Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries Tagged as 'Azul'

Indian students in Cambridge

March 9th, 2010 · 1 Comment

I had the chance to spend a weekend interviewing international students at Cambridge University because I have a friend from Argentina that is doing a masters program there. I attended an Erasmus dinner and an Indian student gathering at an Indian restaurant. 

It was great that I  had just finished reading Indian Students in Britain (1963) by Dr. A.K. Singh. The author explains that it was only in the last third of the nineteenth centry that modernising Indians began to look overseas for university studies. Before then, “Oxford and Cambridge were so poor that they did not appeal to the liberal, humane minds of the great Indian and birtish-Indian reformeres of the first half of the century”. It was only after the opening of its examinations to Indian cadidates for the Indian Civil Service in the 1870s that Indignas began in large numers to go overseas for advanced studies. At the time, it was “the thing” for the Indian elite, even if Indian already had three universities of its own and a number of colleges. The students were sons of wealthy and distinguished princes, lawyers, landowneres, and sometimes proteges of Maharajahs. After completing their studies, many of them went back and got very much involved with leftist Indian nationalism.

This is not a new phenomenon and not only applies to India.Many of  those famous leaders of independence in the process of decolonization had attended Oxbridge and Ivy League institutions in America. In India, those who were ‘England-returned’ possesed the status-symbol number one in society.

Two things made these interviews important. First, to verify that in fact, the meaning of being educated in the West has not changed for Indian students. Most of them expressed how, even with very good universities back home, the value of an English or American degree is still symbolically higher. Second, it was particularly interesting to see Indian students that attend Cambridge at an Indian restaurant because it made me think of the interaction between the local Indian community that has been born here and these students. I suppose that in England there are many instances that give room for interaction between a local community that interacts with people from their nation of origin such as the Indian community with Indian tourists. Contrary to what I would think, after observing the way the restaurant staff treated the students, it didn’t seem like it matter that they were Indian, but would treat them the same as many other clearly non-Indian customers in the restaurant. However, these third year students had been friends since the first year at Cambridge and  they themselves explained that they became a group because they were all Indians. Perhaps it is the caste system, or in England, class, that puts these two groups in such a distance. Perhaps this is an isolated case and in other universities the Indian students have a good relationship with the  staff at the local Indian restaurant. i guess further research would be needed.

Other than these observations, I also got very interesting insights to what it is like being a student at Cambridge and the impressions of ‘Englishness’ that these students have, as you will see in the final research.

Hours: 6

Tags: Azul · Uncategorized

Visit to INTO

February 26th, 2010 · No Comments

To continue my research on the experiences of international students in East Anglia, I decided to visit INTO, that modern building near the Medical Center where I had never been inside.  I had always wondered why that building looked much modern than the rest of the University and who lived there. 

It is no wonder that a project like INTO is developing in places like the United Kingdom and the United States, only the two top destinations of international students. Many times, international students find that they are not entirely ready to access university right out of high school, not only because they might not be completely fluent in English but also because their education system might be very different to the ones in the UK and the US. This is why INTO offers international students intensive preparation for undergraduate and postgraduate study. The programme provides a whole year of extra English language teaching, academic preparation and cultural education for a university degree and is directed to students who have completed their secondary education in their own country. At the moment, there are twelve universities that offer the INTO program. It began in UEA and is currently being expanded to other universities in the UK and US (currently University of South Florida and Oregon State University have it).

The INTO center at UEA covers 1.3 acres and has teaching and accomodation facilities for 600 students. Furthermore, it provides 24/7 student support. I must say that my visit left me very impressed. The building has several common rooms that are fully equiped: from a ping pong table to a plasma TV. It also has a very stylish cafeteria and a resource center of its own, apart from the access that the students already have to the UEA library and the rest of the facilities.

I had the chance to interview some “INTO students” and realized that the project is a great idea it works as a bridge in the life of the international student: from their home country to pursuing a university degree because ee in a new one. The building at UEA makes it even more effective in that the students feel very contained and among people who are going through the same experience as them.

Hours: 4

Tags: Azul

Visit to City College Norwich

February 13th, 2010 · 1 Comment

My research is about the experiences of international students when studying in England. I am interested not only in hearing these experiences but also visiting the universities and places where these students spend their time. That is why, a few weeks ago, I arranged a meeting with Carolyn Fitzgerald, the International Student Adviser for City College Norwich. I wanted to ask her basic questions that an international student might have and at the same time have a chance to visit the College.

