Part 1 – an interview with Rachel Godfrey Talking Diversity, Culture and Life at Queen Mary

Rachel Godfrey was awarded the QMUL International Correspondent Scholarship in collaboration with IFSA Study Abroad. Whilst at Queen Mary, Rachel blogged all about diversity and inclusion in study abroad. We sat down with her before she headed back to Wesleyan University, CT, to talk about her experience. Rachel tells us what it’s like to be a student in London, cultural differences, diversity and much more….

[Queen Mary] Okay. Can you start by telling us your name?

RG : Yes. My name is Rachel Godfrey

And how old are you?

RG: I’m 20 years old.

And where’s your home school?

RG: Wesleyan University in Connecticut

What are you currently studying?

RG:  At school in the states I’m studying African Studies and Science and Society and then here I’m studying mostly history but then one geography class.

Can you tell us where you were born and where you lived most of your life?

RG: yep. I was born in Staten Island, New York but then I lived most of my life in New Jersey.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you know about the background of scholarship that you received?

RG: yea.  I’ve been doing the International Correspondent. I’ve been the international correspondent scholar, so basically, I try to take pictures and do writing. Basically show what the abroad experience is like.  Especially for students that don’t get to go abroad at all or often just like statistically [pause] then just showing like how the transition is and like what I’m doing in general.

So the scholarship is focused a lot on [diversity as well]. Can you tell us a little bit about how that fits into what you’ve been doing?

RG: okay so I’ve been writing. Well, the way its set up was that I get to write two articles about anything and then I have to write three about something like diversity issues. So the ones that I chose in my writing were race and ethnicity, sexuality and then religion. So basically I did a lot of the stuff like interview style but then I did my own personal experience with the issues. And then just got to like write out my experiences.

Brilliant. Okay. And can you tell me why you decided to apply for a scholarship?

RG: yea, I needed money [laughs]. It was an opportunity where I could get money but at the same time do things that I was actually interested in. Because I love writing and I write back home normally and so I got to just write about my own experiences and share them with other people so it just seemed like a good opportunity to combine the two things.

 When you say you write normally, what do you do exactly? Is it for a newspaper?

RG: oh yea. So I write for a school newspaper at school. It’s a student of colour newspaper. Then I write for another one it’s like a student of colour arts paper… [Yea]. and I write and submit online publications too.

 [Cool ]. So did you you feel really familiar with the whole process? Did you find it easy to begin with?

RG: yea. [It’s a little different].  The deadlines for the newspapers aren’t as quick. Like they don’t come up as quickly because it’s more like er bi-weekly or bi-annually. Opposed to this where  I knew all my deadlines beforehand and I just had to plan around it and stuff.

So in relation to like diversity topics, is this something that you’ve had a particular interest in and you’ve always been interested in? And if so, how does that relate to your life or like your studies for example?

RG:  yea. It’s literally like [laughs] my whole life. Since I was in high school. So since I was like 16 I wanna say. A lot of the work that I’ve done in terms of extra-curriculars has been around diversity issues. So it’s been going to conferences and meeting other students that just wanna talk about making the world a more accepting place. And then moving into college, a lot of the groups I joined have a lot to do with spreading awareness on campus like cultural awareness, or around issues of sexuality or it’s just a lot of things. And so it just felt [pause] right. And also with what I’m studying with African American studies and then in Science and Society my focus is feminist, gender and sexuality studies so it’s just like my academic life, my extra-curriculars all have to do with talking about diversity issues. Yea.

That’s brilliant. So have you found in the States there’s more opportunity for you to talk about diversity or work with people on diversity issues, or do you find yourself seeking these opportunities out? Also, do you find that diversity is more widely spoken about in the States than it is in London or the UK as a whole?

RG: Yea. Um when I was in high school so I went to like a predominantly white school. It was a New England boarding school and so it kinda felt then as a thing of necessity because there were a lot of experiences that happened in my high school where it was just like I need someone to talk about what I’m feeling with.  It did feel like I had to seek it out a little bit but we also had like a diversity councillor so I knew who to go to when I wanted to talk to. And then when it comes to…I would say race specifically is like the first one that comes to my head, in the States it’s. I’d say it’s more talked about often because I think…trying to figure out how to…um I feel like it is talked about more often and then… but I don’t think the issues are like diff-e-rent per se. so I feel like, especially in my own flat so I’m like one of like two black students in my flat.

At Queen Mary?

