Subject: Engineering
Student status: International Finalist from Sri Lanka
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I never used to talk to anyone, not in a bad way, I used to think … I wouldn't go up to a person and talk to them because I'm not really sure that they would prefer my company, whether they like my company so I would rather wait for them to come and talk to me. I couldn't keep conversation going, I was very bad at networking. In my first year I got out of that because of my flatmates, they got me out there so I could have a conversation.

I helped out as an orientation helper so I was very happy because the helpers in my first year helped me get used to the whole culture so I want to do the same for another person. You can literally break or make another person when you are a helper. I moved on to becoming a team leader and last year I coordinated the whole programme for 1000 international students with 80 helpers working under me, so that's how I've grown and how I've used my experience.

So basically, especially when I did the programme, after my four years I knew how to approach someone, how to handle the situation whereas in the airport, for example, I went to Heathrow at five o'clock in the morning, I just knew how the airport works, how we should queue people up, use the bag tagging system for the bags, for the luggage because we didn't want anyone to get lost and then we had the flight details about people coming in.

It's just a mixture of the degree, applying my extracurricular activities, as me knowing how the airport operates, how to run about, how to talk to a professional, how to talk to someone who is just driving us down there, to having that context, as well as just talking to different people. For example, I had one person start crying in the airport and in my first year when that happened when I was a helper I was clueless, I just didn't know what to do. I was just shocked, I would just stand, I was standing in front of her for five minutes, I just didn't know what to say at all. After about five minutes I said, 'I think I should go grab someone' and so I just brought someone else. I learnt something from that, I learnt how they handle the situations, that's something I gained with experience, with time.

But then things such as I've tried out rock-climbing, I would have never done before. I've taken up, I used to do badminton and squash which I still do, I'm playing later on today as well and even just at the gym, I've met so many people, training with them and just spotting them I've made friends. It applies outside as well, where I meet someone and it's been like, 'Do you want to play a badminton game?' etc so skills in the sense, I've become healthier in that way. I have lots of standards, that helps me in my day to day life where I could just sleep three hours and just keep going for a couple of days without crashing off, then I crash for about a day and then I wake up the next day.

So in that way it's helped me, my skills I've gained in that way. Also leadership skills, that is really different. Running a team of 80 was really different even though I had ten team leaders. I knew I was managing them but at the end of the day I was a student as well. I had to be responsible, they were looking up to me so how I would behave in front of them and how if they were doing something wrong, how I would put it to them. So in that way I learnt about managing big teams, how to lead them because I believe about leading by example. So I used to get down and carry bags with them and show them how it's done, 'This is what we need to do, I'm not just telling you what to do, I want to do it with you' which worked my way and it's one of the best orientation programmes last year so I was really happy about that.

From leadership to team-working that's some of my other skills, working in Costcutters, for example, it's very different, how someone might spill a bottle and break a bottle in the middle, like an alcohol bottle. I'll call someone else to help me out, clean it, so you bag it round. Even when I was working at security for the union, that team concept was very important, where if there's a fight you wouldn't just run in to stop it, you would call some people, get together, make sure everyone can see you and then try and resolve the problem. So in that way my team-working skills changed, how I would approach a problem.

Also, taking the initiative, that's something I've learnt with time, where now I wouldn't wait for someone to tell me what to do, I'll take responsibility and I'll do it. I would rather do something than expect them to be, 'Oh you done a good job' than them saying to me, 'Why didn't you do that?' So initiative is something I've improved, which I never did before, I used to be always the second person. I also used to be the follower which I've changed from being the follower to the leader, which is a big step in my life.

Even communication, just talking to different nationalities, I still have a problem communicating with Chinese students but it's about how you take your time, understand them, listen to them. It's just a simple way of conversing where if I don't understand someone it's a simple thing that no one really tells you, it's about telling them back what they told you and just making sure that that's what you wanted them to understand, which is something no one ever told me, just something very basic but just something very important, to make sure they understood what you told them. It's about telling them back what they told you, so just simple things like that I've learnt and it's helped me come a long way from where I was.