I’m very approachable. And I think I’m a realist as well so even though I know the issues and their solutions, the solutions are not like castles in the sky or anything like that. They’re pretty viable. And I’m a good listener. [whispers to self] What else? What else? Let’s see, what else? Fabulous.
Esomchukwu Obinna: I don’t actually think I’m qualified to run. I’m just using this as a learning experience — a journey to gain valuable experience. I’m very passionate about what I put my mind to. I think anything is possible. I’m very optimistic.
What is the most pressing issue facing international students on campus?
Migel Spencer: The most pressing issue so far is, I believe, the continuous increasing of international fees. With my interaction with a few of them so far, they were saying that when they just started at UPEI the fee was not so high, but now it has sky-rocketed. I don’t know what the main route for that is but if elected, that is definitely one of the issues I will be tackling. In fact, it is the first on my agenda so far. Another one is the transition. International students really have a difficult transition. You’re in a new environment and for many it is their first time travelling out of their home country.
Teresa Tu: I would say the international student fee, I guess. It’s getting really expensive. It’s increasing by 3% every year with the tuition fee. I think that’s not fair for international students because they’re paying double. And language for some of them.
Elizabeth Iwunwa: I don’t think there’s a pressing issue. It’s not just one. It’s a combination of factors. So there’s homesickness, which is a very mild form actually. That can affect your psych as a student. There’s bills, there’s fees, that are increasing. There are students with language barriers. Just adapting to a new environment is something that can be quite challenging. I can empathize with people who are in that situation. Missing family, not understanding schedules, and just the new environment all together, meeting new people whose cultures are very different from yours, it’s a lot to take in. That’s why I think I’m the best candidate. I can take step by step and walk them through it.
Esomchukwu Obinna: The most pressing would be integration, essentially. We have lots and lots of international students coming to the school every year, but we tend to stick with people that we are familiar with. Probably because of the language. Maybe simply because we can relate to them better. But I think we have to walk hand in hand with the domestic students, to actually make the university experience a really universal one. I left Nigeria, a country of over 170 million people, and moved Canada just to make more Nigerian friends; it doesn’t really make any sense. So integration is the biggest issue, I find, and I will do my best to make it work.
Lucas Barbosa, one of the supposed candidates, decided to drop out of the running for International Student Rep in the last minute. We asked him his reasons for dropping out and here is what he had to say:
I saw a post on Facebook saying that there was no one running for this position and I thought that wasn’t a good thing because no one wanted to represent the international students. And I thought that maybe I could try and see if I could be good for the international community. But when I got to the meeting, there were four more people running for the position. I’m a first year student and a lot of them have been here longer than me and they probably have a lot more experience too in that department and so I decided to back off.
We also asked him what he believed to be the most pressing issue that international students face:
I think the most pressing issue is the fact that a lot of international students don’t know the stuff they can take advantage of because all international students must know how it feels to pay a lot for the school. I think the international student representative can show international students the best they can get out of the university.