There are many things that I learnt while reading the CCN website. Firstly, I realized that the word ‘college’ does not have the same meaning in the UK than in America. ‘College’ in the UK constitutes the last two years of schooling, that is, high-school in America. At the same time, institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge University have ‘colleges’, which are constituent schools within the University. At first I panicked, thinking that I had chosen a place that would not help me with my research on international students pursuing an exchange the Higher Education system. Then, I realized that CCN in fact has both ‘Skill Academies’ (Financial Services, Manufacturing, Hospitality, Retail and Creative and Cultural) and Higher Education and foundation courses. Furtheremore, it has a significant number of international students.

City College Norwich is located on Ipswich Road, not far from the city centre. I arrived earlier than the time I was meeting Carolyn because I wanted to wander around the place for a while. The first thing that I could see is how different CCN is from UEA. I was surprised because the campus is much bigger than what I thought. There are many classrooms and the halls were filled with students. I definitely liked visiting CCN because it has a much more different feel than UEA, the same way UEA is very different to Cambridge University, as you will read about on my next post.

The meeting with Carolyn helped me enourmously. I feel most grateful that she gave me some of her time, especially when I am not even a student at CCN. She was very bussy that day. International students stop by her office constantly to ask for her advice on how to cope with student life, visa issues or financial matters, like a student from Ethiopia (I will keep his anonimity), who had a meeting with her right before me, and with who I started talking. Like most of the approximately fifty international students of CCN, this student had family, specifically his father, living in Norwich. This student chose to study at CCN, being much more affordable than UEA. After obtaining a two-year carer worker diploma, he is now pursuing a foundation degree on health studies. The best part is that my informat invited me to events where I will be able to interview other students from Ethiopia, Cambodia, Palestine, China and the Phillipines. Some are currently seeking refuge in England and are sent to Norwich and others from India and Sri Lank are recruited through an agent.

Further information on the experiences of international students and some other information that Carolyn provided me will be on the paper. For the meantime, I wanted to share a glimpse of what other educational institutions in England are like.

Hours: 4

Tags: Azul

The Museum Experience

September 15th, 2009 · No Comments

I went back to the National Gallery and was blown away by a painting: The Toilet of Venus by Diego Velázquez. The painting shows the the naked goddess Venus, looking at herself in the mirror, which is being held by her son, Cupid. Every time I went to the National Gallery, I passed it by. I do not why, but this time, I looked at it, and I just thought it was so powerful. I wondered why I had not seen it before. Why didn’t I noticed it the first time I visited London some years ago? I think sometimes, as we change, so is the way we observe things. Maybe, I was not ready to see it at the time.

Very similarly, I went to the National Portrait Gallery and realized I had a totally different experience than when I visited the place for the first time. I also went to the exhibit “Londoners Through a Lens” at the Getty Images Gallery near Oxford Circus. Comparing the two, I felt that portraits spoke to me much more than pictures. Not only should I mention that they are incredibly well done, but also, that they express so much more about the actual person, because you can just see how the painter views him or her. I specially enjoyed the portrait of Germaine Greer, a feminist advocate. I like how none of these portraits are condescending, but speak only the truth about those in the image. They also catch the subject in his or her natural habitat. There is nothing artificial about them, even if they are not pictures. 

The main comparison I wanted to make in this post though, is between the Imperial War Museum and the Royal Air Force Museum. People usually think that the Imperial War describes English military history (there was even a big debate on whether to change its name or not). However, except for a few tanks displayed in the centre, most of the Museum deals with how the population suffered because of wars, particularly through the Holocaust gallery and the crimes against humanity gallery. Of course there could be a debate here over whether the a Holocaust gallery in an English museum is coherent or appropriate at all. Without getting into Holocaust Studies and how Holocaust museums have been created and grown almost exponentially in the past few years, I want to ask myself: Is the Museum trying to claim that England is in some way responsible for the Holocaust ever happening? After all, many would say that the Second World War was a direct consequence of the First World War which had its origins in imperialism, and England as the main empire. This is certainly very debatable, but it was just a thought…

Very differently, the Royal Air Force Museum displays a vast amount of military artifacts and describes English military history and technological advancement. The Museum does not include civilians at all.  However, they are both free, and they both deal with war.

