Amazingly Different: My University Lives in China and the UK

By | Oxford Life, Student Experience, University Life | No Comments

Last September, I moved to the UK to do a master’s program in World Literature at Oxford University. Having studied at Tsinghua University in China for four years, I realized that my university lives back home and in the UK are different in amazing ways.

Studying for a university degree is equally challenging back home and in the UK. Under both educational systems, you have a combination of lectures of over 30 people and seminars with less than 10 people. A major difference between my friends’ undergraduate education in the UK and mine in China (in the discipline of English literature specifically) is that I had more essays with designated topics, whereas they were granted more liberty in choosing texts and topics on their own. Both evaluation methods have their advantages: while I have a more solid knowledge structure, UK students get to look deep into what interests them. After-class instruction is also slightly different under the two systems. During my undergraduate program, I used to have one-on-one office hours when I could ask questions to the lecturer. Office hours are not compulsory and the atmosphere is generally more relaxed. They provide a chance for you to better understand the discipline you’re looking into. At Oxford, I attend supervisions with lecturers as a compulsory part of my program. Instead of questions, I usually present essay ideas or go through essay drafts with the supervisor. For me, supervisions are much more demanding, but also highly rewarding.

The biggest challenge for me, however, has been navigating the different teaching styles. As a student in the Humanities, I feel that Chinese lecturers adopt—if I may generalize here—a more Confucian style of teaching. They are good at guiding students according to their individual abilities. They also introduce to you a wide range of texts, theories, and academic discourses, and let you form your opinion based on extensive reading. In the first seminar I took at Oxford, I was quite overwhelmed by the amount and depth of detailed questions raised by the lecturer. Over the year, however, this Socratic teaching method, where students are intellectually challenged by questions, has helped me develop a critical eye. Close reading and in-depth analyses of texts have encouraged me to reexamine writers and philosophers I am familiar with and to pitch myself into different academic fields.

Another important aspect of university life is the campus. Most university campuses in China are separate from the town. My undergraduate university, for example, is located in an imperial garden that is separated by school gates from the Old Summer Palace, a neighbouring historical site, and Wudaokou, one of the busiest parts of Beijing. As a student, I could enjoy a serene campus but also conveniently get a taste of the vibrant city life on weekends. Oxford is a lot different in this respect. Even though I study and live inside a college, my everyday life—walking to the supermarket, studying in the libraries, hanging out with friends at pubs and restaurants—isn’t clearly separated from the town. To this day, I am still amazed by how much the town’s local history is blended with the University’s history. You can walk into a tavern and realize great writers like Tolkein probably sat and drank at the same spot decades ago. I feel so lucky to have experienced both campus lifestyles: the serene campus life amid the busy metropolitan city vibes as well as the vibrant social life in a quaint, historical town.

My best memories from my undergraduate years were probably sitting on the playground with my friends on summer nights, chatting and drinking beer, while the warm breeze sends the sound of a guitar from afar. I found such joy again going on punting picnics—what I imagined to be the quintessential Oxford sport. Going down the River Thames, you can chat and laugh with friends while birds chirp in the bushes and stunning sceneries unfold in front of your eyes. If you stop near the river bank for a relaxing picnic, beautiful waterfowl will come close for a snack. My heart melts at those beautiful moments.

Looking back at my student life upon graduation, I feel so blessed to be able to study at the best universities in my home country and the UK. Both experiences empowered me in different ways and made me ready to embrace the next chapter of life.

Muyun Jiang
MSt student in World Literatures at University of Oxford

See Muyun’s Vlog A day in the life of a Chinese student in Oxford on i2i’s Instagram IGTV channel @i2iapp

Navigating Oxford in a pandemic: A first-year’s experience



By | Oxford Life, Student Experience, University Life | No Comments

Oxford is an odd place. From the gowns to the traditions (like trashing, throwing shaving cream at people who have just finished exams), there are many quirks that seem to pervade this prestigious institution. On top of these old traditions, add the anxiety of an 18-year-old trying to navigate university life and the uncertainty and fear that a pandemic brings; now you have an accurate picture of the university experience that lay before me.

There were a lot of anxieties I had about being a first-generation student, the restrictions that a pandemic brings, the normal anxiety of moving to and navigating a new city. Being a first-generation student impacted me the most before coming to Oxford – I really had no one to turn to for advice and I had no point of reference – university was a completely new experience for me, one where I had no idea what laid before me. On top of this, I was worried about making friends, whether I would fit in, and trying to settle into a new place. While the pandemic meant in one sense that everyone was in the same position of uncertainty, it also placed an enormous amount of pressure on me. I was confined to only socialising with my household and a range of questions swam around in my mind – would they like me? Would we get along?

