Published: 3 August 2020
Sahana Nandakumar is a 4th year Medicine student from Sri Lanka and the first female, international student to be Chair of the Arc Board. We asked Sahana a few questions to get to know her and to get her tips on staying connected to UNSW life while we're studying online.
It’s been a wild 2020 so far - how are you managing at the moment, studying online during COVID-19?
To be honest, the sudden transition wasn’t easy. Even though I was fortunate to be able to quickly set up a comfortable working desk with all the equipment, I missed going to the medicine building to work with my supervisor and friends. It also took a while to build a routine and stick to it at home. Most importantly, I missed all extracurriculars and events in and around university, so I had to find a lot of new hobbies to keep myself occupied.
Any helpful hacks you’ve nailed you could share with us?
Two things that have worked for me during this period are,
Have a strict time limit for news/ social media – one can easily get distracted for a long period of time thinking about the constant changes around us. Set a time limit and live in the present!
Exercise in between work- This is a lot easier when working from home. I follow a video of zumba/yoga or different workout classes whenever I have a break. It keeps me energized throughout the day.
Could you please tell us a little about yourself, your background, what you’ve been studying at UNSW?
I’m an international student from Sri Lanka. I completed High School in Colombo and came to Australia for the very first time to study in UNSW. I am currently in my 4th year of medicine and in the process of writing a narrative review on eating disorders.
How has support, from family, friends, peers and other networks played a role in your life as a UNSW international student?
I wouldn’t be in Sydney if not for the support from my family back at home and in Melbourne and I’m very grateful for everything they have done.
These four years in UNSW have challenged and changed who I am as a person. Starting from College (Fig Tree Hall) where I lived in my first year, I slowly adapted to the new environment. Cultural mentors from SDI were also welcoming and helpful in integrating me to the new society.
Arc has played an important role to help me identify my talents, make new friends and enjoy my time at university. Every time I felt stressed about my degree, I’d volunteer for something with my friends or attend an event with them and I would feel a lot better afterwards. The networks I built in these 4 years has made UNSW my second home.
What are the programs and activities that you’ve taken part in over the past four years as a student and what made you interested in the role of Chair?
I was a member of many clubs in my first year. Becoming an O-week leader for college was the first leadership experience I had.
In my second year, I worked as a sub-editor for the student magazine Tharunka followed by a short time on the Student Representative Council. These opportunities showed me the potential that Arc has as an organization to make a positive impact on students at UNSW.
When I got to third year, I reflected upon all the support I had received and how that has changed me to be a better person. I wanted to give back, especially to the diverse international community that continued to grow on campus. I became a mentor in international clubs, in the medical society and SDI. This was also the main reason for me to run for Board.
Being a Board member was another ocean of opportunities. I spent most of my first-year learning about Arc and strategic thinking. I’m very grateful for the nurturing Board environment that helped a person like me from a very different background to get accustomed to the processes.
Altogether, I believed I had a good understanding of the internal and external relations of Arc and its crucial role in student life. This year would definitely be more challenging for the organization than any other year, but it's also the time when students need the support and representation the most. I couldn’t think of a better time to give back to the community that moulded me.
What does being the Chair of the Board entail?
The key role of the Chair is to be the spokesperson for Arc within and outside the university. The Chair also facilitates Board meetings and ensures the Directors make informed decisions about the organization after having robust discussions. The best part of being the Chair of an organization like Arc is the ability to continue to represent students at different levels of the university.
How do you plan on managing your studies alongside your duties as Chair?
I have gradually learned how to manage my time efficiently and plan my week with sufficient breaks. This role is unlike any other so I’m still learning to balance my work. This does mean I have to drop a few extracurriculars and focus on the two main priorities for the year. I’m getting better at saying ‘no’ to additional work.
What do want to achieve in the next year on the Board?
The pandemic is an unexpected challenge and has largely impacted both Arc and the university. Even though some tough decisions were made, we are really focused on continuing to deliver the best student experience and support. Arc will continue to identify new opportunities within our strategic plan, and I hope to work with the university to make the UNSW experience memorable.
Do you have any advice for students on how to maintain an active student life and stay connected to the University, especially for International students currently studying from overseas?
Just because you are physically distanced from university doesn’t mean you socially distance yourself too. Arc is running heaps of events online that you can easily be a part by visiting the Arc Facebook page.
Make an effort to check on your friends once in a while.