Reflections on Dr. Qing Gu’s work

Tuesday April 3rd, 2012 by No Comments

On February 1st 2012, Gemma and I visited the School of Education at The University of Sheffield to hear a presentation by Dr Qing Gu from Nottingham University.

Dr Qing Gu’s research explored the nature of Chinese students transitional experiences when studying at UK universities. Here, I want to reflect on some of the aspects of the talk that I found particularly useful and relevant for our work on the Youzi project.

Dr Qing Gu’s research methodology is obviously very different from that which Gemma and I are utilising. Ours is avowedly not qualitative research, but the findings of the presentation offered spaces and starting points into which our own approach might fit in with and augment this kind of work. For example, drawing heavily on Geert Hofstede’s work on Internationalisation (1986), Qing Gu contextualised her findings by outlining the distinctions and differing emphases between Chinese and UK students’ expectations of University education – specifically, on the basis of student-centred education vs teacher-centred pedagogies. Dr Qing Gu highlighted examples in which students had developed research skills and – more broadly – cultural approaches to study, which enabled the challenging of orthodoxies within their academic disciplines. This rebalancing of the knowledge-power axis through adaptation to UK academic conventions, got me thinking about wider spheres of autonomy and independence in social life; towards the processes of everyday life which our work with the students may focus on.

If some kind of a sense of belonging can be fostered in the classroom – predicated on subscription to educational philosophies associated with UK Higher Education – the question of belonging outside of the learning space seems a natural area for exploration. To this end, I was particularly interested in Dr Qing Gu’s exploration of loneliness – specifically in reference to the student who “enjoyed loneliness”. This comfort in isolation is particularly subversive within the context of UK Universities, where narratives of student experience both in and out of the curriculum emphasise and promote communality; shared experience; and conspicuous expressions of solidarity, from the protest to the bar crawl social. Therefore, visual narratives that focus on the solitary – without recourse to iconographies of loneliness as figurative representation of sadness – might enable a more nuanced articulation of student experience.

Of course, this is not to say that such a narrative focus would endorse, celebrate or offer this position up as an alternative to those previously mentioned expressions of communal social life. Indeed, Qing Gu highlighted the student who equated belonging with structures of power: ‘I don’t belong here, It’s not my place. I’m the guest and the guest is always less powerful […]’ The disempowerment of the guest speaks to the notion of transience in everyday life that is fundamental to the visual narrative of the international student, and our project has rich potential in this area. To be more specific, the physical spaces of the ‘host’ nation – those that are literally fixed within the external environments that make up our perspective of the places we inhabit, are a necessary character within our work – how might our participants stake a claim to these spaces? How might Gemma, as photographer, document this dynamic?

And finally, Quing Gu’s work navigated a fascinating movement from belonging to becoming in the experience of Chinese students – a focus on the development of those characteristics that are developed in the UK and are maintained on return to China. Themes of becoming – of development, growth and self-discovery – offer our project a plethora of opportunities for documentation and, perhaps, facilitation.

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