Despite these initial challenges and thoughts, I look back and loved the experiences I had in the first year. The friends I’ve made, the degree I study, the city I live in – I wouldn’t change anything. For anyone apprehensive, here are some thoughts on how you can overcome the challenges that face you at the start of university.

Of course, you are at university to study for a degree. Work is an important aspect, and it’s essential that you learn to deal with it effectively. One thing I wish I did was to ask for help – when I was struggling with the workload, and when I was uncertain about what to do, it would have saved me a lot of stress and time if I had just asked my tutors for a quick meeting. Your professors, tutors and lecturers are there to help you – use them.

Another source of apprehension is making friends. University is as much a social experience as it is academic, and making friends was one of the biggest worries for me. But a great way to fix this is to make friends with the people you live near – they are going to be the people you spend the most time with after all. You don’t need to become very close with them (though if you do, that is a bonus) but since it is convenient, it is a fantastic starting point – the people in my household are some of my closest friends now! Another great way is to join student societies because they allow you to meet others with similar interests. But another tip would be to apply to be on the executive committee of a society – you’ll get the chance to work in a team with others and forge close friendships, with the added bonus that you are all passionate about the same thing.

As you can see, a large part of what makes university so daunting is about social connection. In an age of COVID, where human connection is hard to gauge through a zoom meeting, it is so important that we find this social connection and form meaningful relationships. i2i is a great way to start with this – as a social media app that helps students form meaningful friendships, it is a fantastic tool. While other social media platforms can become isolating, authenticity is at the heart of i2i and empowers the individual to connect with others driven by the same values. If you are starting university soon, why not make it easier and download the app? The people you interact with could end up being your closest friends.

By Aftab Chhina, First Year Jurisprudence Student at Oxford.

My University Experience as a Student from Hong Kong

By | micro-mentoring | No Comments

Having lived and studied in the UK for around 5 years, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in London. The opportunity to study abroad, embrace new cultures and meet people from around the world was truly a unique experience and one of the highlights of my life. 
 
Nonetheless, being away from home and studying in a different country as a foreigner could be overwhelming. Prior to coming to the UK, I have lived in Hong Kong all of my life. When I first started university, I experienced difficulties where I felt like I did not fit in and found it hard to meet new people. I vividly remember feeling anxious during freshers’ receptions since I barely knew anyone and felt like the odd one out. To overcome my struggles, I began expanding my social circle and establishing more connections. I actively participated in various societies and activities including drama performances, cheerleading and fundraising activities, which allowed me to meet a lot of new friends and establish long-lasting relationships. During my time at university, my friends have been an important source of motivation and encouragement. They have helped me overcome my struggles as a foreign student by helping me fit in and introducing me to their cultures. I am really thankful to have met such supportive friends and these friendships have formed an important part of my university experience. It has also taught me the importance of expanding my connections and establishing healthy relationships at university.

As the pandemic hit, things have changed drastically. The pandemic has caused major disruptions to students’ university experience and relationship building. As I am in my final year, I was determined to come back to the UK. I arrived in the UK in September, feeling hopeful and excited for the new academic year. However, as the pandemic dragged on, most fresher’s events and on-campus activities were cancelled. Most students stayed in their home countries and socialising became almost impossible – except virtually. 

Moreover, because of the complete travel ban from the UK to Hong Kong imposed by the Hong Kong authorities in December, I was unable to return home. The travel ban was a huge shock since there were no prior announcements and the ban took effect immediately. During lockdown, I felt isolated and disconnected from my friends and family. Due to the ongoing restrictions and remote learning, it was really tough to meet new people and get support from others. The massive disruption to the student experience and lack of social interactions has also created immense stress and mental health deterioration.

During lockdown, I began reflecting upon my past experiences at university. Having experienced the struggles of starting university as an international student, I know what it feels like to be isolated and helpless. I am really thankful to have met students from different backgrounds during my first year, who have been extremely supportive and have become a significant part of my undergraduate journey. Acknowledging the disruption to the student experience and how difficult it is to establish connections this year, I really wish I could do something in return and help incoming students as I believe all students deserve to have a memorable university experience. 

Towards the end of the academic year, I came across i2i, a social community and ed-tech platform that allows students to connect with one another and build meaningful relationships. i2i’s emphasis on empowering students through fostering connection and collaboration really appealed to me and aligns with my values of promoting the well-being of students. Compared to conventional social media platforms, i2i emphasises authenticity and value creation. It helps students to thrive and connect with those with whom they resonate and share the same values. I am deeply inspired by i2i’s mission and I thought this is the perfect opportunity for me to transform the student experience. Through i2i, I hope to establish a sense of community for students across different backgrounds, help them reach their goals and make the most of their university experience. 
 
