Parkville Station

Sander Bredal, UMSU Intl President

Sander Bredal is the newly inaugurated President of UMSU International, responsible for representing international students. We spoke to him about himself and the role.

Parkville Station (PS): Tell us a little bit about yourself — where are you from, and what was your journey to becoming UMSU International President?

Sander Bredal (SB): I’m from Norway, and currently in my second year of studying a Bachelor of Arts with Psychology and Politics & International Studies as my majors. I really enjoy multicultural and vibrant communities, and I’ve been lucky and privileged enough to be part of several such communities having lived in a few different countries before coming to Australia.

From my experience I feel that education can be a force to unite people and create strong communities. Coming to Melbourne and the university has therefore been an astonishing experience, as I have the opportunity to learn more about cultures, myself, and others by partaking in the culturally diverse and vibrant community around the University.

PS: Similarly, what does UMSU International do, and why is it important?

SB: UMSU International is the representative of all international students at the University of Melbourne, and we work to cultivate a strong sense of community in and around the University. This is particularly important as many international students face challenges when moving overseas, and we work to be an effective organisation, and further cultivate a community that acts as a support network for those that struggle. This includes aid when facing issues, but also providing a platform for students to learn and engage with other cultures and the Australian way of life.

PS: The UniMelb international student population is pretty heavily weighted: about 45% of international students are from China, then about 10% from Malaysia. How do you balance having such a large group from one place, while still effectively representing students from the other 100+ countries?

SB: It’s true that some countries are more represented than others in the student body. I don’t necessarily see it as a challenge in balancing our representation, as we work hard to represent all international students indiscriminate of their background. It’s therefore important to us that we operate as an approachable and open organisation, where students can speak with us and engage with us.

PS: How did you first get involved in UMSU International?

SB: I got involved with UMSU International through my work with another organisation called AFIS (the Australian Federation of International Students). By liaising and working together with
UMSU International representatives in advisory groups with the Council of International Students Australia (CISA), the national representative of international students in Australia, I got to see
the impact and capacity of UMSU International and the role they play at the University.

This in combination with my impressions as an international student at the University itself made me want to engage with what seemed, and is, a great community.

PS: Do you think it’s the case that sometimes the work UMSU International does is overshadowed by whatever UMSU does, particularly now that they have such similar names?

SB: I think the fact that ‘UMSU’ is part of our name shows the integral position international students have within the student body and wider University community. We work closely with UMSU to both connect the international and local, and to advise on issues pertaining the wider student body. And so for us it is great to be associated with UMSU and work with them to represent and support students.

PS: What is the biggest thing you’d like to accomplish this year?

SB: International students face a myriad of challenges, and UMSU International works hard to address all of them together with the University and its services, UMSU and other organisations.

We wish to continue the great student engagement already seen with UMSU International and other organisations, and to enhance this engagement to nurture and promote new student leaders. As a predominantly international student-based organisation, UMSU International, like several other international student-oriented organisations, has a relatively high succession rate of our Office Bearers and volunteers. It is therefore important that we create a conducive and open environment to support emerging student leaders that can further the cause of representing and acting for the international students at the University.

PS: And in a similar vein, what are you most looking forward to?

SB: I look forward to meeting and working with new people and students involved with the University, and to be part of crafting fun and engaging events and programmes. Meeting new people is exciting, and although I don’t necessarily handle spices to well I love exploring and trying new food together with friends. I also really look forward to warmer weather; I might be from Norway but the Melbourne wind is really getting to me!

PS: What’re some things you’re hoping to keep the same about UMSU International, and what are
you hoping to change?

SB: UMSU International boasts a great volunteer programme that really engages students with what we do. The genuine excitement and involvement the International Student Ambassadors (ISAs) have has a major impact on both our capacity and drive, and I hope we can find ways to involve them more with what we do. This is a direction initiated by the previous Committee, and I hope we can continue to provide them opportunities to take part in shaping our events.

PS: What do you think is the most difficult aspect of being UMSU International President?

SB: Time management is certainly something most students grapple with, and it’s definitely something I face as well. I am, however, lucky enough to be part of a really committed and amazing Committee who works immensely hard, and it’s without a doubt their hard work that drives us forward as an organisation. The Committee and volunteers inspire me want to be efficient so I can support the amazing work they do.

PS: You’ve lived and studied in a lot of places — Norway, the U.S.A, Portugal, Angola and Swaziland. Why come to Australia?

SB: I really enjoy learning about new cultures and meeting new people. I have indeed lived a bit here and there, but I hadn’t really travelled in Australia or Asia. Melbourne is so diverse and relatively close to Asia, so I saw it as an opportunity to do several things at once; study at a great university, and travel and learn about new cultures and peoples.

PS: As a quite well-travelled international student, what was the biggest culture shock coming to Australia?

SB: There wasn’t really a ‘culture shock’ as much as it was me being overwhelmed by all the culture in Melbourne. I love sports (literally anything), so I’m really excited to experience old and new interests– apart from skiing though, not a lot of competitive cross-country skiing here. Although I was a bit surprised and confused when I visited Lake Mountain a few weeks back and I saw people skiing, that was definitely not how I pictured my Australian adventure!

PS: You’re also President of AFIS — the Australian Federation of International Students. What does that involve?

SB: AFIS is a student organisation that works to aid and support international students in the TAFE/VET/ELICOS sector in Victoria, and collaborates with both governmental and community organisations to address issues particular to that sector, but also more broadly to all students.

AFIS works close with education providers to aid their students, and was how I initially became engaged with the international education sector. It’s exciting to bridge and combine my knowledge and experiences with AFIS together with what I’m learning and experiencing with UMSU International, and I to make good use of this in promoting and supporting the international students at the University of Melbourne.

PS: Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

SB: Get involved with the University community; there are so many great clubs and societies consisting of even more amazing people, and it’s a great way to make new friends. It might sound cliché, but I really think it’s a great way to meet new people from both similar and different backgrounds. Also, please do feel free to approach me or anyone at UMSU International if you’d like to get involved, learn something or just chill. We work hard, but we’re very casual and we love welcoming new people to our lounge!

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