Volunteering: In search for something meaningful

I recently started volunteering as a teaching assistant at a primary school, and it has been delightful, fun and at the same time very enriching. There are many reasons why students at Lancaster University volunteer at schools, and, from my discussions with a few of them, I noticed that we all shared a very positive experience, from the administrative process before the start of the placement to the satisfying sense of accomplishment and the end of each volunteering session. It is a ten-week volunteering placement which is facilitated by Lancaster University’s Student Union (LUSU) and where pupils get to know that university can be an option for them when they grow up and to speak to a university student. I wrote in a previous blog post about the purpose of the school volunteering placement, and this post will be about my impressions of the process, my engagement and how it connects to the wider aspects of work and my social life.

Why volunteer at a school?

I choose to volunteer at a school because I started teaching a module, alongside my studies, and wanted to see what it’s like to teach different age groups. I was also motivated to engage with the community around me, get to know how people live outside of the university student environment, and at the same time give something back by doing good for others and the community. Other students who have completed similar volunteering placements said that they did it because they were staying for a limited period of time in Lancaster and wanted to make the most of their time, or simply because it is something that they aspire to become after graduating and this experience could improve their career prospects. The placement was for only half a day per week, which makes it easy to fit within my schedule.

Just before I started

I signed up on LUSU’s page at the beginning of the academic year. The website offers many things to do to engage with the community, whether it’s to follow a passion, a cause, or simply to leave a positive impact on people. There are a number of volunteering categories such as human and civil rights, health and social care, university events, etc. I chose volunteering with schools. The application was straightforward and shortly after I submitted it, I received an email about the times of the introductory sessions which gave us an idea about the programme and the steps of the process. It was also an opportunity to meet the LUSU staff who were coordinating the programme and who were very supportive throughout the whole process. The following stage was to get the DBS check done and complete safeguarding training. Then LUSU staff contacted a school close to my place of residence as this was my preference. I was also given the chance to choose from a list of available opportunities. Luckily, the school I wanted to volunteer at had a vacancy for a volunteer, and I could start at any time.

My first day back at primary school

I arrived at the school and was greeted by the teacher who was going to guide me through the placement. She showed me around the school and we waited for the children to come into class. The classroom was impressive, not in a majestic grand way, but in how different and relaxing it was from anywhere else I’ve been since I left primary school. The more I examined the crayons, big letters on the walls and the children’s drawings, the more I appreciated it. While those are things that I wouldn’t normally be interested it, being there, in that moment, brought me back to my own childhood.

The teacher introduced me to the class after everyone arrived and the lesson started. On that day, children were learning how to write neatly and clearly, and I was assigned to help two pupils. After this exercise, everyone gathered around the class’s teaching assistant who read a story to them. The final fifteen minutes of the before-noon session were dedicated for relaxation. A voice that was playing soothing music guided the children – and adults in the classroom – similarly to a relaxation yoga session.

Spending the morning at the school made me realise how adults’ experience of time can easily change one’s mindset to racing mode. Whether I’m a worker or a student, I’m always faced with deadlines which I try to meet while thinking of other aspects of my personal life which could be anything from what I will eat to when should I call my family. This makes me rush into a series of tasks and duties for weeks at a time without taking a break and actually think about nothing. Doing a relaxing and unrelated activity helps me stop thinking about work for a while and sometimes that’s when I get my best ideas.

Lancaster University day out

My positive volunteering experience lead me to engage in the “Be the change” project. This project is designed to show pupils what citizenship values such as teamwork and leadership mean through a series of fun activities. The aim is to enable children to learn that everyone can be a leader when they make a positive change to their society. Among the activities, there was a treasure hunt around campus and the Marshmallow Challenge which let the children work together, communicate, help one another and work towards a common goal. The Marshmallow Challenge is a management exercise where a group of any age or profession is tasked to build a tower with nothing but a bundle of spaghetti, tape and a marshmallow. Surprisingly, children perform better than CEOs in this exercise!

