How to set up a new student society… One Liberal Arts and Sciences student’s experience

An Italian Society for the University:

An insight into the process and motives which helped make a vision become reality.

A blog entry by the Chair, Federico Stillitano (Liberal Arts and Sciences, 2nd year).

If you were to ask any of my friends back in Italy, coming to study in Birmingham was quite an odd decision given that I am Italian. Indeed, most Italians choose London as their university (or work) destination.

Unsurprisingly, this intensive migration has led London to become the sixth city by number of Italian inhabitants, surpassing cities like Florence, Venice, Verona and Parma. It might be London’s hectic nature, its uncompromising development, or the cocktail of culture which the city has to offer that might trigger the desire to live there. And although these characteristics greatly fascinate me, they have instead led me to choose a vast, green, campus-based university for my undergraduate years of study, knowing that I would then have the rest of my life to live and work in a massive global metropolis.

Having made my decision I considered the fact that, like me, other Italians might also deviate from the apparent norm, and instead decide to go to other cities to study (one of these being Brum). I therefore joined the “University of Birmingham 2014-2015 Freshers” Facebook group, filtered its 5000 or so members by nationality, inputted Italy as native country, which resulted in a list of UoB Italian students, just like me.

Once arrived at University, in between frenzied freshers’ parties and attempting to prepare productively my timetables and courses, I looked around the Freshers’ Society Fair for an Italian society stand, with no success. I in fact learnt that there had been a departmental Italian society in previous years, however it had just been closed. I therefore decided to make it my mission to re-start, and successfully run, a new, non-departmental society open to everyone, with the only requirement being an interest in Italian culture and customs.

My first task was to fill in a society proposal; a 20 or so page document that asks the proposer to highlight the aims and philosophy of the proposed society. Considering that I had a clear idea of what I wanted the society to be, it wasn’t too challenging. In addition, I had to appoint a committee, which again wasn’t too hard, as at this stage I had met a few Italians and knew others from back home. Furthermore, to prove the society would target a proportion of students, I had to collect 20 signatures of people that would potentially become members and favoured the idea of an Italian society.

After having collected, completed and sent the proposal and signatures to the Guild of Students, we were asked to pitch the society at a meeting (where again we stated the aims and philosophy of the group and why it should be officially recognised). Needless to say, the meeting was a success: within a month of having come to University I had managed to complete my first goal! Nevertheless I was aware that the hard part was yet to come: to recruit members and effectively run the society.

I therefore went back to the list of Italians I had found on Facebook and individually messaged each person, pitching some small scale events we organised (like “aperitifs” and “meet&greets”), with the hope they would come, enjoy it and finally join. Together with the committee we started a Facebook page, spammed countless other Facebook pages, and managed to achieve a steady growth of likes. Indeed, at the time of writing the page has 182 likes. We chose the page as the main media with which we would communicate updates and future events to our members. Moreover, as a committee we decided we would never fail to pitch the society to any person which would show an interest to Italy during any conversation.

This proved to be significantly effective, nevertheless we wanted to expand our membership base more rapidly and efficiently to organise bigger scale events. We therefore planned events targeted to any interest: cooking lessons, film screenings, football matches, Italian lessons and meals at home or in restaurants, with the scope of attracting the widest possible audience. And although we managed to organise a few of these events and did achieve a visible linear growth in participation, the majority of our ideas either clashed with other events, assignments or exams in the third term.

This served us as a very valuable lesson, as it caused us to think of a number of procedures that would help us organise events more resourcefully next year. For instance, at our AGM we decided to appoint PR and Logistics managers. The former, being English, would demonstrate that the society is not limited to native Italians, but participation of “foreign” people is in fact encouraged, whilst the latter would help us effectively organise transportation and supplies for any event. Alongside fundraising and events managers, secretary, treasurer and chair, these new roles would be allocated specific tasks, in order to tackle every issue specifically and capably.

With hindsight, although we could have done some things differently and maybe thought of solutions and methods of expanding our number of members in a more efficient way, we did manage to achieve a significant membership base and run the brand new society rather smoothly.

I once read a quote attributed to American writer and lecturer Dale Carnegie, which stated: “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing”. As a response I tend to find myself following this viewpoint in most things I do, as I believe that if you do not expect short or long term happiness, there is little reason to pursue any activity. Therefore while it might sound relatively irrelevant, my third and final aim was essentially to have fun setting up and managing the society: an aim which I can proudly say to have achieved!

The whole process, although at times quite tedious due to the amount of bureaucracy and paper-work, was great fun: I learnt several important skills and really enjoyed all of the events, especially knowing that lots of hard work and determination led to something gratifying. As a matter of fact, I urge anyone to start a society, join a club, play for a sports team or just generally get involved: at the end of the day what you bring home from university, apart from what you learn in your degree, is what you do in your spare time. I cannot stress how important this is!
Now I can proudly say that choosing Birmingham over London and relentlessly pursuing a goal could not have worked out better! Shame on you, London…

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