A Day in the Life of… a Student Experience Team Leader at Unite Students
3 October 2023
Our Day in the Life interview series is back, shining a spotlight on our frontline employees and the fantastic work they do to help students thrive in our buildings.
This time, we spoke to Henriett ‘Hena’ Olah-Nagy, Student Experience Team Leader at Cambrian Point, Cardiff to find out what a typical day looks like in her role, some of the events she’s supported students with, and how her own experiences of moving to the UK have helped her to support international students as they settle into life in the UK.
Q: Tell us what a typical day in your role (Student Experience Team Leader) involves.
A: It can be different every day. If I plan something during in the morning, it can be changed within seconds. For instance, planning a team meeting for a certain day – then on that day our other sites in the city need support, so half of my crew is happily going over to help and the team meeting needs to be postponed. Or sometimes there’s a welfare case. It depends on the students, really.
My role is supporting students to have a better experience. We throw loads of events on site even though we don’t have a common room. Last year, we created a Christmas grotto in the reception and security lodge. We also have done Halloween events and celebrated Eid, and this academic year coming up, we going to extend [our events programme] by celebrating Holi.
We have more and more returning students at Cambrian Point each year, and this is because of how much time and effort we put into our customer service. So two years ago, we had two tenants who returned for the next academic year – within a year, we turned it around to nearly 87 who were staying in the same room for the next year. I am proud of my team and I’m proud of myself, coming from a housekeeping role to a student experience team leader who can make these things happen.
What are some of the ways in which you’ve supported the student experience in Cardiff North?
This is going to be my third year as a Student Experience Team Leader, and every year I’m tweaking what I do and making it better with my team. The first six weeks is crucial for students to settle in, so we’ve got a plan for that. I do a welcome talk in every flat along with the first month’s kitchen inspections; it’s a nice way to interact with students. They see who the manager is and know why it’s important to not cover the fire alarm. Within these six weeks we also run Breakfast Mondays and Welfare Wednesdays.
Since I’ve been working here, we’ve created a community place by the laundry where we planted strawberries and we’ve painted all the benches colourfully, which is actually being copied through [all of our sites across] the whole city. It’s great to see students using them. Last week, I saw a bunch of students celebrating their birthday out on those benches and I was thinking, “I’ve made that happen.” It’s a good feeling.
You’ve previously talked about celebrating Ramadan in our Cardiff buildings – how important is it to create an inclusive home for students?
It’s important for us and for them as well. If they are having fun, we won’t have many issues and they are more likely to return for the next academic year. It means a lot to me – if your focus is not creating an inclusive home, then you shouldn’t be here.
The Ramadan celebration was actually an idea from my previous student Resident Ambassador (RA), Naela. When she moved in, she was so lost and we basically picked her up. Within two days she applied to be an RA, and she had all these ideas: “Why don’t we celebrate Holi? Why don’t we celebrate Ramadan?” So, I sat down with her and educated myself within those cultures, and we made that happen. All we needed was to buy some Medjool dates, put them on the table and tell students to make sure they fed themselves before they began fasting. It’s incredible how people reacted to it.
I’m international and I’m working on a site with lots of international students. I know how difficult it is to move into a different country where you don’t know anything. I’ve never been a student in the UK, but I started my life in the UK without speaking the language. It’s nice that I can give them a start here that I didn’t have. I can show them where the nearest shop is, or be a shoulder to cry on when they say, “I miss my mum” – so do I! That’s all they need, a tissue and a cup of tea sometimes, and someone to say to them, “You’ll get through it; you’re here for a reason.”
I always ask students, “Why did you move to Cambrian Point?” And they say that it’s word of mouth – that so many people have lived here that recommend it to others, which is amazing if you ask me. Yesterday, one of our students popped in to see us at reception. They’ve recently come out as transgender, so I asked what name they wanted us to know them by. They are still going by their birth name in public, but they were happy to share their chosen name with us because they feel safe at Cambrian Point and consider it to be their home.
That was really big for me. I’m proud that I can create a team who can show students that they are safe to be who they are, and look after them day by day. It’s the same as an employee – you don’t want to work on a site where you can’t be who you are or where you feel uncomfortable.
What’s your favourite thing about working at Unite Students? And what has surprised you most?
This building was built in 2005 and I started as a housekeeper in 2006, so I’ve been working here since the first year. This was when it was part of Liberty Living. I was integrated into Unite Students in 2019 during the merger and worked my way up basically to my current role. It’s great to see how the community changes. I don’t feel like this is a job – I really care about this site.
I’ve got so many favourite things, but the main thing with Unite Students is the people: the team here is like my other family and we can achieve great things together. And the other thing I like is that Unite takes the effort to invest in people. Like, I’ve got the right attitude, but I needed training and now I’ve got that, so I can educate myself, do more for my students and deliver better care.
The most surprising thing in my time working here is how fast time goes, because I enjoy what I do. It’s a fun environment and I think that’s the biggest surprise. I was 25 when I joined and now… I’m over 25! [laughs]
What’s one bit of advice you would give to anyone who wanted to work in student accommodation?
My advice is to go with the flow. Just go with what the day brings, because every day is different, but if you see the positives then you’ll enjoy every single day.