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Outstanding Global Citizenship

We talk to Emily Lewis (recent Arabic and French MA Hons graduate) about success in the Students' Association Impact Awards, recognising the work of a group of volunteers in supporting their fellow students and the local community.

The Students' Association Impact Awards celebrate exceptional students doing inspiring work at the University of Edinburgh.

This year, student volunteers from Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (IMES) in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) won in the category of Outstanding Global Citizenship for their work tutoring fellow students and Syrian refugees.

Following her recent graduation with First Class MA honours in Arabic and French, Emily Lewis spoke to Róisín MacFarlane (Web, Communications and Social Media Intern, and current LLC student) about how she got involved in volunteering and what further impact she hopes will come of the IMES students’ work.

We are delighted to learn that, since the interview was filmed, the students have gone on to win a Sir William Darling Memorial Prize presented at the Principal’s Welcome Ceremony in McEwan Hall during Welcome Week.

'Building relationships and gaining confidence'

The IMES student volunteers were nominated for their Impact Award both for their involvement in STREET, a tutoring programme for Syrian refugees, and for their work supporting other students of Arabic at the University.

Run by the Teenage Syrian Refugee Tutoring Project, STREET helped support 22 young people to find their feet in Edinburgh. The teenagers came from refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, and some had had no access to education for several years.

Speaking about how she got involved in STREET, Emily says: “I found out about [it] through a girl who was already volunteering, called Felicity. She knew the organiser of the programme so she spread the word, and encouraged us all to get involved… building relationships with the local community in Edinburgh, and gaining confidence as well.” 

"STREET was fantastic because we benefitted from it as students of Arabic, as it really helped us improve our fluency and language skills, but of course it also really benefitted the young Syrian kids, helping them to integrate into the Scottish school system and gain a lot more confidence in themselves and in their English skills.”

Getting involved

A photo of the student volunteers at the awards ceremony
The award-winning student volunteers at the Students' Association Impact Awards ceremony. From left, Felicity Roach, Mhairi Newlands, Cameron McAlister, Emily Lewis and Gemma Welsh. Image © EUSA.

Emily spent her year abroad (which is compulsory for students of Arabic) at a language school in Jordan. On her return to Edinburgh for her fourth undergraduate year, she was keen to use her improved language skills to help other students, so got involved with peer support within IMES. 

“The student mentoring was organised within the department itself. We received an email at the start of the year and then we had a big meeting where we were partnered up with second year students who we would help through the year with things like homework and grammar.”

As she prepares to take up a three month media internship in Beirut, Emily is positive that the group's Impact Award will raise the profile of the projects in which they were involved, particularly the work with refugees. 

“Finding out about [STREET} was more a case of luck. Word was spread by mouth, from one friend to another, from people who were already involved in the Syrian refugee community. However, I think that now, having won this award, the project will get a lot more attention. Hopefully people coming back from their years abroad, and second years who are improving their level of Arabic, can all get involved too. It’s really important, as there’s always a demand for new tutors.”

If you are interested in volunteering to tutor Syrian refugees in Edinburgh, please get in touch with co-ordinators Ali Newell and Didi Binladen.

Are you interested in studying Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies?

Located at the crossroads between Europe, Africa and Asia, the Middle East has played a pivotal role on the world stage from ancient times, with an understanding of the Islamic world being particularly relevant in the 21st century. Offering 21 degree combinations in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (IMES), Edinburgh is the only University in Scotland to offer courses in the Muslim world’s three main languages, placing Arabic, Persian and Turkish in the context of history, literature, culture, religion and politics, past and present.

Find out more about studying with us

Related links

Watch a video on the Teenage Syrian Refugee Tutoring Project on YouTube

Read more about this year's Impact Awards winners on the Students' Association website

Find out more about refugee support at the University of Edinburgh from Edinburgh Global