What does the ‘International’ in ‘International Student’ mean? – Part Two

By Agostinho Pinnock

In the last edition of this blog post I spoke about the early moments of ‘life in Loughborough’ as a foreign student enrolled in a PhD programme here. Among others this second section looks at the some of the other parts of that experience and offers some suggestions to others in a similar situation. Your feedback and comments are appreciated.

Please find the link below for the Part One:
http://www.lboro-phd-network.org.uk/what-does-the-international-in-international-student-mean/?fbclid=IwAR3FRwL-9LHGdoK9O3H9lZ3x0_DrpKAcCANrhtSXTnV15zdQbEV-CMQeePw

Compared to other places, my ‘difference’ was often anywhere between mild curiousity and or amusement – “you don’t SOUND Jamaican! Are you from England?”, to ‘some-kind-of-interest’ – “do you know Usain Bolt?” (He and I are, actually, members of the same gym in Kingston).

Those moments of bemused laughter were a far cry from the lived encounters of the perceived differences of ‘sound’ and appearance, here. By this I mean, I was often told that I did not sound Jamaican. In other instances, I often felt like my foreignness meant that I should be speaking a language other than English.

Loughborough University in late September

For me, it meant accepting that not everyone was as exposed. As a result, I too developed the culture of walking unseeingly past others, even blocking out those I knew, only realising afterwards that I had – when it was brought to my attention.

Taking a picture by the Bull – on the way to the Caribbean market in Birmingham to shop for Jamaican food items.

Other things like figuring out where and how to locate ingredients for cooking became another project. At some level, it might appear insignificant. However, when you are as selective about food as I have become, over time, these little things add up… (and it is always the little things).

I, eventually, I discovered communities of Jamaicans in other parts of the country. I found familiar produce and other ingredients in places like Birmingham and London. That is now a monthly ritual trip.

Mobility also became a real issue. I had to learn how to navigate the coach system and the online booking culture for just about everything. It all seemed so private and hidden.

Selfcare is also a big deal now. I had to learn (and am still learning), where and how to shop for skincare products and toiletries. I have a whole cabinet full of cosmetics which have not worked. And the battle with the weather and my skin continues even at the time of writing.

Often, my friends laugh and point out how ‘fair’ I have become since arriving here. Usually, I smile at their jokes about ‘bleaching’ but say nothing. It is enough to simply say hello and hear who has been doing what and with whom, rather than focus on other things.

Before, I could also just show up, unannounced, at some friend’s place. Now, not so much. Plus, I have even fewer of those here anyway. So, that is out of the question.

One of the many sporting facilities here at L’boro.

Expectedly, most of my contacts now are via social-media. This is my lifeline into familiar networks. Where and when WiFi fails, however, as it invariably does on my end, connections become fraught, anxious moments.

On a side note, Eduroam connections in off-campus residences are often not very strong, I have learned.

So what are the takeaways – if any?

  • Community is essential to surviving anywhere, not the least among them, in a foreign place. Make friends – if that opportunity presents itself, and usually it does. But, also, recognise that communities can be virtual and ‘untraditional’ as well. Remember, friends are the family members we choose. So, choose wisely.
  • At a more practical level, learn about the services offered by places such as the International Office, the Doctoral College and even within your own school.
  • Well-being Advisers are also available, if you need their support. Go over and talk to them. They are based at the Bridgeman Building. Get their numbers and keep it, if you need to use it.
  • Join one of the Faith communities housed at the Edward Herbert Building, on the second floor. These can be very valuable when you are seeking to connect with the familiar. It might not home but it can be a great substitute. See links below.
  • Join the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Network. Ask about them at the International Office.
  • Become a member of one of the student societies at the Students’ Union (LSU). Check out the offerings here at the LSU page. There are also several mixers and other activities, as well.
  • Become a PGR Rep in your school. Run for office in one of the elections. Or volunteer your time with one of the local charities. If you are like some of our members, you can do all three. It really is up to you.
  • And, as annoying as it can sometimes be to have to educate others about who you are, et cetera, (and it can be especially annoying to have to constantly explain what, for you, may be ‘basic’ things to people), remember there are those who are genuinely interested and might even surprise you. Give them a chance.
  • Not everyone is going to care, but so what? We can’t like everyone, and everyone will not like us. That’s life. Find your tribe.
  • But, above all, be gentle with yourself. Do not feel compelled to fit in. You are different for a reason, after all. It is what makes you, you. So, do you!

…Until next time, walk good – as we say in Jamaica! 

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