I spent a year in the UK before I came to Southampton. I hoped that might give me a head-start on understanding British universities and Britain in general.
But I had (and still have) a lot left to learn.
Here are some of the ups and downs, and things that I’ve learned from them, that have emerged from 2 years of being an international PhD student at Southampton.
The hard bits – what’s a remittance?
It takes time as a PhD student to figure out who’s who, what’s what, where’s where. And in my experience, other PhD students are infinitely more helpful when it comes to working these things out than any PGR Handbook could be.
- Who do you email when the printer is broken, versus when the paper’s run out, versus when your comptuer is broken?
- What’s a cost code versus a stipend versus a BACS versus a remittance?
They warn us about jargon in academia, and they told us the truth: it’s there alright!
The hard bits – who am I?
And then there’s the question that perhaps not only international PhD students struggle with, but all: what are we?
Am I a student? Well, yes. Because I have access to all students facilities at the University and it’s in my name.
Am I staff? Actually, also a bit yes. I get paid. I can do various additional work for the University. And once a year there’s even an invite to the annual staff party in my inbox.
The good bits – support and cultural awareness
I didn’t arrive during the introduction week for PhD students. That’s pretty normal – PhD students tend to trickle into faculties all throughout the year.
OK, I did struggle with discovering how the bureaucracy of the University works. But support in terms of courses and engaging with different cultures is embedded in both the University and PhD programme.
For example, the Faculty of Engineering, where I’m based, offers a series of courses on English academic writing for engineering, specifically aimed at PhD students. And all PhD students are obliged to take a short course on presenting our research, writing about our research, and research methods.
Societies offer opportunities to learn new skills and meet new friends, or just enjoy a night of dancing with familiar faces!
In terms of culture, there’s a wealth of internationally-focused societies, including the Mexican, Middle Eastern and North African Society, Ghanaian, French, Bulgarian, … the list goes on. And then there’s the societies representing dance, music, and theatre – at least as many of these are nation/regional societies.
This is why I keep attending the bunfight annually: there are always new societies to find out about, even as a PhD student!
Homesick, but happy
Conclusion? Being an international student is always a tough one, because not only are you undertaking the challenges of a PhD, you’re also doing it many miles from wherever you might call home. But the University of Southampton has offered me plenty of distractions from homesickness, and plenty of support.
Although the homesickness is tough, I’ve also gotten to see such beautiful places because of my research and because of Southampton.
I think that’s enough to go on for now. I guess I’d better stop writing and get back to my Methods chapter! Look out for part 2 soon…
What would you miss most about your home country, and is there something the University could do to help with that?