One of the great things about the teaching system at LUMS is how it prepares students for the actual business world. This comes with the wider sociological and psychological issues that any such student/worker is prone to, such as feelings of stress and alienation. From my previous work experience, I find that working can be very rewarding, but it can also take away some of the worker’s autonomy, purpose and identity, especially when they get immersed in their job only to meet sales targets or performance measures at the end of the day. As a PhD student at LUMS who happens to be doing a thesis on workplace dynamics, I have come to notice these aspects more and more and realise how they could sometimes be inevitable. While some people enjoy socialising by going out for a drink or a meal, or take pleasure in a sports activity after an intense workload, others choose to volunteer.  This has left a very positive impact on me and made a pleasing difference to my everyday life.

 

Where are they now?

From the very beginning of the course, I have always enjoyed Employability weeks. These are special events designed by the Careers team in order to prepare us for life ahead. Over the two terms, there have been many events, such as Networking day, Team Building away days, and one-on-one sessions with Martine and Peter (Career Mentors). In such a demanding course as ours, these weeks have been a source of relief, when we don’t have to think about the theories of HRM or the concepts and mathematics of Economics.

One event that stood out to me the most was “Where are they now?” It was basically an event where MSc Management alumni came and told us about their experience while pursuing the course and journey after they had finished and had gone on to pursue jobs. Some of them had over 10 years of experience now, and some of them had graduated just last year. They all had the different opinions and yet in many ways, they were all the same. One alumna, who had graduated in 2002 and had a work experience of over 10 years under her belt, told us to persevere while applying for jobs. She suggested websites which she found relevant when she was applying for placements. Listening to her story rejuvenated us and filled us with hope. After all, failure is not the end and success is not all. She was an international student and I could relate to her story as in many ways, I am going through a similar phase, the confusion of whether to go back to India to work or to keep applying to get a job here in the UK. She chose to go back to China and returned after a few years of experience.

Another alum from the 2012-13 batch, who is currently working in Rapid7, described his learning from the course as a stepping stone to the future. He mentioned that the course taught him the essentials but working life had much more in store. He mentioned that he did not have a technical background, but the knack for learning. He also mentioned that it is essential for us to figure out our strengths and be honest while applying for jobs.

Another alum from the same batch, who is currently working in DHL, mentioned his struggles while applying for jobs. He mentioned that he applied for 27 jobs and got rejected at some stage or the other before landing the job in DHL as a consultant. His will to not take no for an answer made me wonder. I am going through the rejection phase myself, where most of the companies do not provide VISA sponsorship. When they do, they don’t like my application form. If I clear that round, I get rejected in the situational judgment test and if all goes well, there is absolutely no way I’m clearing the video interview round. So far, zero success rate. But what is life without struggle? To have a good story, we need failures and the will to fight back. (Luckily, I am not scared of failure so bring it on, Life!!!)

The session was not just inspirational but informative too. All the alumni gave us insights, not just into the struggles they faced, but how we can apply to the companies they are currently working in. I connected with most of them on Linkedin and asked for their advice on my CV and on whether their companies provide VISA sponsorships. I feel that this event was a good opportunity for people like me who felt they were lost. Getting rejections is not easy but knowing that others have faced the exact same thing and have still made it work somehow, makes it a lot easier.

Being a Member of PMers

At Lancaster University I am spoilt for choice over which societies to join and dedicate time to – From the baking society to the Disney society to the Economics society, there is literally something for everyone to get involved in!

However, with over 200 societies available to join it can be easy to miss a society at the Freshers Fair. So, this brings me on to share with you a society that I joined in my second year – The Project Management Society (also known as PMers).

To be honest, I had heard about the society in my first year. However I had felt naive to join because I thought the society was just for Project Management students. – But how I was wrong!

I rediscovered the society during my second year when one of my friends, a Marketing student, shared with me her experience of being a member of the society. My friend told me how the Project Management Society provided her the opportunity to manage a project from start to end and learn about the different stages involved.

From this, the Project Management Society stood out to me because it sounded exciting to be able to get involved with supporting campus activities and events that I had attended during my first year. Not only that, but as a Business Studies student who does not study a Project Management module, I felt that getting involved with live projects would be a chance to learn more about executing projects and also allow me to apply and share the skills and knowledge I had gained from my course.

