Jean Pia - 4 November 2014 

After the euphoria of being offered a place to study here in Cardiff University, I know that part of the sacrifice of being an international student in a foreign country will be to be separated from my family, friends and loved ones and the comforts of our home in the Philippines. Coming from a very closely knit family, I found that more daunting than the challenge to excel academically was how to manage being away from my family for long periods of time. However, reminiscing about the four years that I have lived in Cardiff, I am glad to say that my stay here had been enjoyable and very pleasant because of certain activities I adopted to cope with feelings of nostalgia. I offer below a very personal account of how I cope with homesickness:

A daily routine with a well-thought out plan for study times and other activities can help manage feelings of loneliness or homesickness. I found that immersing myself in work and being productive during office hours, devoting it to writing and reading, assure me that the time away from my family is worth it. Doing the house chores out of office hours gives me the feeling that I was able to accomplish substantially during the day. This is also a good excuse to sit back and relax at night to enjoy a TV program (Peaky Blinders, Downton Abbey, Strictly Come Dancing, or Greatest British Bake Off) or catch-up movie while having a cup of green tea, ready for another gruelling day ahead.

I keep in touch with family and friends using Skype and other forms of social media. Part of my routine is to talk to my family members by skype or share a thread in Facebook. My parents, siblings, nephews, nieces and I adapted a schedule which is convenient for all of us despite the seven or eight hour time difference. These are show and tell sessions where we reconnect and where I make them understand my current life. I tell them stories about my experience here, watch movies together (usually animated ones for the kids), show them the current house I live in (as I moved houses thrice in my four year stay in Cardiff), the herb, flower, plant or bug from our back garden, and the kids’ favourite, our house cat, Charlie.

We have creative ways of spending time online. My nephews and nieces update me on their school and church activities. I also help them with their assignments or practice their spelling or math skills. My siblings and I share food recipes or eat together while online. I also call home using free calls by means of the “Viber” smart phone application, Facebook or from my mobile provider.

I connect with people from my own culture and background. I am fortunate that there are numerous Filipino SIRC/Nippon fellows who I can talk to in our native language or share a meal with (which we call ‘feeding programmes’) when I miss the sound and taste of home.
The SIRC family has also become my surrogate family while in Cardiff. My interactions with the other fellows and the SIRC staff had been mostly cordial and jolly occasions. Welcome receptions, the bi-annual SIRC symposiums, annual SIRC alumni events, seeing each other during seminars/workshops, or even meeting at the SIRC pantry are opportunities for happy reunions that I look forward to.

I am likewise fortunate to be friends with a kind Welsh family whom I consider my foster family here. They welcomed me to their family home, introduced me to their culture, way of life and give me an opportunity to practice speaking in English. These are the people who cheer me up when I am down or are just there to comfort me from the stress of school life.

I walk about Cardiff and go around town to enjoy the city either on my own or with a group of friends after office hours, during weekends or bank holidays. Despite its oftentimes wet and unpredictable weather, Cardiff never fails to impress. I am always armed with my camera to capture the moment in their well-maintained Alexandra or Bute parks and historical buildings. These walking tours also enable me to discover where to buy the food I enjoy most either from the Cardiff Korean/Japanese/Chinese Asian store in Crwys Road or the well-stocked aisles of big supermarkets like Tesco, Asda or Home Bargains. These tours are also good excuses to just chill out with a book or people watch, usually in Barker tea house in the city centre arcade. Simple walks or window shopping in M&S are just some forms of recreational activities that helps lift up my mood and make me sleep better at night.

When the going gets really tough, I remind myself what I came to the UK for - to have a better phase of life and better employment prospects after I earn my Ph.D.

However, when the longing for home becomes unbearable, I take a short “vacation” back home to be with my family and friends. During these short breaks, I am able to go away from the intensity of writing, distance myself, and go back with a fresh mind and renewed energy.

Reading and writing about the seafarers’ experiences of being away from their homes and long months of separation from their families made me empathise with and understand them because of my own experience of living away from my family while pursuing my studies. While the seafarers become separated from their families to better their economic status, missing home was the price I have to pay for the freedom and opportunity of studying abroad. On a lighter note, and looking back at my list, I realise that these are not only remedies to cope with loneliness but are likewise reminders that I have sufficient ways to continue working hard and achieve the ultimate goal – to satisfactorily complete my thesis writing! As four long and gruelling years have gone by, I know that the completion of my work is very much nearby.

