Don’t hesitate to follow your heart and don’t wait till you are fully prepared! With this thought in mind- I was officially elected to be the first International Officer at on the Leeds University Union exec board.
Why I wanted to campaign
Each year, there are 6 officers who work in the union with senior leaders to make sure students enjoy their life at the University of Leeds. The first time I heard about the campaign was last year, when I helped one of my friends campaign for the equality and diversity officer position. It the time on campus when you see colourful banners everywhere, candidates walk into your lecture room to introduce themselves and encourage you to vote. As one of the candidates, you need to spend extra time joining training sessions, thinking about your manifesto, managing your campaign team, and persuading others to vote for you. During the two-week period, people who get the most votes will be the new officer. The position of International Officer was a new role this year (2020), which meant if I won, I would become the first ever (student) International Officer at the University of Leeds and Leeds University Union. However, I didn’t even nominate myself before my friends encouraged me to run for it.
“Franks, I think you are the right person for this role. Go ahead and be the first-ever International Officer!”
Indeed, unlike most of the other second-year international students, I pushed myself out of comfort zone, I tried to get involved in different societies and social events from first day I arrived in Leeds with the main goal understand and communicate with different cultures. This was the reason why I had chosen to study abroad, it helped me get to know lots of people from multicultural backgrounds and the difficulties we face as international students and a minority group in the UK. It was such exciting news that LUU introduced International Officer position because it showed the university cares about our experiences and feelings. Even though most of the candidates are final year students, which means they have studied at Leeds longer time than me, I felt like I have a good network and a better understanding about the issues that international students are facing.
My heart told me…the right decision is to join this campaign! No matter what the result would come out to be, I was sure that it will be one of the best memories during my undergraduate journey. As my exam experience taught me, you won’t be fully prepared all the time but take the chance coming to you. Don’t hesitate to catch it and learn through the process.
In the early January, rather than deciding to wait for another year, I nominated myself as one of the candidates for International Officer.
There were 11 candidates for the position of International Officer, which made our campaign way more exciting and competitive compared to other roles. However, the voting page would not open till the second week of campaign. My strategy: learn from all of the candidates during the first week and adjust my strategy in the second week. This doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything in the first week, beside the compulsory training session and mentor meeting, I still faced lots of difficulties…more than I imagined.
At first, I started without a huge campaign team. The main reason to this was that I was worried my friends may be busy with their own work. This was probably the worst decision I have ever made, because I couldn’t draw enough banners alone… It was an unforgettable and stressful memory when I saw lots of other candidates banners everywhere and they had lots of friends helping them as well. I knew at that point, if I don’t ask for help…I will lose. I got on it, I messaged my friends and invited them to join my campaign team, which I should have done weeks earlier. Fortunately, my ‘Avengers Team’ build up successfully. Based on my strong network in different societies, the international foundation year program, the Language Centre, Link to Leeds and my lovely flat mates…I build my social media pages with attractive videos that came out quickly, along with new posters and banners, which were way better than the ones I painted and designed. Meanwhile, I met another candidate who was campaign for Gryphon editor, brainstorming creative ideas and helping each other get more votes from our friends. I didn’t require my teammates that they ‘had to do this for me,’ instead, I welcomed them to conduct new ideas only if it did not break the rules of the game. More importantly, I encouraged them to tell me what they wanted me to do if I got the role, because I believed this motivate them to join and enjoy running the campaign with me.
I have to admit that the university (and nation) wide strikes by professors was helpful in this sense because nearly all of my lectures got canceled and this saved me more time to talk with people around campus. However, I realised with less students visiting campus, it was necessary to focus more on the online campaign more. During my first year at Leeds, I was curious and nervous when I started to join societies as I was talking with people in a second language but I never gave up even and embraced the I culture gap that might have made it harder for make friends. This meant as time, I am always the only one Asian guy at a house party, or I spend less time with my Chinese friends. Fortunately, most of the students on campus are friendly and welcome diversity. It seems like all of my hard work paid during the campaign as I got so many societies endorsement and lots of my friends were willing to forward my campaign page or manifesto photos to others, even if I haven’t talked to some of them for a while. The time management and organisation skills that I learnt through my Link to Leeds ambassador experience contributed my campaign a lot, as well.
Even if Chinese students cover a large part of international students numbers, I didn’t push all my efforts on this specific aspect. It is necessary to hear the opinions from all international students, populations small and large. Every day from 9am till 5pm, I went to as many lectures as I possibly could to borrow 5 minutes of their time and talked about my manifesto, reminding them to compare all of our manifestos and vote for the candidate they deemed right for the role. The Faculty of Engineering and the School of Medicine & Health are far away from LUU building, but they were also my target. Also, I went to LUU café (underground), the common room of different departments, global café and refractory to talk to students face to face and asked them for suggestions to build up a better international university. After 5pm, I did the same thing in Old Bar and Terrace. This experience built up my courage and confidence to persuade strangers to vote for me, similar to personal brand marketing. It was exhausted but I knew it could be the only chance to have the ‘privilege’ to talk with everyone on campus. I enjoyed this style of a western democracy campaign, and the responsibility to deliver on my promise. In the two-week campaign I knew more about the issues I didn’t hear about before, especially how international students felt under representative, regardless having ⅓ of the student population at Leeds.
Similar to other candidates, I used all the resources and time I had during the campaign to my full potential. It was a good opportunity to practice my leadership skills and think out of the box that took some bravely! For example, my flat mates composed a song for me and we singed it in the Global Café, which attracted more students to hear about my manifesto and vote for me. Another good example was the focus more on online campaigns despite there being posters everywhere on campus, which was more environmentally friendly and spread the world of my manifesto to more students quicker. It is fantastic to build the connection with other talented candidates when we spent more time exchanging our ideas about how to build a better campus, rather than a competiting. Without any of this and the other candidates efforts, we wouldn’t have made such excellent campaigns around the campus highlighting a range of issues important to the University of Leeds and the student experience.
“Your first ever International Officer is: Franks Feng!”
The result night, what I remember is that I felt on the top of the world, hugging everyone besides me! With all the hard work and time I spent, I felt the victory was well deserved and feel confident that I can go further in the future by helping others in need, international students and UK/home students looking to internationalize their exprience too. What I love most about this is that my experience and story will encourage more international to do the same as me. Without doubt and self-abasement, if you feel you can make a difference to the University of Leeds, consider running for the exec board at the Leeds University Union.
Your International Officer for 2020/21,