Frida Gustafsson is the newly-elected President of the Students' Union and is a politics graduate. Frida is originally from Katrineholm in Sweden and chose to study in Britain because her interest in British politics and love of Harry Potter! She enjoys reading and spends way too much of her time caring, debating and working.
Q: What does the President do for students?
A: All of the six officers have their own portfolio, so their own specific area, such as welfare or undergraduate education. The President kind of takes care of everything else. The President role is also very much engaged in making sure the Students' Union is overall heading in the right direction, that our bars and shops are offering fair prices and paying their student staff well, and making sure the Students' Union is listening to a lot of issues that are relevant to students. It also involves collaborating and building on the work of all the other officers.
Q: What big accomplishments do you hope to achieve over the next year?
A: My slogan for my election campaign was 'Books, Buses and a Better Union' and I hope to accomplish things related to that.
I want to make commuting easier to campus, install more bike racks and make sure there are more buses and hopefully cheaper buses.
I would like campus to get better, because right now it is very overcrowded and I would like there to be greater space for people to study, eat, chill and recharge. I would like IT and wifi to work better, so I will be working a lot with the University to make sure these things are happening. They are starting to realise that they have issues in these areas and my job is to make sure to remind them over the year that these are issues that students have are being addressed.
Q: In your manifesto you proposed that the Students’ Union adopt a policy to reduce bus costs for students and establish a Big Lemon bus route. What shape might such a policy take and how feasible is the creation of a Big Lemon route to campus?
A: Starting a new role is always intimidating because you realise that all the things you really want changed might not get changed and you're having to get more pragmatic in figuring out how they actually will change, because what is most important is finding change. Already, the University and the bus company are having fairly regular meetings and Annie Pickering (outgoing President) did an amazing bus survey, which pointed out the issues that students have with buses, including high prices and there not being enough of them in the mornings.
The policy that I would like to implement is one where the Union pledges to work to make sure that commuting is easier and that students beyond having the right to an affordable education have the right to afford life as students, and I think already quite a lot is being done on that.
Q: Another pledge of yours was to introduce a platform for students to buy and sell second-hand course books. How would this work in practice and when will it launch?
A: I'm hoping to launch this during the summer and I think it should be a fairly straight-forward thing to set up. We still haven't quite figured out how but I know we could easily set up a page with the university to buy and sell second-hand books or maybe set up its own website. There are various ways that it can be done and I know there are already various academic societies that are buying and selling course books and we would like to build on this thing that students are doing and make sure that everyone has access to it. I am hoping that by the time students arrive this autumn that a way for students to access cheap course books will be available.
Q: Do you think the Union needs to reach out more to international students to feel more included and involved?
A: Going to university is always a daunting experience, but it's extra daunting when you're moving to another country where they speak another language. I know there are a lots of barriers standing in the way of students engaging to the same extent that UK students do, not just the language or the distance from home, but also the fact that not all students are allowed to engage because of their visas. I think, to a certain extent, it's very hard to overcome those boundaries and there is definitely more that the Students' Union can do.
The key to achieving that is to reach out and be there for students beyond those politically engaged, because politically engaged often means you are politically engaged in UK politics. As a broad and life-changing as they can be, as a Swedish student, you might not care that much about UK and Westminster politics. Making sure that we are a Union that listens to every student's needs, beyond those sorts of things, would be a big change.
Q: How did you find it?
A: Daunting at first, really scary! I was reading through my first university paper and there were more words that I didn't know than the ones I did. It was terrifying, but I also think that we grow so much. I have an amazing respect for every single person choosing to go to university, even more for anyone who chooses to go to another country to do it. On the one hand, international students have lots of barriers but, on the other hand, we are hard as nails. Even if not everyone is engaging with the Union, the international students are engaging in other various ways. Scary, but ever so rewarding!
Q: What advice would you give to a new international student starting at Sussex?
A: Definitely reach out! Especially in first year, everyone wants to make friends, and make sure that you make as many friends as you can. Do not be afraid to ask for advice, to ask for help, or to ask what certain words mean.
There are so many words that people use here that confused me. Like that thing that UK people do when you walk past someone and say 'Alright?'. It took me ages to figure out what to say back! The answer is ‘Alright!’ - so weird! And don't me started on British idioms and slang!
I’d recommend joining the Buddy Scheme, where you can be matched with a current Sussex student based on things like course, language and interests. It’s a great way of making new friends and also helping you get adjusted to studying in a different country.
Be confident in yourself - you have got here because of you and you will go further. And get involved in the Union, because it's a great way to get to know lots of people!