A student association to help Ukrainian students at USI
Institutional Communication Service
7 November 2022
To create a network made up of students from Ukraine and promote collaboration within the student community, identify their needs, create a support network in the area, and act for the Ukrainian community in Switzerland and at home: this is the aim of the initiative launched by Alina and Vincenzo, two USI students.
Alina and Vincenzo are two students in the Master of Health Psychology in Health Communication from the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences who - within the Student Corporation - have proposed to be the spokespersons for Ukrainian students currently enrolled at USI or admitted to the integration programme of the International Relations Service.
Currently, 19 male and female students from Ukraine at Università della Svizzera italiana: 16 enrolled in Bachelor's and Master's degree programmes and three auditors. The students mainly attend the Faculty of Informatics and the Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society. In addition, the university has also welcomed two researchers under the Scholars at Risk programme, in which USI has participated since 2016.
Why did you decide to make yourselves available?
"There are several aspects that led me to this decision", recounts Alina. "First of all, a sense of belonging and closeness to the terrible ordeals Ukrainians are going through these past eight months, and a sense of responsibility that guides me to do my best to alleviate the level of suffering, at least individually, by reaching out to those close to me. I could escape the military conflict in Ukraine and be hosted by a safe and wealthy country that allowed me to sustain my life, and I am grateful for that. Yet, not everyone had a chance to do so. Some people, including my family members, consciously chose to remain in Kharkiv, acknowledging the risks and probability of never seeing another day. They did it because their morals and values prioritised the lives of others over their own lives. We have to understand that every person that remains in the most dangerous and vulnerable to attack areas of Ukraine is a real hero, and I bow my head before them. Now, the question is, what can I do here and now? This straightforward question led me to concentrate on the place where I am physically located and on the people next to me – in the same academic environment. I got to know international and local students who are concerned, empathic and wholeheartedly willing to help. For me, there is no more treasure than that. These people are open, mature and deeply aware. Sharing common values – justice, truth, respect, and mutual support – we, as a team, can create a highly reciprocated environment in which Ukrainians who face difficulties can open themselves, be heard and understood, and appropriately assisted. That is my principle-based personal position, which is why I am and will be available to everyone who needs my help."
"We decided to make ourselves available because we would like to do our part in helping Ukrainians, who were forced to leave their country because of the Russian invasion. The aim is to make them feel welcome and safe in Ticino while also helping them develop language skills and social relations with other students favouring their integration," adds Vincenzo. "We also believe our activities will positively impact the participants' physical and mental health while favouring cultural exchange, which will enrich us all".
What is the purpose of your initiative?
"We would like to create an organisation to help the Ukrainian students of USI/SUPSI with their integration, academic performance, and mental and physical well-being," explains Vincenzo. "Our main goal is to create a community where we favour mutual help and support, both in the academic and social fields, creating new friendships and enabling cultural exchange".
"The main aim", continues Alina ", is to make people who already stay on the same route start moving towards each other and when at some point met – continue the path together, with the hand stretched to hedge and the mind open to understand. In other words, to shift `me-them` to `us`, which means to be willing to accept something unlike you by means of getting to know the essence and focusing on something cross-culturally shared. In one sentence, I'd say to help build the bridge from two sides and stimulate harmonised integration of Ukrainians into Swiss society, as well as to set conditions for the former to get acquainted with different cultural backgrounds and recognise how much their support is needed, welcomed, and valued".
Which activities will you propose?
"At the moment, we have several projects in mind", states Alina, "but they will expand based on the students` needs and internal resources. Few are planned collaboratively with the humanitarian organisation – Amicizia dei Popoli – which Ukrainian repatriates established as an immediate response to the military invasion of the territory of Ukraine. This synergy is important since we have the same goal – to stimulate smooth and favourable integration. The first project is called `hiking club по-українськи`. The idea behind it is not merely to connect with nature and release stress (which is beneficial per se) but also to spend time enjoying the company of each other, share moments and vivid emotions, and learn or practice a new language.
The second project we collaborate on is devoted to humanitarian aid for Ukraine, with the target population of children placed in boarding schools and orphanages. We plan to collect the goods according to these institutions' needs and, together with Amicizia dei Popoli send gathered supplies to kids.
Independent internal projects are focused on helping USI/SUPSI students to deal with academic difficulties through volunteer-based mentoring and tutorials, creating an atmosphere to improve moral and mental conditions, and supplying Ukrainian students with required academic tools, like literature or tech, which they can not self-finance. For that purpose, we think of opening an "academic garage" in the form of "free-will sharing" between institutional members and graduates."
Who can turn to you?
"Everybody is welcome to join us!" says Vincenzo. "Our association is open to whoever wants to help Ukrainian students feel welcome within USI/SUPSI and in Ticino".
"We are happy to welcome anyone willing to contribute to the projects", adds Alina. "The main focus – is to detect those needs and find a way to respond to them most cohesively and holistically. We respect your time and will not demand more than one is ready to share. Everyone who enters this space must know that we appreciate every idea and step taken and want you to feel in the right place, at the right time, and surrounded by lightening and like-minded people."
To understand how the situation is evolving regarding applications from Ukrainian students at USI, we reached out to Maurizia Ruinelli of the International Relations and Study Abroad Service
In the fall semester of 2022, USI accepted 16 students to the bachelor's and master's programmes and 3 students to the preparatory integration programme with auditor status with the prospect of enrollment next academic year; the programme is coordinated by the International Relations and Mobility Service.
At present, about ten additional applications are being verified for requirements at the faculty deans' offices for possible admission to the preparatory integration programme for the spring semester. Therefore, we can assume that the academic, financial and integration measures meet the current needs. Still, thanks to this initiative and the collaboration with Alina, the service will be able to take an additional tool to support the integration of students from Ukraine.
What role does the Corporation play in this initiative?
The Student Corporation represents students, supports their projects and aims to strengthen the exchange between the student body and USI. Through the Corporation, any student can highlight issues and promote initiatives and ideas. Alina has contacted the coordination of the Student Corporation and student associations with the desire to create a support network for students from Ukraine and subsequently form an association. One of the Corporation's goals is to foster dialogue between the student body, USI with its services and other external stakeholders to find new synergies.
Why is it important?
The Corporation aims to contribute to a positive and validating student experience, so it is an essential tool for giving voice to new ideas and projects. It is also a tool for listening to the needs of students, which is meant to strengthen the cohesion and involvement of the student body even in times of crisis.