Welcoming International Students: Interview with Lizy Newswanger Part One

Hi Lizy, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, and your current role at Wellington Church in Glasgow?

I originally came to Glasgow as a study abroad student from the United States in the spring of 2012. Scotland was a place I’d always wanted to visit; my mum used to work for the Iona community, so I’d heard about it my whole life and really wanted to come here and study. I came to Glasgow not really knowing anything about the place and absolutely fell in love with the city. When I had to go back to the States, I was really determined to come back somehow, so I was really happy when this job opportunity opened up at Wellington.

A lot of organisations define a student worker or chaplaincy role very rigidly, but at Wellington the job title and description are a lot more fluid and can vary depending on context. They wanted it to be really open to development since it’s part of a new direction the church is moving in, the basic idea being reaching out to the student community.

The church is right across the street from the university, so I also occasionally work alongside the university chaplaincy. Wellington is a very welcoming church, which is why I wanted the job, so a big part of the job is just meeting and interacting with people. I’m not ordained, and I don’t plan to be ordained, but I’m there to serve as an elder to students in the church and in the broader student community, and to listen to their needs and concerns.

What do you love most about your work at Wellington and your time in Britain as a whole?

It’s the people: both the folk at the church and the students. I knew Wellington to be a genuinely welcoming place from my own time as a student there, and that welcome is how they define themselves as a congregation, as opposed to seeing students as just another demographic to be reached. They’re really engaged in my work and willing to work alongside me in building a community of students that goes beyond Wellington itself.

As for Britain, I just love it here! I love the people in Glasgow. Obviously, there are some things I miss about the States—my family, comfort foods—but I’d really love to be able to live here long-term.

Tell us a little bit about Glasgow, which seems like a very diverse and multicultural place. How have you found living and working here? Where have you seen this diversity most surprisingly reflected?

I live in a predominantly Muslim, Pakistani neighbourhood – I’m the only white person who goes to my GP! – so that’s been really cool. Glasgow is really great in that people will just talk to you, and it’s really wonderful hearing about their life experiences. Wellington’s own international club is just astounding in the variety of people I’ve met there, from Syrian refugees to young families from Japan.

Do you find it easier working with international students and doing outreach to them as a fellow expatriate? Do you think your nationality and where you’re from really matters in this area of work?

I think it’s a misnomer to refer to ‘international students’ as one big whole. Obviously, every individual student is different, but beyond that, every cultural experience is going to be different as well. You have students from the EU and Africa, many of whom have been speaking English from a very young age, and then you’ve got southeast and far-east Asian students, and there’s lots of diversity within those broad categories. All of those students are going to be coming to the UK with differing degrees of separation from British culture, and with different needs and concerns.

An EU student generally has no problem going to a pub to socialize; most Chinese students, in my experience, are more wary when it comes to alcohol. So when we talk about international students, we’re talking about a really broad range of radically different perspectives, and it’s taken more work on my part to figure out how to engage with some students than it has with others. Especially in a community, it can be hard to find points of connection that are applicable whether you’re from Sweden or from China.

You can read part two of our interview with Lizy here. Wellington church is an SCM link church - you can find out more about their work here.