On the 22nd July of summer 2013 we started a ten-week internship with ISAS- the International Student Advisory Service. We are both going into our third year of study at the University- Laura in Sport and Exercise Science and Lizzie in Classics- and although we both do very contrasting degrees, we both have our own motivations for taking part in the internship. We separately found this job advertised on the Birmingham Undergraduate Internship Programme Website and, after finding out we were successful in the interview process, we were both excited and eager to be a part of the team that organized Welcome Week for the for the 5,000 international students that will be joining the University in 2013.
On the first day we arrived at Cedar House where we were to be working. Initially there was supposed to be only one intern but when we met each other at the door it was a nice surprise to find someone else in the same boat. We were introduced to the team by Michele, our line manager, who were all very friendly and accommodating- even though they are up to their eyes in phone calls from international students and, of course, with Welcome Week planning. After our first two weeks the Head of ISAS, Helen, returned from holiday and we updated her on what we were working on. She was very supportive and enthusiastic, and interested to hear our perspective as students.
We were given our own responsibilities early on so we really felt like part of the team and that our input was important. Our main task, on-going throughout the ten weeks, is to manage the airport collection service. This involves visiting staff at both London Heathrow and Birmingham International airports (where we got to go airside with a member of the Boarder Agency), creating a training presentation for the temporary staff and communicating via email with students who have had problems with their booking.
Our secondary task has been the stocking of the ISAS information desk- contacting leaflet suppliers and organising their delivery, and, if no leaflets can be found, creating our own thus exhibiting creativity and enthusiasm for the reception that our students will receive. When we have spare time we have been ensuring that all the student visas are filed correctly- both paper copies and online.
As well as this we have been able to meet and help international students at visa workshops- All the talk about visas is very new to both of us; it is like a new language with new terminology and lots of regulations to learn. However we were reassured not to worry, as we are here both to help the ISAS team and to learn in order to increase our employability after graduating. We have also met with members of staff from different University departments to discuss Welcome Week, sometimes on behalf of other members of ISAS, which shows that the team considers us trustworthy and capable.
All this communication with different departments and international students – both verbally and written- has made us realise the different kinds of approach that need to be taken depending on who you are talking to, and it has enabled us to be more flexible in our self-presentation whilst always maintaining a professional and approachable stance. As well as developing these, and other, skills we have really been enjoying ourselves- there are 4 more weeks until Welcome Week so we have some busy times ahead of us but we cannot wait to see the results of all our work when the students finally arrive! We are especially excited about the airport collections, where we will be able to put faces to names, and International Day (there is currently a life-sized Will and Kate in our office). We will be writing another blog after Welcome Week with lots of pictures to let you know how it goes.
Laura Forrest and Lizzie Argirou