It was exciting to see so many different communities, schools and universities being represented; young people had travelled from as far as Birmingham, Peterborough and Durham, each holding their own unique way to identify with the workshops. Indeed, some had travelled for dissertation inspiration, some had future career ambitions in policy-making and some simply wanted to broaden their knowledge and learn how they can contribute to creating a more welcoming society.
After listening to the three policy proposals, we had the opportunity to put ourselves into the shoes of a Bulgarian student, who was migrating to London where they believed the university education would provide them with a more secure and valuable future compared to that in Bulgaria.
Sharing personal experiences
Everyone was willing to listen to each other and share ideas. Luckily, there were no awkward silences; the discussion flowed freely, as everyone shared what their own anxieties would be regarding the scenario at hand. People shared how they would feel leaving their home, family and friends behind, as well as how they would cope as a stranger in a new country and having to juggle responsibilities such as university life, home and family commitments as well as coming to terms with a new language and part-time job – a situation many of us could relate to in one way or another.
An interesting point discussed was the fact that many of us who have English as a first language often take this, and the privilege it brings, for granted. Whereas those who were learning or had learnt English as a second, third or even fourth language shared their experiences with coming to terms with English and how it impacted their studies and confidence. It was really rewarding to see people bringing their own experiences of migration, or simply sharing the challenges they faced when deciphering the world of university applications.
A commonly discussed topic was the fact that in a city as diverse as London, there is a sense of belonging that doesn’t accompany other regions of the UK. In fact, some young people with roots elsewhere in the world shared that when they first came to London they felt less excluded than the imagined subject of our workshop felt.
How can we create a more integrated society?
However, some of the stories shared, as well as the adjustments to social policies put forth in the first half of the conference, helped us to understand further that even in London there is certainly still room for improvement. We were then able to share ideas about how we can foster integration, ourselves. We split into groups to discuss how the government, schools and universities and the wider community can be approached and utilised to help create a more welcoming society for migrants. A diverse range of ideas was brought to the table, including writing letters with a ‘personal element’ to your MPs, setting up buddy/ pen pal systems in schools with students from around the globe, and adapting the guides/brownies programme to be more inclusive and welcoming.
All in all, I left the conference feeling uplifted, and proud to have been involved with planning a day full of shared key values, different opinions, respect, understanding and most of all educating. Creating a society where everyone feels welcome and free to be themselves is no easy task; however, I left the conference feeling optimistic. I feel even more excited for Wonder’s next conference, and I’m sure everyone who attended the KMKY Policy Conference does too!