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….
QM: Sometimes we’ll talk to students who maybe want the comfort of study abroad being similar enough to home. But the UK is still not the States; we might speak the same language but there are some differences. How have you found adjusting to the culture here?
RG: I feel like we speak different languages as well! [laughs], but that’s just a side note. I think for me when I was coming to Queen Mary, it was like 25% similar to Wesleyan in the sense of that close campus so there was that part where I felt really comfortable but aside from that I feel like it was very different. In terms of things that I’m studying, in terms of people that I’m coming across. So it didn’t feel like I was being limited by my choice of Queen Mary.
Did you consider any other countries when you were thinking about Study Abroad?
RG: I considered Ghana. Ghana was my other choice. But that was mainly because it was closer because my family is from Liberia so it would be like a plane ride away to go visit my family and I’ve never been there. It also would have been a whole cultural difference. I don’t really know what was like the last defining moment. I think it was more Queen Mary specifically and the whole global university idea. Plus the programme I was looking at in Ghana my friends that went to it were just like you’re not gonna. Yea it’s not gonna happen. Like it’ll be different but it’s not gonna be like the whole round about difference that you’re looking for.
That’s interesting! In terms of friendship groups, would you say yours consists most of other American students or have you had the chance to branch out?
RG: so at first I was like hanging out with people that were in the IFSA-Butler programme but that’s just like an orientation period when you know no-one so you sit together. One of my like closest friends here is still from IFSA. He’s from New York which is not far from New Jersey. Then you just end up meeting people through other people. And then I met someone from Seattle so it was like oh we’re both from the States and then it came to meeting like my other friends. My flatmates are from Bristol or fromLeicester. So I just ended up meeting people from all over the UK…and then it moved into meeting from Nigeria or just like students from everywhere. So it was just a small progression and it started off with people from IFSA but it didn’t end that way.
Was that a conscious decision that you made because obviously you’re interested in meeting students from other cultures, or do you think it would naturally happen anyway?
RG: I think both. It’s not like the best answer but, I think on one hand I knew I didn’t want to meet people that were just like an hour drive from me at home. But at the same time in my classes it kind of like naturally happened like I turned to the side and I was like oh hi I’m Rachel where are you from um and then just ended up talking to people that were from very far places.
When you were thinking about studying abroad were there any issues or concerns that you had?
RG: um yea. My main concern was budgeting.But it was just a matter of making sure I was very specific with how much money I was going to be using and when. Just being really good about planning. So that was my main concern.
So how have you found budgeting?
RG: Michelle [IFSA] was really helpful in helping me calm down about affording study abroad stuff. She was really good about sending resources my way for things that I could use. So that was really helpful. But then in terms of planning beforehand, on my own that was more difficult.
What else have you got involved in throughout your time here, in terms of societies or activities organised by the Students’ Union, external events etc.?
RG: My friends and I went to this rooftop party by accident and it ended up being like this really big like online community of people.
Where was that?
RG: …I don’t remember. The name of it was SOAB. That’s like the letters but I don’t remember where we were [laughs]. It was in East London and it was just like a bunch of black entrepreneurs who get together but it just ended up you just see all these people’s artistic work and all these businesses they have. And it just was a complete accident. So that was one outside of here. But then on campus I got to join the Radio Society which was Quest Radio which was so fun. I got to learn about like radio equipment which was not a thing that I ever thought that I’d be learning about. And it makes me wanna have a show when I go back too.
So have you just been involved in the technical side or actually on the radio?
RG: on the radio. So. I had my own show that I could not just like keep up with it. So I was just like I quit. But I got to go on my other friends’ shows like as a guest person. It wasn’t as much of a commitment. Which was like nice. But when I had my show I talked about diversity issues. And my other friends’ shows were about diversity issues but they were also like funny shows. Saying random things.
[That’s so great]. Can students listen to the old ones online?
RG: yea they save them.
Which topics were you most excited to cover or is there anything like that you thought you were going to be really keen to write about but you ended up writing about something else?
RG: yea. I thought I was going to be writing mostly about race. And the writing about religion was the one that like surprised me the most. I think I just don’t think about religion often. And I’m not someone that is particularly religious, but I just like thinking about other religions. So I got to write about my friend Abna who is Muslim and she is black and Muslim. And I tried to write about that intersection and just like get to hear so much that I’ve never just heard before.
Was your friend keen to be involved in that?
RG: yea she was [so excited!] oh but I also told her about how like the story like how I would be like writing about her but also it helps students who don’t get to study abroad as often. And she was really [excited]. She was great! [laughs]
What’s she studying?
RG: She’s studying Political Scienc, or Politics and History.
Can you remember the title of that blog post?
RG: Being Being Black and Muslim abroad
Which article are you most proud of or did you find the most interesting to research?
