This week I chatted to Inshaal, an international student who moved across continents to study engineering at the University of Bradford and has now become a Sabbatical Officer helping students to make the most out of their time at the university and region.
How would you describe your role?
I am one of the four Sabbatical Officers at the University of Bradford. Within the university, there is an organisation called Students’ Union. It’s a charity with the purpose to enhance students’ lives by providing opportunities through hobbies, sports, activities and societies. I am the Student Affairs Officer; my role is to set the direction of the SU and how we engage with students. I work closely with the university; the Vice-Chancellor, Nikki Pearce and Udi Archibong who is the Pro Vice-Chancellor looking after Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. The idea is that my role connects the university’s senior management to the students ensuring the students are reflected in every decision the university makes.
How has the lockdown affected you & your work?
Lockdown had a huge impact on my role and the team. So, my last role as Community & Activities Officer started in 2020 when we were already in lockdown, and everything went online. At first, it was a foreign concept, and I couldn’t really absorb anything, it’s just not the same. But then, in 2021 the team has been able to meet face-to-face through training and residentials. The residentials have had a very positive impact on the way I think about approaching this role. The way the residentials work is you stay somewhere quite remote where there is no mobile network, so we get to talk to each other extensively which has helped me develop both personally and professionally. There is so much experience to be gained from people around you and the best way to gain it is to spend time together in person. Working from home when your job is to speak to the students often means staring at a computer screen from 09:00 – 17:00. We had to improvise because that was the need at the time but collaborating with students whilst working from home was challenging.
It has had an impact on my personality too because coming out of lockdown meant using skills that are rusty like socialising skills. I think it will take time, but things will return to normal soon enough.
What exciting projects are you working on right now?
At the moment in the Students’ Union, one of our biggest projects we’re working on is called “Kickstart”. It’s a program that started a couple of years ago and involves a whole bunch of fun and interesting activities. Just a couple of weeks ago, our SU volunteers, students and staff did a hike to Ben Nevis which included disabled students and community members. It was amazing and you can see pictures of it on our Instagram pages. With Kickstart, at the end of the year, students can gain a level 1-3 certificate to recognise their efforts and help them talk about the skills they learnt whilst volunteering with Kickstart. The program helps students talk about the people skills, the transferable interpersonal skills they developed alongside their academic studies and ultimately helps with job prospects. Another activity through Kickstart involves students teaching languages to other students, for example, I speak Hindu, Urdu and English so I can go to the session held in Room 101 and share that knowledge with others. Our students are teaching French, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, it’s all for free, you make friends in the process, and get the Kickstart certificate. Other activities include cycling tours to areas like Harrogate and Saltaire. In fact, this was a popular during the last year as it was an avenue for international and home students to meet up and exercise together in the fresh air. Another event we’re excited about is Eid. Students are invited to meet on the Amphitheatre, play games and eat together. We’ve prepared goody bags and are expecting about 200 students.
A highlight of your time on campus/ in role so far?
I have quite a few actually. I’ve been on campus since 2016, I was a student back then. In pre-Covid times the campus was buzzing with different activities going on, on and off campus all the time. There was no social distancing, no masks and no fear of socialising. I think these things have sucked some of the fun out of the university experience because a part of being at university is to socialise and make friends. Since I’ve been in this role, there have been a couple of instances where restrictions were lifted and the campus came alive with people walking to the library, getting coffee from the café, sitting and chatting, and the influx of students brought the SU back to life for that short period. You could see life coming back to the university campus and it reminded me of how important students are.
Another good memory is from a period in time before Covid when I was doing my election campaign and was canvasing in the various buildings around campus. At that time, the SU was always open, and students used to play table tennis until 3 o’clock in the morning. We’d also get coffee from the atrium and enjoy the beautiful building and surroundings, often playing cards until late. It was one of the best times.
A funny/ embarrassing story from your time on campus?
In my final year, whilst working on my dissertation, my friends and I went to the Chesham labs to work. They are computer rooms open 24/7 and a couple of days before submission we decided to work through the night. By 4am I couldn’t think straight so I pulled some chairs together to make a sort of bed at the back of this computer lab and woke up the following day! And when I woke up, there was a lecture going on, luckily, I was at the back of the room but it was embarrassing.
A surprising/interesting fact about yourself?
Back in 2016, when I was 19 years old, I moved here as an international student. I am Indian and moved over to live independently. Living in this country has given me confidence and adaptability to absorb a new culture, so I am now a hybrid version of myself influenced by Indian morals and Western culture. I have two homes now, India and England.
What inspires you?
I would say the idea of going after something that you put your mind to and one day you will achieve it. And even if you fail, keep going and one day you will achieve it. This particular role that I am in now, for example, when I was a student, I had a friend who was a few years older than me and was a Sabbatical Officer. He completed his sabbatical year after graduating and I was inspired by his role and that stayed with me for a long time until I myself decided to go for the role. I went for the role a year before and didn’t get it but that didn’t deter me. Resilience and quotes like “there is light at the end of the tunnel”, that’s the sort of thinking that inspires me.
If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would that be?
Take advantage of the university’s diversity and make friends with as many people as you can as that teaches and shapes the person you become. Diversity gives you skills and perspective.
If you could time travel 100 years, would you go into the past or the future? And why?
I would go into the future, definitely the future. Why endure the past with it’s wars when you can enjoy what our forefathers have already done? I’m looking forward to us reaching Mars with Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. I would want to go 100 years into the future and visit Mars if it’s possible.
What are you fearful of in the future and what are you hopeful for?
In the long-term future or the near future? In the near future, I’m fearful that if people don’t take precautions like wearing face masks, then we might have to compromise on our freedom and remain in lockdown. I’m hoping a lot of people who struggled during lockdown like students who were isolated and haven’t met anyone yet will finally have the chance to come on to campus and begin meeting new people.
What question are you never asked that you wish you were?
In the Students’ Union there are pictures up of the Sabbatical Officers and in the past I’d sit in there and think about the day my picture goes up in there. It went up last year and I had this sort of fantasy that students would come up to me and ask if that was me up there but since there were no students on campus, that never happened.
If you enjoyed getting to know Inshaal, you will love the rest of the ‘This is Us’ series. Check out my previous chats with Emma and Elina and stay tuned for more coming soon!
‘This is Us: University of Bradford” is an explorative blog series with the aim of shining a light on the people that make up our vibrant university campus community, where Theatre in the Mill is located. Through these blogs, you will get to know a little more about the humans behind the institution; their stories, hopes and aspirations.
Also, I always appreciate feedback so if you have any ideas that would enhance this blog series, feel free to drop me a line – firstname.lastname@example.org .