Currently, I have the privilege to work on i2i’s Micro Mentorship programme, a mentorship programme that provides peer-to-peer support for university students by connecting them with micro mentors and understanding their pain points. We assist incoming students that are struggling by helping them settle into the new environment and foster long-lasting relationships. I am really proud to be part of this meaningful project. I truly hope I could make a difference by making students’ transition into university a more joyful and collaborative experience. I also hope these experiences and friendships will become an important part of their undergraduate journey and become ever-lasting memories.

Are you are interested in making a difference for the student community and becoming a micro mentor? If yes, fill in our survey or message us on Linkedin – i2i social learning app for further details.

“Everyone can do simple things to make a difference, and every little bit really does count.”

Chelsea Lam, 3rd year Economics Student at the LSE

Spotlight on a Student Star ⭐️ – My Story

By | Changemaker, Featured, Inspiration | No Comments

On the 24th of July 2016, I graduated from Coventry University with a 2:1 and a first class in my dissertation that raised a lot of discussions in my department. I never saw myself as someone to accomplish anything, however I was a go-getter. My drive for success, not just in my education, but in my self-development was an ability that represented me everywhere even with my mouth closed. Throughout my bachelor’s degree, I always came across situations that introduced me to my real myself. From having one on one conversations with tutors on race representations in my department to leading group presentations and voicing out problems international students went through, I was always ready for the next best thing. My dissertation was focused on the after-effects of colonialism in Nigeria and the traumatising problems the rural Ndi-Igbo women encounter due to patriarchy. I always felt like I was sent to this earth to do something different.

After a few meetings with my professor on the completion of this project. He personally sent off the dissertation to the UN International Rescue Committee Nigeria on my behalf. It was meant to help the officials working in West Africa have a consensus and ideology of the demographic the were dealing with lack of representation (in this case women). I was very proud. It was something to lean on to after suffering from not being able to connect to my university classmates during my BSc. I have always seen myself to be very confident but there is a salient issue when it comes to bridging the communication gap between foreign and home students. It takes a lot and I feel that is something I lacked during my BSc. On a more positive note, things got better.

I moved back to Nigeria that same year and stayed for 4 years working in corporate offices and was even privileged to start my own company back home. In 2020, I arrived in the UK for my MSc in International Management at Loughborough University London, unfortunately during a global pandemic COVID-19. I felt the fear of communicating with students creeping in, even worse it had to be done virtually. I was frantic. I had to dig deep to find that inner confidence that brought out a great dissertation, one that made me stand out. I decided to be fully involved in every aspect of the university. I was older and wiser now. I knew change had to start from me, I could not be that girl with communication issues again. I wanted to help others especially foreign students feel more confident in making friends virtually and to build a positive virtual community despite all odds. Being a student ambassador and working with We see i2i has helped me instill the confidence I lacked in my BSc to my MSc colleagues. We plan games nights via the app and some of us have made friends from other universities on the i2i app. The experience has been wonderful.

We are more confident despite the pandemic that may have crippled communication for others. Aside from being a student ambassador, the i2i app has been one of my greatest projects I have been privileged to handle. From the team to the CEO, I am glad I can be a part of a community that helps foster growth and create long term relationships. I am now confident with friends I have made through the app. On the 19th of March 2021, I hosted the Loughborough University London first social bubble where students came together to form an activity. We were able to share the problems we are currently facing due to the pandemic and opened to each other while playing the scribbl game. It was so refreshing that despite how busy we all are, we decided to plan another social bubble on the i2i app. Things have been great and students are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We have decided not to wallow in ourselves due to the isolating pandemic and hefty schoolwork. We want to communicate, have fun, and meet other students.

I am grateful for how far I have got, and We see i2i has given me that bump that I need. I can now confidently say that I have friends who come from different parts of the world that I will cherish for a very long time.

Hadiza Adetunmbi
Loughborough University London

Every month i2i will feature a student who is doing, or has done, something amazing. It can be overcoming difficulties or breaking new ground or highlighting something that needs to be said. If you would like to be featured or know of someone you think is amazing please let us know. Send your email here.

The 5 friends you need in your tribe

By | friends, personal growth | No Comments

Have you ever spent an evening with a friend who turned every positive emotion into something negative? I bet you walked away feeling mentally drained. On the flip side, when you spend time with friends who lift you up, you are inspired to conquer the world.

There is an old saying that goes something like this: “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.” Your self-worth shouldn’t be dependent on others, but incredible things are rarely accomplished alone. Friends help.
Like-minded people can stagnate growth. When someone always agrees with you, it gives you a certain level of comfort. Unfortunately, that security doesn’t push you to expand your horizons. It doesn’t challenge your thoughts.

If everyone in your network has the same opinion, what do you learn? Nothing.