RG: um…I would say the one about..coming out abroad. Because that one was more just like. I think it was more of a conversation that I haven’t had to have with myself for a very very long time and then being able to write about in a very proud sense and just feeling I knew myself more was just really, cool.
Did you find it easier to write the articles about somebody else? Or did it feel good to write that one about [you]?
RG: Yes because I kept thinking about that this is gonna be a very public thing and I kept thinking about what was gonna come along with the public. Like talking about being black, it’s not a secret [laughs] so it wasn’t something I was like stressed about and me talking about Abna. Like Abna being black and Muslim is not a secret. And like the other articles. Activism. Not a secret. But then talking about me being bisexual, it wasn’t really like a secret per se. But it just wasn’t something that was apparent. So I was just really nervous with what stigmas were gonna come along with it.
Did you feel somewhat relieved after you wrote it?
RG: Incredibly [laughs]
So do you think that like being involved in this sort of thing and actually writing about your experiences is really sort of like imparting?
RG: Just like me and my School at home and I think like Queen Mary’s campus too has people that are always like moving. Then you don’t often get the opportunity to just think about like what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for and how it’s affected you. But I feel like with this. This whole scholarship I’ve gotten the opportunity to like take that time…to reflect yea.
Do IFSA ask you to do anything in terms of reflection?
RG: Erm not really. In terms of like…we had the meetings where one of the people from IFSA came to talk about our experiences so there was that.
Does Wesleyan ask you to do anything to reflect on the experience?
RG: [yes]. When we go back we have to write an essay [laughs].
Have you experienced anything difficult while you’ve been here?
RG: Erm. I mean, I ca:n’t think of anything… Oh. A relationship with some of my like flatmates. Yea. I think not that it was like hostile or like anything like bad… but in terms of. I don’t know. I think that there were just some people in the flat that I got along with like a lot easier. And other people. I think it was just a personality thing for me. Where I’m someone where if I. I don’t want to like force friendships and I don’t feel like everyone like has to be like friends. I think being friendly is good. But I don’t think we have to be the best of friends or anything. And I think that some of my flatmates like differed on. That. point. And so it felt like I. was like a mean person. Cos I dunno sometimes when I’m like cooking in the kitchen cos I’m like. Sometimes I like to be an introverted and so I’ll like be to myself. I’ll be in like the kitchen cooking and they’ll be like hi and then I’ll just turn to my food. And I think they just thought like oh she’s hostile [laughs]
Have you noticed the difference from some of your flatmates being first years and you just being just that little bit older?
RG: yes. I think when we first got here I just like completely forgot there were first years like it just didn’t come to my mind. But there were just like some behaviours like the wanting to be friends with everyone I remember being like this when I was like 18 and starting college so it didn’t like. Bother me per se. but it just made me like laugh. Like I remember like thinking someone was hostile because they didn’t like want to have a conversation [all the time]
Other than that, has it been an issue?
RG: with my flatmates I think no. I think I got lucky because my flatmates for the most part were not like we’re at college! And like freaking out. I don’t know maybe like being drunk all the time I don’t know if I can say that. But I didn’t have that with my flatmates but I had friends in like other flats and they were just like oh my god I cannot like take this. . Cos it was like their first time living with a bunch of different people. But I personally didn’t mind it. Yea I got lucky [laughs]
Did you have other Study Abroad students in your flat as well?
RG: yea. I think there were 3 others. My flat had 9 people in total.
And would you say you’re good friends with anyone from your flat?
Were they Study Abroad students or UK students?
RG: Erm. I don’t know. Where’s Nabil from [laughs] I don’t know where one of my friends is from. But I know he’s from the UK. And then one of my closest friends here is from Seattle.
Is there anything that you think that you’ve learnt here from like being around British students or International students about diversity or backgrounds that you didn’t know before? Or in the way that other people like deal with diversity issues?
RG: I think dealing with diversity issues. Because I’m so used to like if I see something happening I’m ready to talk about it. Or just ready to acknowledge it in general. But that was just a very different thing among the example with my flatmates, like that’s okay that’s not a problem for us.
Did you try and educate them on that?
RG: there were some days yes then there were other days where I’m just like no. [laughs]. It was just not a conversation that I wanted to have cos sometimes I’m really tired and I have to put my energy that I have left towards something else as opposed to.
Have you found other groups of students that are really keen and really enthusiastic to talk about diversity issues?
RG: yea. I think the friend group that I’ve developed like while I’ve been here. I just found like. My friend from Bristol and my other friend from Leicester from like different places where we just all happen to be very like…eager to…to educate and to explain and just have conversations but also on the other end of that and having people explain things to us.
It sounds like you made a really good group of friends!
RG: I really did! [laughs]
Part 3 of Rachel’s interview will be posted on the blog next week!
*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.