The Glasgow postgraduate experience through an international lens

This is a guest post by Sara Hosseinzadeh (@sarahoss70), a third year neuroscience PhD student in the Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation at the UofG.

The good, the bad and the sideways rain: the Glasgow postgraduate experience through an international lens

What would you give up for your PhD? A few years of your social life? Presumably. Your precious evenings and weekends? Probably, at least sometimes. But what about your language or your culture?

Although I grew up in the UK, I was actually born in Iran. We moved here as a family when I was six for my dad to do his PhD. Every time I struggle with mine, I wonder how he managed his with hardly any money, broken English and two small children at home. The pros and cons of immigration are intensely debated in contemporary politics, but one industry which consistently thrives on the international exchange of talent and information is academia.

This post honours those international students who enrich the UofG postgraduate community both academically and culturally. We asked three of these students to share their experiences and offer some insight on life as an International PGR.

Aziz, Kuwait

Moving to the UK for me was a matter of career ambition. I am a medical doctor, and I want to go into research. We don’t have any PhD programmes in public health in my home country. And here, I am only six or seven hours from home, so my family can visit.

I have three daughters back in Kuwait, who are eight, five and two. Coming here with the whole family wasn’t really an option—it wouldn’t be fair for my wife to quit her work. However, being away from my children is very tough. My youngest child now associates my name with the FaceTime ringtone! Whenever she hears it, she says “baba” (dad) and looks around. I’ve been married now for eight years, and suddenly leaving after six years of marriage… it’s not a conventional starting point for a long distance relationship! Hopefully we can manage it.

I’m always looking forward. I want to know my field more. I can’t say I want to be an expert because this would be a big claim, but I would like to know my field much more. Especially because back home we don’t have a lot of public health professionals.

One thing that surprised me was the weather. And I thought living alone would be easier; renting an apartment, getting around, groceries, cooking…you don’t feel these things unless you go through it. But thankfully I have no regrets, because I know that this is a transitional state.

Aziz is one of around 50 Kuwaitis currently studying at the UofG. While there is no dedicated society for students from Kuwait, there is a student-run Middle Eastern and North African Society; their motto is “Ahlan wa Sahlan” (You’ve come to stay with family). The University also offers a dedicated International Student Support service. While we are proud that the UofG’s strong international reputation in medicine was able to attract Aziz, we do understand how hard it is for him personally. Do you have any advice for Aziz on long-distance parenting?

Muna, Iraq

I worked as an assistant lecturer in Baghdad before moving here. I’m in my third year now, studying biomedical engineering.

I can’t say it was easy, but now after two and a half years I’m more comfortable. To be honest with you, when I first moved here I expected a little more. More training, more facilities… for instance, I was a bit surprised that my lab here is downstairs in the basement, with no windows and noisy construction work going on outside! The good part is that I’ve managed to learn a lot by myself. When you don’t find something you have go and find it by yourself, or hunt down the people that can help you.

I didn’t know much about Glasgow before moving here. I researched the place a bit online and it seemed nice—though I didn’t expect the weather! When I first moved, I found the culture here to be very different from what I was familiar with, but people here are very friendly. My neighbours were so helpful when I moved in. They welcomed me and showed me the area and stuff, and I became friends with most of them so I visit all the time. They even brought me an egg at Easter! So, aside from the weather, the environment is very nice. I was scared that people wouldn’t accept me here because of my hijab, but thankfully there was nothing to worry about. Sometimes I would get a bit scared on a bus or something, when someone was looking over at me, but then they would just smile!

Something that does make me a bit uncomfortable is that the people here like to gather at night, usually in bars. Those environments are just not familiar for me, so I usually politely decline. It bothers me when people around me are drinking alcohol, I don’t feel safe. So that separates me from my colleagues a little bit. After 27 years of being raised a certain way and doing things a certain way, it’s hard to change that overnight!

Another thing I had to get used to was the organisation here. Everything has to be by appointment—very precise, very strict. Having said that, people are also calmer here. I think middle easterners have a bit more of a temper, but here everyone is relaxed and always calm. Always a cup of tea—everything will be solved with a cup of tea!

Luckily, all that construction is an expansion of the University’s campuses, bringing with it new buildings, facilities and services. There are also a lot of training opportunities on offer; during your PhD it is up to you to identify your needs and seek them out. A good place to start is your college: Arts, MVLS, Science and Engineering, and Social Sciences. We are glad that Muna has found Glasgow welcoming, and we understand that it can be a big culture shift for some people. If there are any activities you are uncomfortable with we recommend you tell your colleagues and suggest an alternative (they may simply not be aware). There are also faith based student societies, like the Muslim Student Association, and if you are among the roughly 20 students joining us from Iraq, the Scottish Iraqi Association is active in Glasgow.

Alberto, Spain/Germany

I’m from Murcia, in the south of Spain, though I currently live in Cologne, Germany and am about to move to Glasgow for my PhD in computer science.

My wife and I are currently getting ready to move with our one and a half year old child. In the meantime, we have gotten to know Glasgow and Scotland through the internet and documentaries. We have looked at neighbourhoods, apartments and nurseries, and we have “surfed” Glasgow over google street view. We have even virtually been to some museums!

I have lived in a few different countries in the past. Every time I move I feel my mind expand with new accents, languages, food, climates, conversation topics, landscapes … and each time the moving process gets easier and more pleasant.

I am already impressed with the community at the UofG, just through emails and MyCampus. I’m definitely looking forward to getting involved in a proactive community with so much support and exchange of ideas. I think it is very important to get involved in the community around you. It’s like the shelves of free books dotted around Cologne, where you can bring or take whatever books you fancy. Often, I have discovered books that were fun and even useful; I like to think that I have left useful material for other people as well.

We don’t know what will come after Glasgow, we try to live in the present as much as we can and go with the flow of life.

We can’t wait for Alberto to join us. Over 200 Spaniards come to the UofG every year and the city is dotted with Spanish restaurants and bars, so we are sure he will discover both new experiences and little tastes of home. If you are moving here with your family like Alberto, be sure to check out the new UoG Young(ish) Parents network, co-founded by PGR blog editor Stuart Wilson.

Thanks to Aziz, Muna and Alberto for sharing their stories. Are you an international student? Do you have any experiences or advice to share? Please comment below! Also, while we can’t promise the sunshine and warmth of Kuwait, Iraq or Spain, Glasgow does have some nice weather…and yes, some sideways rain, but that keeps the flowers and ducks happy, and we rarely go below freezing in the winter.

Feature image by Βethan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), via Flickr; images of Aziz, Muna and Alberto supplied, all rights reserved.

 

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    […] the postgraduate experience from all angles. This month’s posts covered such subjects as international student experiences, using social media to your advantage as a PGR, and engaging with […]

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