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  Polina Baum - 21 February 2014 

I first arrived in Cardiff for a visit during July 2011, when I came for a Symposium organized by SIRC. This was a life-changing experience for me, as I applied for the Nippon Foundation Fellowship after I met and talked to the current Nippon fellows.
A year after this, no longer a visitor, I arrived in Cardiff as a PhD student in order to start my SSRM (Social Sciences Research Methods) studies for a postgraduate diploma.

I arrived in Cardiff a month before the beginning of the studies, in order to find a place to live first of all, and to do all the administrative things as an international student.
When I got here, I had the advantage of knowing several people that I met during the Symposium. They gave me some information about places to visit, places to shop, trips to take, and further relevant information that made my life in Cardiff a bit easier. In addition to the help I received from the Nippon fellows, I received a lot of support from the International Office at Cardiff University, which gave plenty of useful information about important issues.

Before I started my PhD, I did my Bachelor and Masters degrees in Israel, and I always worked a full-time job during in order to pay for my studies. The unique opportunity given to me in Cardiff by the Nippon Foundation enables me to study without worrying about economic issues. Additionally, it enables me to invest extra time in training and skills development, which prepares me for life after I finish my PhD. The different conferences I have attended so far (and I plan to attend many more!) have enabled me to expand my professional, academic and social networks, which could contribute to collaboration work with other students from other disciplines in the future.
These opportunities of interaction led me to join and organize different groups, for instance – an interdisciplinary study group and a presentation groups, both involving other postgraduate students from the School of Architecture, School of Journalism, School of English, School of Geography and Planning, and more. The main reason I am here, though, is my PhD thesis, which I am working on all the time. There are several stages for writing my thesis, and I am currently working on my literature review – this chapter functions as the theoretical basis for the research. In order to help me get through the PhD, I treat it as a full time job, where I come to the office at the SIRC building Monday to Friday 9:00-17:00 – to make it look like the real full-time job it is.

In addition to the workshops and training, I wanted to contribute to seafarers’ welfare in a more direct way, thus I started volunteering with the Apostleship of the Sea (AoS) welfare organization, as a ship visitor, and I do this two or three times a month. I look forward to continuing the program and finishing my thesis, but in the meantime I will try to have as much fun as possible, academically and socially, and all of this is possible due to the generous funding by the Nippon Foundation.

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    Amaha Senu - 11 February 2014 

I joined Cardiff University as a SIRC-Nippon Fellow in October 2012. Ever since, I have truly enjoyed my time at both the University and the city. Being taught by leading and world acclaimed academics in the School of Social Sciences has been a great experience. I have also found the facilities and support available for PhD students in particular very exciting. Cardiff city in its own right is also an enjoyable place to live in with a wide range of tourist attractions as well as activities, something is definitely available for everyone’s taste. However, one of my greatest satisfactions is being part of the SIRC team which has garnered a tremendous reputation among academics and practitioners in the maritime industry for the quality and amount of work it has been able to produce. I was able to appreciate the Centre’s reputation in the maritime industry during a 2-day SIRC symposium that took place in July 2013. I believe this opens a wide range of opportunities for the fellows that are currently undertaking their Ph.D. research. The range of topics covered in the research centre is diverse and of direct relevance to contemporary shipping. I strongly believe that different stakeholders in the maritime industry should take note of the research centre’s impact in the industry and endeavour to assist the centre’s effort in producing quality research works.

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     Jean Pia - 22 July 2011

I am at present a first year PhD research fellow at the Cardiff University Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) funded for four years by the Nippon Foundation of Japan along with two other Nippon fellow cohorts for 2010, Amewu Attah of Ghana and Taurai Mlambo of South Africa. Amewu, Taurai and I started our studies at the Cardiff University School of Social Sciences last 04 October 2010 for a Diploma in Social Science Research Methods (SSRM) following the global and political economy pathway. There are 20 other SIRC/Nippon PhD fellows who are in various stages of their research. Cardiff University is located in Wales, United Kingdom.

In support of the objective of the Nippon Foundation to give highest priority to research on seafarers’ lives, my PhD thesis topic will focus on the perspective of the Filipino seafarers on the actual implementation of the terms and conditions of their employment contracts. As I just completed my Diploma in SSRM, I am in the early stages of thesis writing. Along with the SIRC Director, Prof. Helen Sampson, my supervisors, Prof. David R. Walters, Professor of Work and Environment and Dr. Dean Stroud, Lecturer at the Cardiff University are instrumental in giving me academic and pastoral care making my studies and stay at Cardiff more bearable.

