In this second post for the theme: “Focus on the internationalisation of teaching and learning“, Cam Starbuck, an MSc Education Research student, reflects on his experience of being a British student in a diverse and international learning environment, especially during a global pandemic. His story provides a unique insight into the pedagogical benefits of the internationalised classroom for ‘at home’ students.
Applying for Masters Education courses for the 2020/21 year took a very different direction over the course of my applications, as I was forced to remove international options from my choice list. The global pandemic restricted my (and many others) opportunities to experience foreign cultures in their native land. However, the introduction of the University of Edinburgh going online only brought the world to my doorstep. Or it was brought to my screen at least.
Having spent my childhood in schools in England and, then, spending time at the front of the classroom before moving to Scotland to develop knowledge in the Curriculum for Excellence, I came to study the MSc Education course with the mindset I had a balanced view of teaching and education as I had covered such a wide area within it.
It didn’t take long for me to realise that my knowledge might have been deep in what I knew, but it was far from wide.
I was immediately immersed amongst a student population where being from the UK placed me in the minority of students. In this sense, I was thrown into seeing how the world differed so much from the one I had been living in. I could witness this in one particular module: the study of Education Politics. As I learnt about the ways policies differed across the world, I got to see how people born and raised in some of those countries felt about them. Studying politics while working with people from drastically different countries provided insights that I wouldn’t have been able to obtain otherwise. It was particularly useful to see how we all interpreted a different set of policies that none of us were raised in. The way in which we all compared our own experiences to a foreign policy was eye-opening and helped me to understand how I needed to learn to see that other nations and cultures will address the same topic differently. I was learning not only about the policies themselves, but also how they were received differently.
It didn’t take me long to be involved in group projects that brought to me new perspectives, work methods and, even, new times to work as I adapted to the different time zones of my group members. Even in the smaller workshops, it was fascinating to see how people from different places interacted with tutors in ways that matched their schooling. I found myself to be the one to open debates far more frequently than my peers, who were content to join the discussion, but less keen to initiate. This was an interesting change of pace for me and reminded me of my own teaching days. As someone who had only experienced British education, I tried to initiate conversations and then removed myself so I could listen to how my international colleagues viewed the same topic.
It was a fascinating experience to study international education policies while working alongside those who experienced them, even if it was online! Where I was experiencing policies from afar, I imagine my peers were feeling similarly while living within the foreign policy they were studying. I may not have been able to witness the effects of the countries first-hand but having friends to share their experiences was as equally insightful. Despite not being in China, for example, I was still able to experience a Chinese perspective on Education and gain first-hand insights into our distinct lifestyles. I was given access to a world of culture and different perspectives without leaving my home.
Despite not being able to leave my house, never mind my country, I was presented with people from all over the world to study alongside. This has proven invaluable to me, to allow me to understand the subjects I am studying from a wider perspective and acquire new methods to learn the subject material from my peers. The current pandemic might have stopped me from going out into the world, but I still got to see more of it when the world came to me.
Cam Starbuck is an MSc Education Research student, with a keen interest in the long-term psychological effects that education systems have on children. Cam loves reading, playing hockey, and cooking when he is not having his attention demanded by his dogs.