Mauritius-born and University of South Australia (UniSA) Student Association’s International Student Representative 2016, Valérie Baya shares her student experiences helping form the African Society at the University of South Australia.
The people close to me are aware of my willingness to tell the truth and speak aloud even if it is unfavourable. I think this trait comes from the Mauritian way of life. Grammy award-winning Hip Hop artist Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi once echoed that “The people I’ve met and the places I’ve been, are all what make me the person I so proudly am.” This is certainly the case in my lifetime’s experience. Coming from a multicultural and religiously diverse nation (Mauritius) and being of mixed origins (French, Indian and Madagascan) created acceptance and made me more open towards different cultures.
After high school, I went to study a Bachelor of Interior Architecture with great joy in Malaysia’s Taylor’s University. Despite a number of African students attending various universities in Malaysia, I was surprised at the lack of knowledge among many of the students regarding Africa. Over time, African students were faced with questions such as: “Is it true Africans live in trees among lions?”; “Is it true you came to Malaysia by swimming over from Africa?”; “How do Africans survive without the internet?”; “Do you grow vegetables in Africa?”, and the most obvious misconception that Africa is a country. Perhaps blockbuster films such as Madagascar, The Gods Must Be Crazy and Tarzan aided in the formulation of such insights. However, one would expect that individuals studying at tertiary level ought to differentiate fact from fiction, and must try to understand that Africa is a continent which has more to offer than what is portrayed in the media.
Having completed my undergraduate degree, I proceeded to undertake a life-altering Masters of Interior Architecture at the University of South Australia. From my experiences in Malaysia, African students there were more united having established various student unions among the universities, and organising endless numbers of events and gatherings.
In Australia, I was shocked to find out that many African students at the universities were isolated and not united as one. This was certainly something I was not accustomed to. As such, I thought of establishing a student union or association for African students.
Creating the African Society at UniSA was the first step for uniting African students. The establishment of the society enables us to express our knowledge and cultural heritage with our fellow non-African peers.
The Society’s goals are to assist new and existing students with any educational matters, such as finding affordable textbooks, getting help with assignments from their peers of a higher year level and assisting the students in any other university-related matters. The Society also aims to bring to attention the beauty of the African culture and our way of life to non-African students by organising events that showcase our food, traditions, customs, crafts, fashion, musical instruments and diverse range of languages.
Like me, a number of African students have been confronted with an endless web of stereotyping of our motherland. The misconception of Africa as a continent in dire circumstances stuck in the Stone Age can only be altered by Africans sharing their cultural heritage and changing such mindsets. Prominent civil rights advocate Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned throughout my tertiary education and experience as a student representative is that we must never give up on what we have always believed in.