Loughborough PhD Social & Support Network

#BLOG – What does the ‘International’ in ‘International Student’ mean?

… on being a student again, coping with life in L’boro and adjusting to a new culture!

By Agostinho Pinnock


This post talks openly – or as openly as is possible in this context, about issues of ‘difference’, as well as our shared similarities, specifically at the level of culture, amongst PhD students, here at Loughborough. The aim is to include and integrate the myriad voices and experiences of various students across our school.

This particular instalment shares some of my initial experiences of adjusting to life in the United Kingdom and Loughborough, in particular, during the first six months of my PhD. By starting this conversation, it is my wish is to help establish communities of support and friendship. As an international student, my wish is that these will, hopefully, evolve alongside my PhD journey here in Loughborough as well as beyond.

By establishing communities grounded in inclusivity and diversity it is our wish that our shared experiences and differences can be harnessed to strengthen the existing PhD network. This blog aims to bridge gaps, provide useful information and foster collegiality between us, by ensuring dialogue and outreach. It hopes to plug us into essential systems needed for surviving this demanding process – the PhD journey.

In that sense, navigating PhD culture at Loughborough need not be any more demanding than is necessary. So, come along for the read. And, do send us your feedback.

Thanks, in advance.

(Note: No information has been provided here about actual numbers of students comprising ‘International Students’ or the percentage that makes up the PhD cohort across the university).

…Before we begin, you might be asking why am I even telling you any of this? Well, it is simple, really. Or, perhaps, not so simple. The objective of this post is to do two things. First, it literally fulfils the blogging requirements of the newly installed PhD Support Network (PhDSN) committee. The members of whom can be found here.

And, second and more important, this particular post highlights the diversity of experiences and identities involved in the label ‘International Student’. Precious little is known about the lives of these students – that is, outside of what might be a marked difference between those who fall into this category and British/domestic students.

Indeed, despite our shared similarity with respect to being different from, and compared to domestic students, not all ‘internationals’ are the same. And, surely, not all the ones enrolled as PhDs.

International students span a wide spectrum. Our differences range from: culture, experience levels (professional histories, etc.), gender, race and even age. Some have been born here and are just returning. Others are totally new – like me. It really is a mixed bag.

International Day at L’Boro Students’ Union (LSU)

Notably, this initial discussion which, hopefully, will be continued in subsequent blogs is a little long – I am minded to say. So be guided, accordingly. In fact, it is truncated into two parts. The first covers the earlier parts of my experiences. The second goes into more details and ends with recommendations – an ‘orientation’ of sorts. Enjoy.

…Now, back to the story:

Heading to London

Heathrow, London

Coming to a foreign country where I had no relatives and which I had previously never visited, was undoubtedly a major learning curve. That I was coming to live and study made it an even steeper climb. And so, begins my journey.

I arrived in Loughborough only moments before midnight, on Tuesday, October 9, 2018. I had left Kingston, Jamaica two days earlier, (on Sunday October 7), en route to New York City. From there, I flew to London, Heathrow. And then, finally, took the bus to Loughborough. A circuitous journey if ever there was one.

I was about to take up one of six full-time places at the School of Arts, English and Drama’s (SAED) Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Feminism, Sexual Politics and Visual Culture. It marked the start of what will, unquestionably, be an auspicious three-year sojourn – my PhD journey, as it were, at Loughborough University.

I was aware that this experience would be a real investment of effort. Which also behoved me to save funds. It would require my adjusting how I related to the world on any number of levels. Economic welfare was clearly one of them. Hence, the more ‘scenic’ route – through the US.

Indeed, it is necessary to add that, I have lived in foreign countries before. I was in Bogota, Colombia for a half-year sometime ago. And after that, in New York City for a ‘hot minute’. The goal of that trip was to prepare my PhD proposal which I then sent to various schools.

As a further aside, I have also visited several parts of the US, Europe and the Caribbean. But that is for another blog. Today’s focus is about Loughborough, which became interested in my application/proposal last April and subsequently offered me a place here. The rest, as they like to say, is history.

But, the truth is that, histories are not always as clear-cut and never as neatly fixed as we are often led to feel. Arriving here, when I did, reminded me of that.

It was October, the middle of Autumn. And, for me, very, very cold. It was the second or so week of school which also meant that I had to ‘hit-the-ground-running’.

I had had no orientation to life in Loughborough. My travel documents were approved at the very last minute. This gave me only days to make appropriate flight arrangements. In fact having also missed the International Students’ Induction – which I only learned about, months later, I had to learn (and on my own no less), how to negotiate this new place.

Consequently, I spent the last five to six months figuring out where the invisible lay lines were in the community – and often at grave peril. Everything became a project.

I needed new clothes, for instance. Coming from a tropical island where temperatures are always in the low to mid-thirties (on the Celsius scale), I had no experience with near-to and below-zero temperatures. No layering nor indoor heating was ever needed. It is always hot there.

Loughborough Town Centre

In fact, even with the cold of Bogota as buffer, this was still new to me. I stayed indoors very often. (I still do now, though less of necessity and more out of choice). I only went to classes and the library, the supermarket and church.

Plus, I was on foot, itself, a fairly new experience negotiating public space. I had to get accustomed to the fact that not everyone had had experiences dealing with English-speaking foreigners. Very often, my accent could not be ‘placed’. Or so I was told. It was an anomaly.

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