As we see, we can draw many conclusions by comparing museums which have a similar theme. I also enjoyed comparing the programs for children and family that these museums have since I work at the Education Outreach office of the Trout Gallery at Dickinson, and I always like getting new ideas.

Tags: Azul

Why are museums free?

September 15th, 2009 · 1 Comment

I believe that this is a very important question that we must ask ourselves in order to understand museums and London in general. England is one (or maybe the only one, I am still trying to find out) of the countries in the world that has so many big museums which you can enter for free.

Apparently, museums in London used to be private, but in December 2001, the 15 main ones, such as the British, the Imperial War, the Tate Modern, were made public by Tony Blair’s administration. Many supporters of ‘New Labour’ considered this policy to be one of the major achievements of the party’s agenda. The government at the time was seeking to increase museum audience across the multicultural spectrum. They thought that by making the museums free of charge, they would receive not only a larger audience, but a more diverse one. Why museums? As I mentioned in an earlier post, museums have proven to articulate the ideology of the state and work as institutions that reclaim the national identity, much needed to rule a country.

After some time, research showed that, while making the museums public had increased tourism, they did not attract new audiences, but rather more frequent visits by the same crowd as before (mostly white and upper middle class art lovers).

This makes me wonder why there are so many people in London who might have never attended any of these museums and why not? They’re free! But giving further thought to the matter, I realized that the museum is not going to receive more Africa-descended people by exhibiting African masks. The same way Latin American people in London are probably not going to go to the British Museum’s exhibition of Moctezuma. The Victoria&Albert Museum’s fashion exhibit attracts young designers, but that is probably the most “exotic” audience they have.

What is access to culture then? How do we define it? It is certainly not only a matter of financial access, as we can see. I think that, again, it has to do with how people are located in the structure, and how much cultural capital they have. Once more, it might also be strongly related to being able to afford the time to visit a museum.

Tags: Azul

The Pitmen Painters and Cultural Capital

September 13th, 2009 · 6 Comments

I am very sorry that I am constantly bugging about anthropology, but I think the field has very interesting things to say about class, and it can help to understand class in London.

After seeing The Pitmen Painters at the National Theatre, a play I enjoyed very much although I could not understand some of the things the actors were saying, I thought how important cultural capital is. Cultural capital is the knowledge that most of us in the course have, because we attend a college, but that so many people do not have. Knowledge is capital, because it can take us places beyond our imagination and change us in many ways without us realizing it. The problem is that most of the times, the elite or canon will decide which kind of knowledge is valuable. Why is it important to know about Van Gogh, and not other painters? Why is there a way to speak proper English? Why do we have to behave a certain way in a museum, or in a restaurant?  Because someone decides what “proper culture is”, and as we saw very well reflected in the play, many people do not have this “proper culture” or cultural capital. The pitmen painters, did not have cultural capital, because after all, they were pitmen. Nobody ever taught them how to appreciate art because they never needed that knowledge to work at the mines. What is heartbreaking about the play, is to see that in the end, the pitmen are so alienated by their condition, that they cannot pursue what might have been their true nature as artists. After all, is any of us born to work in a mine? 

This thought made me think on how lucky we are that we have the cultural capital needed to understand the museums which we visit, to appreciate the classical music at the BBC proms, to know have connections through Dickinson, that allow us to have a talk with a top executive at Barclays. And yes, how lucky we are that we do not have to work in a mine.

Tags: Azul

Further thoughts on Identity

September 13th, 2009 · 1 Comment

I have been given further thought on the issue of identity in London. After reading Prof. Quall’s thoughts on the rebuilding of Sevastopol, I asked myself, how does London reflect its people’s identity, if it does at all. I am a firm believer in materialism, and in that ideology is reflected in every building and site that surrounds us. The sites that we visited, those that are known as “religious”, like St. Paul’s, the Sikh Gurdwara and the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, will articulate the ideology behind the religion. By this I mean the myths of origin, the “imagined communities” of the particular ethnic group we are looking at. For example, at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, we could appreciate pictures from every temple there is throughout the world. This is a clear connection to Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities”; the idea that every person from a certain ethnic group or religion is in a way interconnected, when in reality, they might have different cultural practices. We could also see the clear claiming of the myths of origin and “official history” of Hinduism by the museum or gallery which described the history of the religion. At the same time, the Hindu temple made me, the visitor, feel the tension between the Us/Them. For example, at the end of the visit, the young man who accompanied us throughout the visit asked me: “What do you do to show respect for your elders?” I thought about it for a second and replied: “Well, I show respect to my parents by saying thank you for the things they give me and maybe also by clearing the table after having dinner every night”. He looked at me and said: “Well, I kiss their feet”. At that point, I felt the vast breach among us; two human beings expressing gratitude but through such different cultural practices.