So, as a member of other societies too, I decided to join the society as a project team member, rather than a project manager. As a project team member, the role allowed me to volunteer and help with the elements involved with the projects being run throughout the year. Which, as I learnt, enabled me to take on roles including photography, ticket selling, and event set-up.

Two of my highlights from being a member for the past two years are getting involved with the Japanese Koinobori Festival 2017 and the Korean Festival 2018. At the Japanese Festival I supported the event, which celebrated Japanese culture, by being an event photographer and at the Korean Festival I collected tickets and served Korean food. I really enjoyed volunteering at these events and it felt rewarding to know that I had been able to support the success of the events.

As it comes to the end of my final year, I am glad that I discovered the Project Management Society and I believe it has provided me with a platform to develop and learn new skills, whilst also meeting and making many new friends. I feel that as a project team member I have been able to learn more about the process involved with launching projects. In addition, I have been able to recognise and appreciate how all of the different roles collectively contribute to creating a successful project.

From being a member, along with creating memories, I will take away the skills I have developed. I feel I have strengthened my team working skills, the ability to communicate to large audiences and developed confidence working at large events.

Capital Connections- Manchester 2018

A mix of first, second, and third year students spent a very enjoyable day in Manchester as part of Lancaster University’s Capital Connections programme, which offers undergraduates the opportunity to gain an insight into working at different companies in Manchester. The trip is fully-funded, and it provides students with a fantastic chance to discover what the city has to offer and the chance to make long-lasting relationships with Lancaster Alumni.

The first visit of the day was to the impressive offices of PWC where we were given an overview of the range of opportunities available to university students. We also engaged in an assessment day-type activity and ice-breaker challenge where we got to know other students on the trip. This was followed by a tour of the incredible PWC office, a Q and A session with some of the company’s employees and then an informal lunch where we could learn about working for a ‘Big 4’ firm.

It was then on to the civil service, more specifically, HMRC’s Manchester office. I found it very interesting learning about all the different fast stream graduate schemes available in the civil service. What was also interesting to see was the contrast between working in the private and public sector. I learnt that the two sectors both have their plus points, and both present so many different job prospects to university students after they graduate.

A short coach ride took us to Salford Quays where the BBC’s Media city is located. We split into two groups, with one group of students going to ‘The Landing’ which is a building of office space available to SME’s. I was part of the group who were lucky enough to have a tour of some studios which the BBC use for some of their biggest shows such as Match of the Day, Blue Peter, and Breakfast. Some of the students even got a chance to do a bit of news and weather presenting themselves!

The group recuperated in the Landing for an evening of networking with a number of former Lancaster University students who now work in a range of different industries. The event began with some speed networking where students could get to know some of the alumni using prompt cards.  Soon after however, we were free to network with those who worked in sectors that we were individually interested in. I found the networking session definitely the best part of the day, and I was really pleased to have some great conversations with BBC journalists and learn more about what they do. I will certainly take on all the advice and insights from successful alumni in areas which I wish to work in in the future.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip and I would certainly recommend that everyone make the most of this fantastic opportunity provided by the university.

 

College Life

If you’ve picked up a prospectus, browsed the website or visited on an open day, you’ll have discovered that Lancaster is one of the few universities in the country that is home to a collegiate system. If you’re anything like I was this time last year, you’ll likely have a few questions. Perhaps you want to know what the college system actually is, and how it differs from the accommodation offered at other universities. Alternatively, you may want to know how being part of a college will affect your university experience, or, as I know I was, you’ll be concerned with making sure that you pick the college that is right for you.

Hopefully, I can alleviate some of these anxieties in my blog post.

As an undergraduate, when you receive your offer of accommodation at Lancaster, you’ll automatically become a member of one of eight of our undergraduate colleges – Bowland, Lonsdale, Pendle, Furness, Fylde, Grizedale, County and Cartmel. This means that rather than just being placed into an accommodation block as is often the case at other universities, you become part of a community which, as well as housing, also has facilities such as a bar and study area. As part of your college, you have access to dedicated pastoral support services and can take part in a whole host of unique opportunities.

