An international student's perspective

Robert Liow

It’s surprising how a new country can start to feel like home.

3 years ago, on a chilly September morning, my parents and I stepped off a plane at Heathrow. There’s a small stretch of open space between the car park and the terminal – coming from a much warmer climate in Singapore, we’d bundled up in anticipation, but I still remember the dry, biting chill on my face. We’d spend 2 weeks as tourists, exploring London and visiting the Lake District, before I finally moved into halls and bid them farewell for the first time in my life.

Living alone is an experience, especially for someone who’s never been away from home. I remember hanging out in the common room of my hall, talking to random strangers from all over the world. There was a sense of community, but also isolation; I lived in a self-catered studio flat, and there were no shared kitchens or dinners to bond with other people. Things got really bad over winter, when almost everyone returned to their hometowns or countries, and the days became short. It got to me, and I spent most of my time sleeping at odd hours, playing video games, and using social media.

At the same time, though, I had come to London wanting to get involved in something bigger than myself. I had been involved in small-scale activism back in Singapore, and attended a couple of protests in the UK by then. Lying in bed feeling sad was not what I’d signed up for. I already had a cause – my frustration with how international students were treated was growing, and when I heard that thousands had been wrongfully deported over allegations of fraud in their English language tests, it pushed me into action.

Over summer and the next few months, I set up my first society at KCLSU, the International Students’ Rights Campaign. I built a network of friends and allies, in support of international student rights. From there, I started getting more involved with KCLSU – I worked closely with the former President Momin Saqib on supporting international students, and ran (unsuccessfully) for International Students’ Officer in Spring 2017.

It was after that election when I was first encouraged to stand for a sabbatical post. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly; taking a year out meant delaying work or further studies for a year. I spent a long time thinking about my decision. Ultimately, I said yes. The question, then, is why? During that period of contemplation, I realised that, over the past 3 years, being a part of KCLSU had helped me immensely. I had gotten to know so many people, and do so many things, that I had forgotten all about my loneliness.

Despite being nearly 7,000 miles from Singapore, I felt like I was home again.

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