Prof. Qualls deals with the re-construction of a city as a way to construct identity. By the way, since we are on the subject, I read parts of a great book that I’m sure Prof. Qualls knows, called “The Political Lives of Dead Bodies” (1999) by Katherine Verdery, who deals with destruction instead of construction by describing how Russian identity is being reshaped through the destruction of statues and burial sites. 

Like the people in Sevastopol after the Second World War, minorities in London need places of identification at a “local level”. Maybe that is the reason why minorities built places of congregation in the first place, because they are not identified with the culture at a national, higher, or following Marx’s thought, the superstructural level where ideology is manifested. I believe that this is also why minorities maintain strong boundaries, what defines an ethnic group. Boundaries with food (Halal, Kashrut, Vegetarianism, etc.), exogamy, clothing, and the fear of assimilation, are generally reinforced when outside their countries of origin. 

However, ideology is present not only in temples. Our visit to Canary Wharf made me think of how businesses have a trend of their own. The spectacular glass buildings of this area, all the men dressed up in suits, the after-office venues, the news headlines written down on boards at the tube stations, even the very tube station being much more modern than the others in the city, these are all characteristics of the “business culture” that is practiced each day by men and women that work in Canary Wharf and The City. These are “City people”. Secular, maybe, but having capitalism very present as their everyday religion. 

Every London borough has its own identity and cultural practices. We tend to think that we can only find “culture” in a museum or what for us is an exotic temple, but if we think harder, we can understand that cultural practices are all around us, and therefore identity will be articulated in every building and every corner in London.

Tags: Azul


September 6th, 2009 · No Comments

All I could think about when I was at Oxford was: “what a privilege”. What a luxury it must be for the students that come here, to be in a university which is in the top ten best universities in the world, to be a Rhodes scholar. Not that I do not appreciate the education I receive, but Oxford University is the most idyllic place I have ever seen. When looking at the gardens of the beautiful colleges, the bikes, the lovely stone buildings, I could almost see the students from the 18th century discussing their ideas at the quad, wearing tweed jackets and going punting in the river.

Of course, this privilege has, traditionally, only been enjoyed by those that grew up privileged. Most of the students at Oxford attended what we know as private schools. This is something else I learnt about England: state schools are what we consider to be private schools. Yes, it’s really complicated. But as I was mentioning, admissions to Oxford still continue to be controversial, specially after the Laura Spence Affair in 2000. Spence was a state public school student who had perfect grades in all of her GCSEs and A-levels, something that would secure her a place in Oxford for sure, but in the end, did not get in. Oxford said that it was because she did not show potential, but people say it was really because of  her northern England working class and state-school background. Finally she ended up getting into Harvard with a full scholarship.

However, I realize that, in the end and in the long run, it doesn’t really matter whether education is very expensive, or for free. Higher education is a right and not a privilege in many countries, yet there is many people who just cannot afford the time to go to university and need to start working instead. A student has to be able to afford the time to study.

On another note, I think it will be interesting to compare Oxford with UEA later on, specially because, as I understand it, they have very different structures as institutions of higher education.

Tags: Azul

A Religious Experience

September 6th, 2009 · No Comments

After visiting two different temples and observed two different cultural groups in their own religious institutions, we must wonder, how are we going to think of them? We must now think about our small overt participant observation because the politics of representation are extremely important. Our impressions of Catholicism, Sikhism and Hinduism should not the participants, the Other, as exotic, or a romanticized version of them. Although it is true that we are always somewhat biased, we can make the effort of being less so by informing ourselves, carefully listening, and above all, observing in a critical way.