But enough of the prospectus spiel! Time for the reality.

I’ll admit that I when I first read that Lancaster was a collegiate university, two images sprung to mind. The first (and decidedly more sensible one!)  was that of Oxbridge. The second I’m ashamed – but also kind of nerdily proud – to admit was the concept of the Hogwarts house system.

However, the Lancaster college system isn’t like either of those things. Despite what you might be worried about, the colleges at Lancaster are not divided by interests, reputation or character à la Hogwarts. I can assure you that regardless of the college that you pick, you will not end up as the only musician amongst a group of sports stars – or as a hapless Hufflepuff living amongst a nest of Slytherins!  There is no sorting hat or personality quiz to fill in before you arrive at uni. Rather, the colleges are made up of a diverse range of students, with a whole host of different hobbies and passions.

Instead, the strength of Lancaster’s collegiate system lies in its ability to create a strong sense of community and belonging, linked to the accommodation in which you are housed.

One of the main ways that the colleges create this sense of community is through the events that they hold. This begins in Fresher’s Week, which is organised by each individual college, rather than the university as a whole. A personal highlight from my Fresher’s Week at Cartmel, for example, was attempting German folk dancing with my housemates during our college’s German Beer Festival, whilst a friend sampled Flamenco at a Spanish night and others channelled their inner Miss Marple during a murder mystery evening. Breaking down into smaller groups means that events are on offer which would simply be too difficult to execute on a university-wide basis. Similarly, attending smaller-scale college-based events during Fresher’s week makes the whole experience a lot less overwhelming. Plus, you’re more likely to win a prize in the quiz if you’re competing against forty teams rather than a couple of hundred!  And there’s no denying that attempting a bar crawl en-masse with members of your entire college is also tonnes of fun.

Colleges continue to host their own events well past Fresher’s Week, but now they are open to everyone. Regular events ranging from comedy nights, crafternoons, bake offs and quizzes, to bar crawls, battle of the bands, and big nights out mean that a wider range of tastes can be catered for – and can lead to a busy social calendar! For geeks like me, it means that there’s an opportunity to attend a different quiz every night of the week, if you so desire. Alternatively, if you’re feeling a little livelier, you have the option to experience the nightlife of Manchester, Leeds or Nottingham, with each college organising a trip to a different city.

As mentioned previously, each college also has its own bar, which means there’s always somewhere to go and socialise and make friends.  Tips from a native…Fylde’s the place to be if you enjoy live sports, while if it’s a good laugh you’re after, County’s comedy nights are always fab. For those who love Indie or live music, I’d recommend Pendle’s bar, whilst Lonsdale bar’s huge dance floor and DJ booth mean it’s a great place for chart fans. Hands down, the best place for drinks, meanwhile, is Grizedale’s bar; home to an amazing selection of cocktails and mocktails – as well as its legendary alcoholic milkshakes!  However, I must concede that Furness recently proved a worthy challenger with its Gin Festival. If you’re a more of a coffee connoisseur, on the other hand, Cartmel’s Barker House has its own Starbucks, whilst Grad Bar is the haunt of real ale lovers.  As well as regular events, at the end of every year, each college also hosts is own huge themed party, complete with live music and entertainment. What’s not to love?

Away from the entertainment, however, the college system also opens up access to a whole host of opportunities. Unlike with larger universities, with the college system, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to get involved in a sports team. Instead you can represent your college in the college league, competing to win the Carter Shield at the end of the year. This means that if you loved football or netball at school, you can continue to play competitively and recreationally whilst a uni. You can also try your hand at bar sports like pool, dominoes or darts. Having failed to even hit the board on my first few attempts, however, I think it’s safe to say that darts was not for me!

It doesn’t matter if you’re not sporty though. There are also plenty of opportunities to give back to society – and increase your employability at the same time. Every year, each college hosts their own charity challenge, where teams compete to see who can raise the most money for a nominated charity. This means you can try your hand at fundraising, events management and planning, promotion or finance – as well as having a whole lot of fun with your friends and making a difference to people’s lives!

