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International Students in North Cyprus Discuss Their Challenges and Certain Solutions (VOIS General Assembly)

The annual VOIS Cyprus General Assembly took place on February 25, 2021. It started at 6pm (GMT+2) and went on for approximately 2 hours. This year, due to the extraordinary circumstances and government safety regulations in place to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, the General Assembly was held for the first time using the online meetings service Zoom. Invitations to join were sent out in the form of a web link on our social media platforms and interested participants, using their email addresses, registered themselves ahead of the event. Participants this year were not deterred by the fact it was online and attended in great numbers, although we hope for better participation from our audience in our events in the future.

The cohost Omayma Jundi, a psychology major and head of the Human Resources for VOIS Cyprus began by introducing the organization, citing the tragic story of Kennedy Taomwabwa Dede – a Nigerian student who’s murder served as a tipping point for the founders of VOIS Cyprus and their brewing concern over the well-being of international students in North Cyprus. Ms. Jundi expressed her gratitude to the founders, who also had a few words to say on the day, for the legacy they have left behind for the new breed of international students to carry on; how incredible it is to see an organization built by 4 ordinary students grow and become a household name amongst not only international students but the local population as well.

Following the cohost’s opening remarks, it was the turn of the President of VOIS Cyprus, Ashraf Saleem. Mr. Saleem, a recent Psychology graduate, began by thanking all of the attendees for sacrificing their time to participate in the important event. He stressed the point that his title does not confer upon him special powers or prestige but that it is only a platform to participate in bringing about change for all international students in North Cyprus. He encouraged other serving members and volunteers to hold a similar perspective of their respective roles in the organization and encouraged other international students who would like to join the train to improve the livelihood of students on the island to join the organization and make their voices heard. He concluded by reiterating the importance of an organization like VOIS Cyprus and expressing his wish that the next time a General Assembly is held, it will be face to face.

After the President’s remarks were those of the founders, led by former President Emmanuel Achiri. Mr. Achiri began by taking the participants on a journey down the memory lane, when it was just him, Yinka Oladapo, Fiona Kavakure and Favor Ogwuegbu, the other co founders; a time when international students had no voice, so to speak. He alerted the participants to how forming VOIS Cyprus, a move one would have considered logical given the terrible state of affairs for international students at the time, was frowned upon by certain local actors in North Cyprus who considered such an organization threatening. Mr. Achiri therefore encouraged international students to take advantage of the stage that is already set for them to bring about the much needed change for international students. Favour Ezinne Ogwuegbu spoke next emphasizing the fact that the duty of improving the lives of international students lies within each and every international student isn't just those who are volunteering for VOIS Cyprus. Ms. Ogwuegbu, who is also head of communications for VOIS Cyprus, vehemently spoke of the need for students to participate in events like the General Assembly in order to have more influence. She finished by introducing and thanking Fiona Kavakure, a fellow co-founder, who was unable to attend.

The penultimate item on the program was to introduce the Committees and ‘Chapters’ that make up VOIS Cyprus. A brief overview of each was provided by their respective heads: Chukwunyere Anaba, head of the Lefkosa chapter, David Okafor of the Girne chapter, and Noluthando Masikane of the Lefke chapter. Followed by the Omaima Chtioui, Maghazi Ahmed, Edem Hagan, and Nancy Ngum Achu for the Mental Health, Institutional Discrimination, Housing and Working Conditions, and Gender Issues Committees, respectively.

The last item was the most anticipated activity of the day. Participants were divided into 6 different groups of 12-15 people and tasked with brainstorming on what they considered the most salient problems they have faced due to the pandemic and possible solutions to those problems. This session allowed the audience to participate and interact with each other as well as offering a helping hand to VOIS Cyprus by contributing fresh ideas. The session was led by the other host, Maghazi Ahmed, a civil engineering student. She noted all the suggestions that groups presented before everybody, and promised that each and every one of them will be evaluated by the board and action will be taken. She thanked everyone for their participation and gave a final word to the president who summarized the events of the day, reminding everyone of the problems international students faced and to band together to combat them to the root.

