My Chinese name is 王令懿 (pronounced as Wang Ling-yi), but usually my friends call me Ivory, which is a bit easier if you have trouble remembering names (like me). I will be working on the international student experience project, an exciting new project for BILT this year.
As a native of Shanghai, before coming to the UK for university at the age of 18, I had never stayed in another country for more than two weeks. Prior to arriving in Bristol, my impressions of the UK were entirely based on stereotypes from TV and movies (mainly Harry Potter and Doctor Who, though I now seriously doubt whether those were untrue stereotypes).
At the start of a new term, whether you are new to the University of Bristol or have been here for years, you must have noticed the significantly increased number of international faces on campus. You may find many international students like me, who discovered huge differences between the real experience of studying and living in the UK versus what we imagined. Dramatic effects often arise from clashes and dialogues between different cultures. But does this suffice to summarize the international student experience?
To me, the international student experience is complex, multifaceted, and hard to put into words. As a third year BSc Psychology in Education student, my experiences over the past three years have fluctuated, collided with each other, intertwined sweetness and bitterness, and there have been many moments of epiphany. But I can say for sure, just when I feel my experiences and feelings may have come to a conclusion, a new “tower moment” emerges (in Tarot cards, a tower moment signifies an enormous change or upheaval, like the collapse of a tower), which forces me to abandon previous ideas and assumptions, and accept new worldviews and understandings instead. Perhaps this rings true for every university student, and perhaps for everyone, but my own differing cultural background and objective obstacles (like language) make this whole thing even more interesting and complicated.
From a geometric perspective, we can hardly fit our experiences into a two-dimensional shape. While Venn diagrams may work well in categorizing different intersections, they fail to capture the dynamic changes arising from the passage of time. On careful thought, our experiences are not even linear, but more akin to a timeline hamburger (my own metaphor!): layered, stacked vertically, containing random factors (like the “sauce” in a burger), with the whole synthesis periodically refreshed and updated while retaining some old elements, just like new batches of hamburgers would still inevitably contain two buns.
So what defines an international student? What constitutes an international student experience? Is this just a convenient yet dreadfully simple label? Setting aside academic definitions from past researchers, my first goal for the project is to answer these questions from multiple narrative perspectives. One of my challenges that is also a source of inspiration, is to use my own experience as a starting point. I need to make full use of my past experiences, so I can continue to uncover more first-hand stories, usually privy only to insiders, and usually not presented openly, while avoiding interpreting and generalizing others solely through my own narrow perspective and understanding.
What I need to do is “atomize” the international student experience, removing the homogeneous trait of “being from different countries”, and instead analyze more individualistically, not just categorizing their experiences simply. I hope this project can provide staff and home students alternative close-up, real, personal perspectives beyond literature reviews and academic journals on international students, to understand different individuals (yes, individuals, not a collective). My desired outcome is for this project to not just be about international students’ experiences, but a deeper exploration of intercultural understanding and communication on campus, and applying such insights to build a more inclusive learning experience for all.
My colleague Robynne (a Design for All student fellow this year) said I must include the fact of me having seen Les Miserables 75 times live (I actually lost count) in this introductory blog, because it was really memorable. Unfortunately, I have no idea which part of the article I should awkwardly squeeze this weird fact in, so I’ll just make it a separate paragraph. She actually remembered this a week after we first met! I do enjoy stories with revolutionary, epic, and cathartic themes, so this probably reveals some of my quirky personality traits and ambitions I have for this project.