Equally, instead of opportunities to take part in student politics being limited to the Students Union, you also have the chance to run for a role as part of your college’s Junior Common Room committee. This committee is the group of people responsible for representing the interests of college members – as well as planning and managing all of the amazing events and sports teams. You might choose to run for a role as a welfare officer, an events technician, a social secretary – or even take your chances at becoming college president!

The JCR also plays an important role in providing pastoral support, an area in which the college system excels. Each college’s system is set up slightly differently, but rather than having to try and navigate the larger university support system, a dedicated team means that there’s always someone to turn to if you need some help and advice. At Cartmel, the advisor team can liaise with your academic department if you’re having difficulties, help you sort out issues with flatmates or other personal problems, and even help you keep your finances in check. The wellbeing officer, meanwhile, provides 1:1 sessions on a regular basis for those who are particularly struggling – and can also ensure a speedy referral to the university counselling team. If there’s issues that you feel uncomfortable talking about with staff, you can also chat to the JCR wellbeing team, who hold regular drop-ins. This smaller scale system means that staff can get to know you personally, and also means that getting help with any issue, regardless of how trivial, is a lot less daunting. On one occasion when I was feeling particularly homesick, an impromptu visit to a college advisors’ office ensured I was provided with a milky cup of tea, a couple of Hobnobs and a shoulder to cry on – exactly what I needed to feel better.

But enough of the serious stuff! I know that what you really want to know is which college is the best one for you. Ultimately, there is no one answer to that question. Regardless of which college you pick, you are guaranteed to make friends and have a good time: the wealth of opportunities, events – and amazing students of course! will make sure of that.

 

Shifting spaces

I have been in Mumbai for the past two months collecting data for my research. I am living with my family and, knowing I must leave soon once my work is done, I am soaking in every moment of it. All the stuff I took for granted earlier, even the mundane little facts of everyday life, strike me as something worthy of note… such as how do we dispose of the garbage? I find myself reflecting on things that I never gave much thought to before. And I owe that to my life at Lancaster.

One such thing struck me the first time I arrived at Lancaster. The number of choices I had for a place to study. I have a computer-equipped PhD office where I could study and do my research or I could study in my own campus accommodation which was fairly quiet or I could find a spot in the very spacious library or I could go to the Storey building in the city centre where PhD students have a space of their own or I could study in the post graduate space in Graduate College… I might have even missed a few options here. The point is that I could decide where I wanted to study depending on my mood or depending on where I felt most productive. I remember thinking then that I had never given any thought to my choices for a ‘study space’ or lack thereof before Lancaster happened to me.

My home was the only place available to me for study at an undergrad as well as Masters level even though it was frequently noisy, full of interruptions and temptations, and a thousand distractions such as something interesting going on on the television. I never thought about it as a ‘study space’ because I didn’t really have any other. It was only upon arriving at Lancaster and being exposed to the world of university in the UK that I realised the difference the space made to the quality of learning and output. At first I wondered why there was so much emphasis on the varieties of study spaces but then it occurred to me that by providing the right space the university was simply showing me a commitment to my learning, intellectual development, and growth. It wasn’t investing in space so much as investing in me and investing in wherever my potential may be best realised.

Now that I am at home in Mumbai, I am missing the ‘space’ I have at Lancaster that both physically and mentally puts me in the mood for study. I almost catch myself thinking that I need to ‘go somewhere’ to reflect on my observations on the research interviews but then recall that I don’t have anywhere to go to to get my mental juices flowing. For now, I am resigning myself to playing with my niece when she pops into the room. I smile at her fondly when she pushes down my laptop cover announcing ‘Over’ in that cute little voice of hers. Of course, I would like to finish whatever train of thought I am pursuing at that moment while typing out notes from the day’s field work but it will have to wait a bit. Till I am back at Lancaster…my makeshift spaces will have to do. I am not complaining as they sure have joys of their own!