Differing perspectives force you to think about other possibilities, truths or alternatives.
Some friendships can form at an early age and we may even stay friends with people from high school or college. But we change. Our goals change, and we evolve and grow. It can be a stark realisation that the friends we grew to know and trust may not understand our new path or journey. That realisation doesn’t have to stop you from being friends, but spending a lot of time with people who don’t get excited about your success won’t motivate you to succeed.

The people you spend the most time with should:
• Make you a better person
• Support you
• Push you to meet your goals
• Inspire you
• Help you transform

The Dreamer
Some dreamers may be seen as unrealistic or undisciplined, but they can also be insightful visionaries. They think of things that others do not. They help you imagine what if. You feel life’s vitality when you are around them. Dreamers have a strong tendency to be highly creative and they make you believe that everything is possible.

The Driver
The driver brings the dream to reality. They understand the big picture, but they have the talent to break it down into actionable steps. They are results-oriented and are usually decisive, direct and pragmatic. They may fall to the practical side, but they know how to get things done and thrive on the thrill of the challenge.

The Motivator
This is your voice of inspiration. They keep pushing you to meet your goals. They help you understand that goals are met more frequently when they are tied to a “higher purpose.” This person infuses you with energy and enthusiasm.

The Supporter

This is the true friend. This is the person with whom you can let your guard down. They are your comfort zone. They are your safe haven. Comfort is not all that bad at times; just remember that you still have to reach for more. This person will be there with you as you journey through life and they will journey with you. They are excited when you realize success and support you in times of need.

The Devil’s Advocate
This person is the critical thinker. They ask questions and lots of them. They see problems before they arise. This person is crucial because you need their perspective. They won’t sugarcoat it. They’re blunt, but they try to look out for you. You may not always like what they have to say, but they are often the voice of reason.

To sum it up:
• A dreamer will help you dream it.
• A driver will turn dreams into reality.
• A motivator will inspire you every step of the way.
• A supporter will never leave your side, through good and bad times.
• A devil’s advocate will cut through the BS and tell you the real deal.

Be persistent with surrounding yourself with people who bring out the best in you. Be relentless in having a network of people who constantly challenge you as much as you challenge yourself.

Remarkable people beget remarkable people.

by Jan Johnston Osbburn.

The attention merchants: time for a new type of tech

By | Technology, The Social Dilemma | No Comments

Have you seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix yet? If you haven’t you really should. It’s about how technology has developed in the past decade from good intentions to draining our attention, creating mental health problems and dividing society. It’s time for a change and we at i2i want to be part of that change. The documentary was driven by The Center for Humane Technology and you can see more about how it came in to being here.

The Center for Humane Technology was founded by Tristan Harris, Called the “closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience” by The Atlantic magazine, Tristan was the former Design Ethicist at Google. He is a world expert on how technology steers us all, leaving Google to engage the issue publicly. Tristan spent over a decade understanding subtle psychological forces, from his childhood as a magician to working with the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, to his role as CEO of Apture, which was acquired by Google. Tristan has been sounding the alarm about technology’s dark sides before most of the world caught on, according to Bloomberg, having been featured on 60 Minutes, TED, the PBS News Hour and more. He has worked with major technology CEOs and briefed Heads of State and other political leaders. He is the co-host of the podcast, “Your Undivided Attention.”

Tech culture needs an upgrade. To enter a world where all technology is humane, we need to replace old assumptions with a deeper understanding of how to add value to people’s lives. It is essential to design new tech products with human vulnerabilities in mind as the human brain is inherently vulnerable. While social networks claim to connect us, all too often they distract us from connecting with those directly in front of us, leaving many feeling both connected and socially isolated.

Social media companies whose business models based on ads are driving the so-called ‘attention economy’ which means aggressively optimising for engagement metrics at all costs, which is what has created the ‘ledger of harms’, including loneliness, lack of self-worth and decreased focus and cognition.

We believe at i2i you can be values-driven while still being informed by metrics. You can spend your time thinking about the specific values (e.g., health, well-being, connection, productivity, fun, creativity…) you intend to create with your product or feature. Under the right conditions, humans are highly capable of accomplishing goals, connecting with others, having fun, and doing many other things technology seeks to help with. Technology can give space for that brilliance to thrive, or it can displace and atrophy it. In each design choice, we aim to support the conditions in which brilliance naturally occurs.

We believe in asking our community for feedback and involving them in the ways we move forward. We will be fully launching in the autumn with the social bubble feature that came about via our research with students from the LSE. It was originally meant to be small groups of 1 organiser and 10 participants meeting around topics that they want to discuss or learn about. However, because of the Covid ‘Rule of 6’ restrictions, we have had to reduce the participants to 5, which means we will launch a but later.

We welcome your feedback about the app and ideas for future development. Please do contact us here.