StudyChatIn today’s study chat, Amara shares her discussion with Cynthia Ochoga, the President Elect of the Student Union at the University of Salford. Cynthia shares from her perspective as an international student and offers advice on managing the opportunities and challenges within Higher Education to maximise your experience. Enjoy!

APH: Can you tell us about your educational and professional background? 

CO: My educational pursuit began at Home Science Nursery and Primary School, Ikoyi Lagos. In 1998, I moved on to Queens’ College Lagos for my secondary school education.

In 2006, I attended the University of Lagos where I undertook a diploma in Cell Biology and Genetics. By second year it became apparent to me that science was not a field I wanted to pursue and then left Nigeria to Middlesex University (MDX) Mauritius campus in 2010 and studied Psychology and Counselling. In 2014, I went to Oxford Brookes University and did a conversion to Law degree (GDL) as my 2nd degree and in September 2015, I came to University of Salford for my MSc in Media Psychology and I’m half way through it at the moment.

I have worked in a number of different roles too. My first job was a three-month internship at Action Health Incorporated. In 2010, prior to moving to Mauritius, I followed my passion in journalism and worked as an intern at a radio station in Nigeria.

While studying at MDX, I was elected president of the International Students’ Society for Mauritius campus. I also joined AIESEC, an international youth development organization and rose to become Vice President of External Relations which I did simultaneously with my role as President. In the final year of my undergraduate degree, I worked for a month with the Mauritius Institute of Directors as part of a team that delivered an international conference.

After graduation, I went to Nigeria to participate in the NYSC programme. Since then, I have worked with BBC Media City as a research assistant for Mozfest 2015. I have also worked in a customer services role for Doddles Parcels in Manchester. I recently resigned to take some time out to prepare to take on my new role as the President of the Student Union at the University of Salford.

You started out your Higher Education journey in the Biological sciences, what spurred the switch to Psychology? Was it a smooth transition?

I only went into Cell Biology because growing up, I was expected to be a doctor and that was a route to studying medicine. However, I didn’t really enjoy it and it became a struggle. I had to make a decision to follow my own path and so changed lanes to Psychology. The transition was smooth because some elements of psychology are based on Biology for e.g. one of the modules I studied was Cognitive and biological psychology!

Most of your time in Higher Education has been as an international student in two different countries. Again, was this a smooth transition?

 Yes, for the most part. My paperwork was organised without incident. I was familiar with the teaching style as I have studied the British curriculum throughout my education. The only differences were location, environment, technical systems and other minor things.

What do you enjoy and what do you find challenging about being an international student?

Hmmm interesting question…. I enjoy the weather to be honest. Back home in Nigeria, it’s very hot and on this side of the world, it hardly gets as hot. I also enjoy the opportunity to interact with different people and learn/live a different way of life.

Challenges of being an international student would be the fact that I’m away from my family for extended periods and that gets hard sometimes especially when I need their support in just knowing that they are right there for me. I miss proper Nigerian meals also. And occasionally, unpleasant experiences with different people and institutions that clearly speak a message that reminds me that I am not from the country I’m resident in at the point in time and seeks to segregate me.

Congratulations on your successful campaign running for President of the Student Union at the University of Salford. What was your main motivation for running for elected office?

Thank you very much. I am a catalyst and agent of positive development and to achieve the reforms I sought, I had to put myself forward to be elected as President. I knew that my election would put to rest  issues of under-representation by any demographic that had hitherto felt alienated and I would be an eloquent testimony of a shattered glass ceiling.

I also ran to break a record. No Nigerian or black woman had ever held the position before so I decided to go for it.  Just as important, I wanted to expand the debate in my university. Up till now, only certain topics and issues remain talking points every year thereby excluding other pressing and equally important issues crying out for attention from the University. I felt it was time to challenge the prevalent system and norms and bring to the fore/celebrate the rich diversity that exists in the university.

What do you love the most and what do you find the most challenging about your new role?

I really like the fact that I have put Nigerian students on the map at University of Salford and I’m very happy about that. Also, the fact that I can directly influence positive change is exciting!

As regards challenges, I will resume the role officially on July 1st. I’m currently nervous about not being able to meet the very diverse expectations of students. I intend to do the best for the whole student population however every student need differs and students look up to me for solutions and I hope to address every single one.

Many students are interested in taking up opportunities to be more involved in their Universities but are worried about the time commitment. Can you share any tips on how you maintain balance?

Well I won’t lie and say it’s easy. There are days when it seems 24 hours are not enough and the pressure is just real. However, I take comfort in the fact that I am heading somewhere and this is the path that leads there.

Also, I believe that everyone is capable of making time for what they consider important. For me, any opportunity to gain experience, or to network is welcome so I manage it somehow. I like to think I am a very organized person because I use several tools to keep track such as calendars and reminders on my iPad to ensure I don’t double book myself, a physical calendar on my work table clearly marked with meeting, appointments and other events, a daily to do list to remind me etc. And I always say life only gets busier as you grow so if anything presents a good opportunity, take it!

 Any more advice for students reading this who are thinking of getting involved with their Student Union?

 I would say, GO FOR IT!! It is such a nice feeling to help students have a good experience in university. It’s also a great opportunity for self-development and can provide good opportunities if you engage with the role properly.

 Can you describe a typical working day…if such a term exists?

 As a sabbatical officer, you are the voice of the student body and so you represent them at the university level on every panel, every committee, national level and external bodies. So there are a lot of meetings to be at, a lot of papers to read, a lot of planning and strategy development as well. However, it’s fun working with the union staff also.

There is now a lot of discussion within the HE sector on embedding employability and globalisation of the curriculum. Do you have any thoughts on this?

 The world is becoming a global village and majority of students want to get jobs after they graduate. So to set yourself apart requires demonstration of a range of skills and expertise. So embedding globalization and employability potentially can be a good thing if it is properly structured and delivered.

Thank you Cynthia for sharing.

Cynthia OchogaAbout Cynthia – Cynthia Ochoga, popularly called Ceewhy by friends and family is from Benue State, Nigeria. She has a BSc in Counselling and Psychology and is currently working towards a postgraduate degree in Media Psychology. She has held leadership roles in a number of international organisations and is the President Elect of the Student Union at the University of Salford.

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