Dealing with Failure

It is now almost the end of my second term at Lancaster University and, oh boy, let me tell you that learning to deal with failure (and setbacks in general) has been by far the biggest learning curve for me. It’s not that I never failed before coming to university (of course I have!) but at university the pace of everything is just so much more rapid that I found it very challenging to get over things so quickly. So, for example, I didn’t get the grade I expected in my second politics essay and, especially considering the fact that I did put a lot of effort into it, I was understandably upset. While I would usually let myself feel sorry for myself for a few days in normal circumstances – at university, I had to start writing my next essay pretty much straight away. That is definitely a very difficult mindset to develop: learning to get over mistakes and not allowing them to affect your future progress.

Similarly, I have tasked myself with finding some sort of internship/job for the summer (which, if you have ever tried applying to internships in your first year, you will know is a challenge in itself as most employers look for penultimate year students). I cannot explain the heartbreak you experience when you get rejected from a job, especially after several stages of the recruitment process because it just makes the rejection feel all the more personal. (If they reject you based on your CV that feels like a very different rejection than the one that comes after a face-to-face interview.)

The best piece of advice I got on how to deal with these kind of setbacks is to stop seeing the process as a race against other people – you are only racing yourself. If you look around, there will always be somebody smarter than you, with better grades, with (what appears to be) a more accomplished life. Instead, focus on how far YOU have come. I can guarantee that if you read one of your essays from 2-3 years ago, you would not believe the progress. Perspective is everything.

Once the dust has settled, make sure you treat failure as a learning process. Why did you not get the grade you expected? Could you benefit from some additional help? For example, LUMS offers really great MASH (Maths and Stats Help) sessions every week; I find that a lot of people struggle with the much more mathematical approach to economics at degree level (as compared to A-Level economics) and knowing where and when to get extra support is crucial. However, that’s the tough reality – at university, no one is going to be able to help you unless you ask. The step up to degree-level education is a significant one and we all need to be kinder to ourselves when we inevitably encounter setbacks. Onwards and upwards!

Study hard, play hard

Academic life has many tough tests for students, but as challenging as it may be, it also holds rewarding outcomes and fun experiences. Some of the toughest times in my life as a postgraduate LUMS student were writing-up my Masters dissertation and my current PhD journey. While I usually rely on my intuitive gut feeling to pace my studying, the settings and modes of study played a large role in keeping me sane and on track throughout my academic journey. Making sure that I had enough leisure and fun helped me to recharge my energy and enjoy my time. I tend to yo-yo study where I binge on reading for a few weeks and then I relax, and so on. Even though this pattern worked more-or-less for my Masters degree, I find it hard to follow for my PhD where time management is key, and where self-management is even more critical. A piece of advice that I heard in one of the LUMS study skills development sessions was that there are only two things that will go against you, they are time and yourself. This advice was an eye-opener to me because it made me think that there is something other than making the most of my time and achieving the highest grades that I can, I also need to take care of myself during this process. In this blog post, I will describe a typical week as a PhD student, starting with the dreadful Mondays and ending with the day-out Sundays.

Monday:
I am usually a morning person, but not so much on a Monday. After a strong cup of coffee, I open my weekly agenda to see what the rest of the week will look like, which also motivates me to start the day. My place to go for studying on Monday is the graduate social hub. It’s a cozy and relaxed place, and it helps me transition from the lazy weekend. I usually attend one lecture in the late afternoon before calling it a day.

Tuesday:
On Tuesdays the pace gets faster. I spend most of the day in the library. I choose a moderately quiet area where I can sit on a couch with access to an electricity socket for my laptop, and easy access to the water fountain to stay hydrated. While some people might prefer the quiet areas, to me, a little bit a noise helps me concentrate. The library is also near a few of my favourite bakeries and coffee shops on campus, which makes it convenient if I plan to meet up with a friend for lunch or a cup of coffee.

Wednesday:
Wednesday is the market day in the city centre, so I do my shopping before noon. Unless I have other errands, I head to my desk space in my department. Most of the time I run into my colleagues and we discuss our work progress, thoughts and lives, which is helpful given how isolating studying a PhD can be.

