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Bristol students shine in International Student Awards

Press release issued: 28 April 2005

A partially sighted student from Pakistan studying at the University of Bristol has been crowned 'International Student of the Year 2005' by the British Council.

A partially sighted student from Pakistan studying at the University of Bristol has been crowned ‘International Student of the Year 2005’ by the British Council.

Muzzamil Lakhani, 22, was selected from twelve finalists to receive the top Gold Award and £2,000 in prize money.  Another Bristol student, Dionna Tong, 20, from Singapore, won the Silver Award and £1,000 in prize money. 

More than 2,300 students, representing 142 nationalities, entered the awards by writing a `letter home’ - as if to their relatives, a former teacher, a business sponsor or a potential employer - describing their experiences of life in the UK.

The awards recognise international students who have gained experience that has enhanced their personal development, boosted their career prospects or helped them achieve their ambitions while studying in the UK.

Physics student, Muzzamil’s inspirational story of ‘triumph over adversity’ won the top award.  His life has been transformed since he began undergraduate studies at Bristol University.  His severe visual impairment meant he was unable to walk even short distances unescorted back home in Pakistan, and his life and academic choices were limited.

Comprehensive support networks at Bristol have helped him to lead an independent life, on and off campus and he has recently secured a work placement with Unilever.  Muzzamil said: “My life took a U-turn the day I came to Britain. The University has been phenomenal in helping me, and the city of Bristol has literally stolen my heart.”

In his winning entry letter, he wrote: “Born visually impaired… everyone told me not to go abroad, discouraged me and told me to give up…. All my life I was trained to feel I’d remain uneducated, unsociable, unemployed, unwanted.”

Within a month of arriving in the UK, Muzzamil had started to train with a long cane to help him become more independent. He joined the Institute of Physics, became a member of a choir and took piano lessons, noticing his confidence was growing and his aspirations rising.

He wrote: “By my 21st birthday, I had made more friends in Bristol than in 20 years in Pakistan… I got a first at the end of Year 1, and the Dean’s Commendation for my outstanding (academic) performance… I had lived the best year of my life.”

Law student, Dionna has laid firm foundations for a career in law.  She found her two mini pupillages in barristers’ chambers in London last summer so inspirational that she hopes to repeat the experience with solicitors this year. As well as learning Spanish through the University’s language centre, Dionna has become a committee member of the European Law Students’ Association and joined the University’s Model United Nations Society. She’s also found time to take up skydiving and get involved in the University’s Widening Participation scheme, which encourages partnership working with local secondary schools.

In her ‘letter home’, Dionna wrote: “Studying in the UK has given me a brilliant opportunity to apply what I’ve learnt directly… and what can be more inspiring to an aspiring lawyer than working with Queen’s Counsels on legal cases that are worth more than £20 million… in the Royal Commercial Courts in the heart of London?”

Claire Axel-Berg, Head of International Student Recruitment at the University of Bristol, said: We are delighted with Muzzamil’s and Dionna’s success, both as students and winners of these awards.  They have shown extraordinary determination, which has enabled the University to help them find a range and depth of talent.

“Congratulations should also go to the other finalists, who set such a high standard of competition and evidently enjoyed the award celebration.”

The Rt Hon Lord Kinnock, Chair of the British Council, said: “This Awards scheme has really captured the imagination of students and institutions.

“With scores of inspiring accounts of how life in the UK is contributing to the success of so many talented people from all over the World, the judges’ task was difficult.  But Muzzamil and Dionna as I know from meeting them are truly exceptional they have striven relentlessly to fulfil their ambitions to study and to develop their wider potential in the UK and we are delighted that their efforts have been recognised and rewarded in such a spectacular way.”

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