We hope that the next time we hold a General Assembly, it will be in person, but until then, we hope our audience will continue to attend our virtual events and participate remotely in all our activities. We wish everyone good health.

Discussion Groups The attendees were assigned to 6 distinct groups/break rooms after being proposed to address the most salient issues that international students face in the TRNC, during the COVID-19 lockdown. The groups were also advised to brainstorm on relevant solutions regarding the issues addressed by them. Each break room was given 15 minutes to have a constructive discussion and the following points were stated:

Group 1: Issue addressed: (Learning and Working Conditions) Lack of existing internships and capacity building workshops related to students’ university majors. Group 1 emphasized that the available jobs in the TRNC are not related to students’ academic majors and students are negatively affected by this issue. Suggested solution: Capacity Building workshops and internships implemented in collaboration with universities, aiming to assist students on gaining practical knowledge alongside their theoretical knowledge, in faculties like Engineering, medicine, etc.

Group 2: Issues addressed: (Learning conditions and Mental Health)

  1. Lack of interaction during online university classes that is accompanied with a loss of interest amongst students and thus a deterioration in their grades.
  2. The COVID-19 Lockdown’s Negative Impact on Students’ Mental Health due to the constant isolation and lack of interactive online activities planned by universities beside regular online courses. Suggested solutions:
  3. Advocate teachers to increase interaction during online university classes.
  4. Create interactive online fun activities apart from the academic activities, to decrease the feeling of isolation that has been reinforced among students during the lockdown.

Group 3: Issues addressed: (Housing Conditions and Communication Skills)

  1. Numerous students are struggling to meet with their rent and housing financial responsibilities, due to the ‘expensive living’ as described by the group 3 representative.
  2. Rents contracts are written in Turkish, leading students to feel obligated to sign contracts they have no capabilities of comprehending or contemplating.
  3. Existing communication barriers between foreign students and landlords, as well as lawyers, police officers and other officials; causing tension that might escalate to avoidable hostility. Suggested solutions:
  4. Advocating normalizing monthly rent payments during lockdown.
  5. Designing a list/database of lawyers and landlords, who are able to communicate in English, to be available for international students when needed.
  6. Awareness raising campaigns on International students' rights.

Group 4: Issues addressed: (Discrimination, Working Conditions and Financial Strains)

  1. Existing Favoritism and bias within public and private institutions that leave “students of color” feeling marginalized and silenced.
  2. Financial issues; due to the loss of jobs that took place during COVID-19 pandemic, many students were left vulnerable and unable to receive any financial income.
  3. Jobs opportunities are available only for Turkish speakers.
  4. The lockdown’s negative impact on students mental Health
  5. Exchange offices are closed during the lockdown. Solutions suggested:
  6. Food aid program.
  7. Implement awareness-raising campaigns targeting students’ mental health; informing students about various positive coping mechanisms to adopt during the lockdown.
  8. Implement awareness-raising campaigns, advocating for international students’ access to their rights.

Group 5: Issues addressed: (Working Conditions and Overall Quality of Living)

  1. Lack of jobs opportunities available for international students
  2. Lack of assistance/guidance provided to newly arrived students in the TRNC, leading to a feeling of vulnerability and disorientation.
  3. Negative feedback from students regarding online courses and online exams. Solutions suggested:
  4. Designing campaigns during orientation periods within various universities, to assist and welcome new students.

Group 6: Issues addressed: (accessibility to information, Working Conditions and Gender Related Issues)

  1. Loss of jobs on account of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  2. International students’ incapability of accessing information.
  3. Increase in Tuition fees, following a drop of students’ overall financial income.
  4. Increase in rates of Gender based Violence.

Solutions suggested:

  1. Encourage foreign students to learn Turkish.
  2. Provide free Turkish lessons for students who lack the funds to register to existing Turkish-Learning courses/programs.
  3. Invite public authorities to investigate and intervene in systemized issues faced by international students, such as institutional discrimination and gender-based violence.

📌 Watch the discussion segment: https://t.co/7AoZzymdxY

📌 The First half of the General Assembly: https://t.co/LaPt6YztZW

Posted by VOIS OFFICIAL on 2021-02-27

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