Thursday:
Thursdays are quite similar to Tuesdays, except that they’re closer to the weekend. Although half of my brain is already thinking of what to do during the weekend, the other half is engaged in productive reading. I usually try to stick to the same study area at the library.

Friday:
On Fridays, I try to do an energising physical activity early in the morning by going out for a brisk walk or a jog in the park. I spend the rest of the day at my own desk at home, unless there is an event or that I have agreed to meet up with friends on campus. My desk is not the most organised study space, but I made sure to set it up as soon as I started my PhD. I also try to separate my studying space from spaces where I carry out other activities such as leisure reading, eating or sleeping.

Saturday:
The weekend is finally here. I start my Saturdays with shopping and often go out for a meal afterwards. In the evening, I usually organise a games’ night which sometimes ends up being a long conversation about everything and nothing. I also occasionally go to a local pub.

Sunday:
One of my favourite hobbies is hiking or taking long walks, and I often dedicate my Sundays to it, if the weather permits. I find that this activity clears my mind and is a good exercise. Also, the nature around Lancaster is fascinating. I have been to a few breathtaking nature reserves on the coastal line north of Lancaster and in the Lake District.

I find that having a good study-life structure is better than having none. This is especially true when my PhD journey feels like a rollercoaster. The nature of studying is quite different to that of other degrees. At the PhD stage, the student is expected to be a knowledge maker. In my PhD, this experience has been deep and personal, thus the need to have a good study environment and enough leisure time.

Multiculturalism in Lancaster University

Lancaster is a melting pot of a wide variety of cultures. Lancaster is home to almost 3000 international students and the university has a very welcoming environment which encourages students from different nationalities to interact with each other and share stories about their respective heritage as well as their experience of living abroad. There hasn’t been a student I’ve met here who doesn’t have a fascinating life story to tell. Ever since I came to university, I have met people from all corners of the world such as Eritrea, Thailand, Portugal, Ghana, Canada, France, India, Cyprus and Mexico. Meeting people from different countries may sound intimidating at first, especially if you’ve never heard of their country or are unfamiliar with their culture; however, with time, you realize the many striking similarities we all share, and maybe you’ll even be able to pinpoint more and more countries on a map (which I am fortunately getting better at).

But to simply say that there are no misunderstandings or disagreements that arise between students would be a lie. Sometimes, opinions may not completely align with my views but by being exposed to this international environment I’m still able to approach each topic with an open-minded and global mind. What’s important to remember is that respect is the key to life.

One of the main thoughts my international friends and I share is that we all decided to leave our home countries and study in the UK. Despite our cultural differences, it was rather easy to reach a consensus on what surprised us the most while living here: the weather. The weather is ‘absolutely mad’. (Now that’s an expression I’ve learnt here but never used before. Definitely sounds better when the locals say it.) It is simply unpredictable and plays a big part in setting the mood for the day. One day it’s raining, the day after it’s snowing and there are even days where it can all happen at once! I don’t understand the logic nor the science behind it (which is why I don’t take science as a subject) but we can all agree it can throw us into a frenzy at times.  But life does come with its surprises. Now, as I am writing this, the sun is shining warm upon all our faces, and there’s a cool and gentle breeze passing by.

Besides the weather, I was naturally and quickly introduced to the culture of sports and food here in the UK. Although the last time I watched a football match was around a year ago, I still admire my classmates’ fascination with the sport. Sports have the unique ability to transcend cultural borders and our sport teams and societies on campus are a true testament to that. Student also like to watch live sports on the TVs in bars throughout campus which is exciting, especially during important matches.

The other aspect I found interesting while first living here is the food. It’s quite different to the food I have at home but even then, there are still slight differences in the cuisine among different areas in the UK; and even terms such as breakfast, dinner and tea (I could expand on why I still find it rather perplexing as to why dinner is lunch and tea is dinner, but that’s for another time). To put it shortly, try the pie, the scone and their traditional “fish and chips”.  And by the way- it’s not fries but chips. And it’s not chips but crisps. Try those dishes and know those phrases and you’ll be fine. And of course, don’t forget an umbrella!

Take care!