Being in the right place at the right time sets the tone of the rest of the journey and for me, this happened at Salford.
My Phd journey started in October 2017, at the National School of Political and Administrative studies in Bucharest, Romania. Although post-graduate studies were not in plan, I have embraced the opportunity to learn how to do research and to bring my contribution to the betterment of higher education. As trainer in a software company and part-time professor, my interests were life-long learning and in-service training for adults, as well as interactive and participative methods of teaching. Consequently, the focus pointed towards the way in which higher education should change in order to better respond to the participants’ needs and demands in the current connected information technology era.
I have arrived in Salford as an international exchange Erasmus student on a cold, rainy day at the end of January 2018. Despite having some accumulated life, travel, and work experience, it is hard to put into words the feeling of going back to the university in a new city and in a different country.
I had been in Manchester some years back to enjoy a Cirque du Soleil performance. I remember having being riveted, among many other things, by the colours and magic of the show, by the great shopping at Trafford centre, and by the people queuing to get taxis in the mall parking lot. I did not expect to return on an extended stay near Manchester, as a guest at the University of Salford (UoS).
My first contact with the UoS was on email, and the Erasmus exchange staff sent me very useful and timely information: registration site, campus map, student askus link. After arriving to Salford, I was first impressed by the size of the campus and by how relaxed all the students seem to be. I had a student card ready, and received a user name and password for the system. I was pleased by the cleanliness of the place, by how organized everything was.
The library system was a shock: it was so easy (read user friendly) to take books out and return them by scanning them on a machine. The second shock was the language: everybody sounded competent, yet sympathetic, helpful, yet alien. I am not talking about being able to speak English, but about being able to talk research language, which is a completely different thing. On top of that, when living in a foreign country, the feeling is that of isolation and mystery, similar to being a passive participant in a film whose intrigue escapes immediate understanding. There is meaning, there is action, however there is also an empty space between the rest of participants and your grasp on reality. The community changes, taking away the familiar and bringing the unfamiliar, the insecure, the internal struggle.
It is interesting to live the very concepts you are studying: communities of practice (CoP). At a certain point, I have realized that I can apply to living and learning in a different community terms like peripheral participation, boundary negotiation, nexus of multimembership, identity realignment: all part of the CoP framework.
I will use this terminology to describe the three months of my stay at Salford so far.
Although this is the first Erasmus exchange of this kind, I felt welcome and helped to integrate in the large student community, thus becoming a legitimate peripheral participant in both the Salford student community and the Phd community. My supervisor and the rest of the teachers I have met so far are passionate about students and learning, and provided helpful advice and access to make my stay both comfortable and productive.
Participation in different courses has given me the opportunity to meet and interact with other Phd students, as well as to learn about research methodology, theories and protocols, philosophical stances, different software and databases to help with research. Subsequently, I have developed my skills as a researcher and gained more confidence from the experiences shared with and by my fellow Phd students.
Furthermore, I have learned about means of transportation, places to eat, places to buy groceries from, all which are part of my new identity as a United Kingdom resident. I am renegotiating my identity at the boundaries of several communities: student, researcher, citizen, worker, and so far it has been a satisfying experience.
It is exciting to know I can talk about my experience using social theory language. In layman terms, I love being here, I believe I am in the right place at the right time, and I would recommend this experience to other students. The environment at Salford is alive, filled with potential, with great support from the staff. Everything is available online and the classes are designed with a practical outcome in mind: they set the framework and create the conditions so students can write their thesis. The best part of this experience is meeting other students and learning about their cultures, their lives, their studies.
National School of Political and Administrative studies in Bucharest
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