Cultural shocks and surprises as a UoB MSc Education international student

My name is Emmanuella Henshaw and I am a 2021 Commonwealth shared scholar at the University of Bristol. I am studying for an MSc in Education (Policy and International Development).

In September 2021, I began my studies at the School of Education. In this article I will be sharing my academic shocks I have experienced studying at University of Bristol.


Calling Lecturers by their first names: This was a major shock for me. We refer to lecturers by their first name which is quite different from my home university in Ghana. In the beginning it felt odd to address  lecturers by their names, but after some time I understood that such communication removes the intimidating border between students and lecturers. There is no power dynamic in play, and the classroom setting is comfortable where your opinions are valued. Students feel confident to share their experiences and ideas.

Supportive Staff and Lecturers: At the University of Bristol, I have experienced how supportive staff and lecturers can be. They are genuinely interested in your wellbeing and you can find support everywhere. I also find university emails with wellbeing support information really helpful. Talking about your social and mental health is not common back in universities in Nigeria and Ghana. So, talking about your emotional wellbeing is one thing that I have learned here in University of Bristol. You also feel less pressure while thinking about your future career and professional goals, because there are many people who you can ask for advice. My personal tutor is the person who helped to ease pressure when I was cornered about my future career plans and academic goals. The conversations and support from people who gone through similar situations and understand you is what’s really important. I also have had recommendations from my professors for career opportunities, advices on how to improve my writing and study skills.

Intercultural classes and friend group: my lectures are filled with people from different continents and countries. The ethnical diversity is a great generator of multinational intelligence growth. We get diverse opinions and get to hear about different contexts of a topic while being taught in class. I enjoy discussions at lectures and study group where I learn new things about different cultures and ethnicities. I have also had the rare opportunity to try different meals from different countries ☺. Being far from our homes and families we go through similar challenges, so sense of belonging is really important for us. The university creates the foundation for international collaboration and horizon broadening.

Essays: as an international student you might find it shocking that we write essays instead of exams.  Еssays help you develop your writing and critical analysis skills. You are required to demonstrated the learning outcomes and critically analyse a topic. You are required to work independently and think outside the box. Your ideas and opinions are valued. Don’t worry, the university and department library runs informative study skills and reference sessions that have been helpful. They provide critical thinking and learning support.

Plagiarism: this is very strict in the United Kingdom as universities have the Turnitin software which checks that all works are rightly cited and referenced. This is very crucial in the academic path where intellectual rights and property is valued, and there is no plagiarism and works are properly cited.

Free Software: The University of Bristol provides free subscription for students for academic software like Microsoft 365, Endnote, Zoom etc which I find really helpful while working on my assignments and research.

Personal Tutor: Prior to coming to the United Kingdom, I was contacted by my personal tutor; who is your first contact for any issues and problems you might face as a student. My personal tutor has been really helpful from the onset in getting my visa from Nigeria to getting settled in the United Kingdom and adjusting to my academics. School can be really challenging and affect mental health especially far away from family and friends; however; my personal tutor has been a confidence booster.

Networking: This cannot be overemphasised; Getting the Commonwealth scholarship has granted me the opportunity to network at university events and at Commonwealth events. Recently, I had the rare opportunity to volunteer for Bristol Women’s Voice on International Women’s Day 2022, and I had a captivating and rewarding time giving back to the community. I have made amazing friends and connections from people from different fields and countries that will be long lasting. I can proudly say I have people, friends and network from almost all continents in the world.

These are some of the many academic cultural shocks I have been exposed to. It has been a rewarding experience and I look forward to the next remaining 6 months.

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