RG: at Queen Mary yea. And at Queen Mary I remember the first time  a discussion about race came up in our..in our flat, like in the kitchen, some of the girls that were from London were talking about how oh no that’s like an American thing like you guys have that like. But we’re not like that here. But it was weird cos like a few like days later the n word came up [laughs].

From those same girls?

RG: yea. So I do think it’s talked about differently but the issues are still there. Yea. In my experience.

Okay that’s really interesting. So you just think it’s talked about in a very different way?

RG: yea. In my experience it is.

What made you choose Queen Mary- was that because of the Scholarship or were you thinking about Queen Mary beforehand?

RG: I was thinking of Queen Mary beforehand. I was thinking I knew like London instantly. Then it was just a matter of like finding the school. And then the advertisements for Queen Mary are so. They’re really funny because they’re really just like global university and that’s what I just kept on seeing and I was trapped by it. [laughs] Normally when people advertise things like that I do like more research but when I did my research it seemed like the advertising was on par with like what is actually happening. yea. So it just. Queen Mary made sense. Plus I had friends who had actually come abroad for like a year or just a semester and they just loved Queen Mary and being here. So it just added to the hype. Yea.

So when you say it was promoted as global, could you elaborate on that? Global how?

RG: students from everywhere yea.

And have you found that to be the case?

RG: It’s even more so than I imagined. Yea. I think like my school in the States their highlight is ‘Diversity University’ but everyone is from New York or California so [laughs]. Yea.  But here it’s like everyone is from… everywhere [laughs]. Like in my classes. One class I imagine I can cover 75% of the global population [laughs].

That’s cool! Do you think that the global nature of Queen Mary has enhanced your study experience in a way that you maybe wouldn’t have or haven’t experienced in the States?

RG: yea. So a lot of the classes that I’m taking are.. discussion based classes. And so I think that everyone, I mean everyone like having conversations with people from the States. People come from different experiences but still in the same geographical areas. As opposed to here where people’s opinions are just like…

Worldwide?

RG: Yea! Worldwide yea.

How do you think you’ll find it going back home? Do you expect it to be a little weird at first because you’re so used to the dynamic here?

RG: – yes! [laughs] I know for a fact that I’m going to think it weird and I’m also going to be very careful and not be like ‘oh when I was in London’. I’m just thinking about the range of conversations- especially my Geography class- so it’s human geography. Which I didn’t know it was a thing, also, but it is. And like in that class alone the discussions we have people are bringing their experience from like living in Brazil and living in South Africa and like it’s just things that just don’t. I don’t know maybe it’s just things the people that I come across in my classes in the States but I don’t think that is what it is.

That’s brilliant! Just picking up on what you just said- you said that you didn’t know Human Geography was a thing?

RG: – no:o!

So how did you come about choosing that class?

RG: Oh so it’s called society and space and so I was like oh that sounds really similar to science and society like I feel like that would cross over so that’s why I picked it.

That’s great that you enjoyed that class! Digging a little deeper now: what does like the word diversity mean to you?

RG: um. From different angles. Can I just think out loud? From an angle of like when people advertise things as being diverse I think sometimes it just comes from a racial point of view often um so if you read different shades of people then you’re just like oh this is diversity.  But to me I think diversity has a lot to do with like having people from like different sexualities and races different vocations and like different economic backgrounds. Having that but also having it in a way where people are trying to learn how to like be accepting and also like celebrating each other for their differences.

So you see it more as different experiences all together. Okay. And if we were to put that into the context of studying or studying abroad more specifically?

RG: yea. I think…when it comes to studying abroad like the experience as a whole. It’s a matter of pushing myself to be around people that may be like very different from me, like not looking exactly like me.  I might not be comfortable of course because that’s like a normal human thing, but also just being around people who are going to challenge me and the way that I’m thinking. But from a way. From a point of view that’s not like I’m trying to be like I’m trying to berate you that kind of challenging but like let’s celebrate why our opinions are different that kind of…

Do you think that differences in opinions, and talking about these, has been encouraged in the class room here?  

RG: Like in my classes yes. But I’ve heard of my friends who are in more science-y classes that where they say it’s not like that. Like my friend’s in a Physics class and she’s just like no that’s just not a thing that we’re not gonna talk about people. But I’m in humanities classes and that’s all we talk about.  [laughs]

The next installment of Rachel’s interview will be available on QMUL Global Bloggers next week! You can read Rachel’s other blogs here.

*Rachel’s interview has been lightly edited to ensure the interview flows for the reader. Words are all Rachel’s own and the context and overall answers have not been changed. Pauses and colloquialisms have been edited [only in some instances] or removed per Rachel’s approval for reading purposes.

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