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Varsity an eye-opener for student leader

- Wits University

Moving from Bangladesh to start university in South Africa and using a fourth language stretched Sarah Eram, a student leader in the School of Business Science.

Sarah Eram was one of the students celebrated at the 2022 Student Leadership Award for raising the bar when it comes to representing and serving students. As the 2021/2022 Chair of the Council of the School of Business Science, she was recognised as the Most Outstanding Student Leader in a School Council.

In the Q&A with Wits Communications, Sarah who is going to honours level in 2023 shares her journey of adjusting to a cosmopolitan environment, falling in love with Information Systems and rising to becoming a student leader.

Sarah Eram

Q: You have an interesting background, please can you tell us about this?

A: I am from Bangladesh and moved to South Africa after finishing high school. I matriculated in my home country. When I first arrived in South Africa there was definitely a culture shock. I was not only from another country, but also from another continent. Before arriving in South Africa, I had never been exposed to diverse cultures. There was a lot of adjusting and learning new things, but it was the most amazing experience of my life.

Q: Transitioning from high school to university is a challenge for many first-year students. Some of our students have to adapt to an urban environment and its fast paced nature. Tell us about your transition?

A: My first year at Wits was not easy. Making friends was really tough. Most of my peers preferred to stick with the people they knew from high school. However, I didn't isolate myself from new experiences. I joined clubs, societies and sports clubs, and began engaging with others who shared my interests. I took it upon myself to attend all of the campus activities in order to learn about South Africa's culture and heritage. At first it was intimidating but the more I engaged in different activities and put myself in uncomfortable situations the easier it became.

The most difficult aspect was the learning environment. I am from a country where English is not widely spoken. English is my fourth language, and while I learned it at school, I never had to use it in real life. In the first year, I could comprehend what the professor was saying but found it difficult to keep up with the pace. The new environment, new people and new way of doing things was also another thing that I had to adjust to. It took some time for sure but got easier over time.

Q: And here you are, recognised in the Student Leadership Awards hosted annually by Wits. How you feel about winning the award for the Most Outstanding Student Leader in a School Council?

A: Receiving such a prestigious award from my university feels incredible. I am grateful that my hard work and dedication have been recognised and rewarded. This prize is one of the most significant highlights of my university years!

Q: What made you decide to go into student service?

A: As a student, I have seen first-hand the challenges and confusions that students endure on a daily basis. I've been in those circumstances when I didn't know where to go or who to talk to.

Over the years I also discovered that students are hesitant to approach lecturers or faculty members when they require assistance. They feel considerably more at ease chatting to another student. Since I had received so much assistance from student leaders when I needed it, I wanted to give back by serving the students and making their university lives easier.

Q: You have an interesting service record. Tell us about these?

A: I formerly held two positions in the Wits Investment Society - Secretary (2019-2020) and then Vice-President (2020-2021). In 2021, I also served as a President of Wits Investment Society for two months. I am also a member of Golden Hands, a Wits Golden Key project in which I volunteer at a soup kitchen once a week. I'm also a member of the Wits Muslim Student Association where I serve as Student Affairs Officer for 2022-2023.

Q: What does it mean to be the Chair of your School Council? Is there anything unique about the interests of your constituency that make this an exciting or challenging role?

A: My School consists of a variety of different disciplines such as Information Systems, Marketing, Insurance and Risk, Management and Human Resources. My School is one of the most diversified in the Faculty, with more disciplines than any other. Having said that, what distinguishes this constituency is the opportunity to meet with students from a variety of disciplines. The School not only focuses on academics, but it also has a first-of-its-kind Entrepreneurship Clinic to help student entrepreneurs learn about entrepreneurship. 

Being the Chairperson of my constituency entails not only helping and serving students, but also assisting them in realising their full potential through various corporate events and activities designed to help them get the most out of this business-focused degree.

Q: How has this position helped you to grow as a person or professionally?

A: The role of chairperson has brought out the best in me and allowed me to learn so much from both my team members and everyone with whom I interacted. It taught me how to be a good leader and how to lead a team. It taught me how to handle disagreements and how to assist students by resolving issues for them while remaining respectful of everyone involved in the matter. Some of the important lessons from this experience are team management, project management, conflict resolution, and always being available to help the students while also being a student. This has helped me in both personal and professional development.

Q: You are studying for a Bachelor of Commerce (Information Systems). What made you elect this field of study?

A: I originally registered in BCom (General), and in the first semester of my first year, I had a compulsory course called Fundamentals of Information System. During the semester an IS lecturers came in as a guest speaker one day and talked about what an information system is and the prospects. The way he talked about technology and information and its role in today's world really captivated me, and I decided at that point that I wanted to study Information Systems and therefore changed my programme.

Q: What is your favourite part on campus and what do you enjoy about it?

A: The greenery on campus is my favourite part of the campus. On weekends and in the afternoons on weekdays, I like to go for a walk and enjoy the scenic beauty of the campus.

Q; Your have a full diary as a student and a student leader. Do you have time to yourself outside of Wits?

A: I enjoy reading books and doing volunteer work. Every weekend I volunteer at an animal shelter.