Karl Marx once said that religion is the opium of the people. Anthropology however, has said that while religion is a social institution that appeals to every individual in a society, each one at the same time makes his or her own meaning of religion. Religion, as a component of culture, that is, the practice of beliefs, is always changing. It adapts to the passing of time, and especially to globalization processes. England is one of the best examples to understand how cultural practices adapt in a different way when in a different country. What I considered to be the most valuable lesson of the whole experience, is actually proving by looking these places of worship, that different religions, from a sociological standpoint, are the same. 

On the last three days here in London, we saw how religion has moved many people throughout the centuries, starting in Oxford University, the birthplace of the British academia, which was founded by monks, and where every College had its own chapel. To this day, the chapel of your college remains the most important place of congregation if you are a student at Oxford. Even in what we consider the “secular Western world”, religion is still very much important.

In the case of the Sikh and Hindu temples, what struck me the most were our guides. The discourse was so alike in so many ways. It always amazes me how every religion claims to provide the ideal lifestyle, and to appeal to everyone across society, and to be the most comprehensive one. It is clear that every people wants to be “the chosen people”. 

Some people think that we are always biased. Following many social scientists, I will claim that we must locate ourselves in the context in which we are observing our subject and not think that our experience can be representative of The Sikh, or The Hindus. Who are these guides? What has their experience been with their religion? Would we be observing different cultural practices in a Hindu temple in Nairobi or some other city in another country? In that sense, I wish we could have learnt more about how the cultural practices of these religions have adapted in time, and to the city of London. But for that, further research would be required.

Tags: Azul

Going native in Little India

September 3rd, 2009 · No Comments

I was very excited about today because I knew I would love visiting a Sikh temple and walking in an almost entirely South Asian residential district. To me, the whole experience was fascinating because of many reasons. (The main one though is that I love playing “the anthropologist girl” who does participan observation and tries to go native at a Sikh temple!)  

I adore the movie “Bend It Like Beckham”, which tells the story about a girl who is not allowed to play football because she is daughter of orthodox Sikh. Southall was in fact very much like the neighborhood they show in the movie, Hounslow, also in West London, right next to Heathrow Airport. I always enjoy movies that show how a minority lives within a globalized city. I think “Bend It Like Beckham” does a great job in reflecting a typical Sikh family living in London, in that it is, like everything else, very conflictive and with different meanings to each member of the family.

Second, I always enjoy visiting places of worship that are not from my religion, because it is then when I realize how alike human beings are. The experience of visiting a Sikh temple was both exotic yet familiar at the same time. While I was walking I was in my head comparing the synagogue I go to in Argentina, St. Paul’s cathedral, and the Sikh temple we were visiting. Temples are very similar no matter what religion; they are located in a central area, they have big wide spaces, an altar, people inside them behave in a similar way, etc.  It was easier for me to find similarities than differences between Sikhism and Judaism. I am not going to point at the similarities because monotheistic religions are very similar per se, but I do want to concentrate in the temple itself and the experiences we had today. For example, as soon as we came in, we had to wash our hands, which is just what religious Jewish people do. Then I observed a man writing the daily prayer. Again, this in Judaism would be the parasha, or the Bible story of the week. Also, I saw a very interesting brochure of a Sikh school that is opening soon, which will teach its students both the British curricula and basic foundations of the Sikh religion as well as Punjabi. Is this very different from the Jewish school I went to, in which I learnt both the history of Israel and Argentina? The Sikh commemorate a terrible fire attack to a temple that happened a few years back, while the Jews in Argentina still remember the terrorist attack to AMIA (Argentine Mutual Israelite Association) fifteen years ago. London can have orthodox people and Salman Rushdie. Same thing in Argentina, where some very prominent Jews are liberal and very left wing, wile others (a worryingly increasing number) are orthodox Lubavitch. It is amazing how minorities act the exact same way all over the world.

I am Jewish but could not be more atheist and that is why is is extremely difficult for me to listen to someone who I consider to be orthodox. The man who received us in the temple was extremely nice, but I just cannot and I don’t think will ever understand how he can believe in the things he preaches. Listening to him just made me think: is he actually listening to the things he is saying? How many dogmas can a person say in one sentence? I do not mean to offend anyone by what I am writing, but it’s just that I am so close minded about these things due to my over rationalist and Western upbringing, that I find it hard to listen about how chanting can bring internal peace and truth. Still, I listen, because that is when I think that yes, all people are the same, yet at the same time, they are very different.

Tags: Azul