I graduated from World Maritime University (WMU) seven years ago also funded by Sasakawa Foundation. The gap in between my studies made the adjustment more difficult as I had to get use to comprehending and critically analyzing countless journals, books and articles. The challenge of writing six 3,000 word essays for the modules every semester was a challenge that I welcomed head on for I really loved learning.

Also to be mentioned is my struggle with the English language both spoken and written. Not being exposed to the British accent, I had to focus and concentrate during lectures for a better and clear understanding. To cope with my difficulty with academic writing, I enrolled in English class to be familiar of the expectations from us in our coursework and most especially with the thesis writing. I know that I have a long way to go in this respect.

In terms of the environment, the office space and generous amenities provided for us at the SIRC is very conducive for studies. My accommodation is likewise strategically located for sports and leisure activities in order to break the monotony of university life and to cope with the physical separation from families and loved ones. I find the community in Cardiff very safe, secure and friendly to international students like me.

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    Lin Li  - 15 February 2008

Having undertaken my progress review, I have kept looking forward to the feedback from the selection panel about the possibility of my transfer to PhD study. I understand my senior Nippon fellows were informed of their promotions in a few months after their progress reviews. My review was done late last month, but I can’t help wanting to know my result. On the contrary, one thing I need to learn is to wait. I have actually experienced waiting many times before this. Being a seafarer, I waited to sign on as well as sign off when I completed my contracts on board. To apply for the fellowship of this research study, I also waited anxiously at home in China for the essential letters from the school registry so that I could start processing my visa application without postponing my flight date. Why am I still like a child waiting for something exciting with much attention even though I have already waited so many times for important or trivial events in my life?

I believe that the answer is embedded in the enormous efforts I have put into more than one year’s study in Cardiff. I know the answer also comes from my dream in which I hope I train myself to be a highly knowledgeable person.

During the period before last December I had spent most of my time in my office searching for literature and writing up what had crossed my mind for half a year. When I started to read and at the same time endeavoured to write up the first chapter last June, I was in a trance. I had a little knowledge about structuring a chapter of ten thousand words. Despite my novice scenario, my supervisors had intensive supervision meetings with me so as to lead me through this difficult stage. The guidance from my supervisors was scholarly and adequate and they directed me the right ways to get my work done. I also received advice and encouragement from colleagues. Some of my colleagues at the SIRC lent their progress review chapters for my reference. As a result, I submitted my two chapters of 28,000 words for the progress review before the deadline. I feel I wanted to progress well in my studies to reward my hard work, to thank my supervisors for their scholarly supervision, and to show my colleagues I appreciate.

Due to all my efforts in wanting to achieve a better result, I, at the progress review, collected fairly complimentary comments from the reviewers on my second chapter. In contrast, they suggested many more comments for me to revise the first chapter.

Martin Luther King had a dream to make America a better place for both the Caucasian and black people (and other ethnic groups), his dream has been partially realised owing to disparity which still exists among different groups of Americans. I do not like my dream being partially held true. I want to accomplish the best during the journey of my life. Nevertheless, I would like to accept any outcome turning out of my life after I have done my bit to fulfil my satisfaction. I am eagerly waiting for a piece of good news. My gratitude will not vanish if the news turns out against my wish. Still I am waiting to conduct my fieldwork in Dalian, China in March 2008. All in all, waiting brings expectation.

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   Lin Li - 18 April 2007 

This story relates to my experience during my first six months at Cardiff University as a postgraduate student of Chinese nationality with a global seafaring background.

When I decided to apply for the Nippon Foundation’s grant for an MPhil/PhD fellowship at SIRC, I gained much useful hands-on information from the lovely stories written by other Nippon fellows for the SIRC website’s column on Cardiff Life. So I already felt a little bit familiar with my new environment before I came to Cardiff, at the end of September 2006.

My first few months as a novice academic on the Cardiff University campus passed without me noticing much of life in Cardiff as I was very busy with attending lectures, workshops and orientation seminars. In addition to these activities, every time a meeting with my two supervisors came near I would be preoccupied thinking about the first two chapters of my thesis. My sole purpose was to work hard so that I would do well enough to be upgraded to carry on with my research for the purpose of a PhD study, and so I worked especially hard trying to produce something meaningful for supervisions so that my supervisors could have good discussions with me.

Then, after two and a half months, it was the end of the first semester and Christmas came, when it was the time for me to work even harder in order to complete my work on the various essays assigned for the six modules of the first semester and to write the final and complete draft of all these essays for timely submission by the due deadline. Due to the fact that I had left school many years ago and was not sure how much time I would need to write up each essay, the only wise choice for me was to start each of the tasks early and to aim completing all my work with some days to spare before the final deadline. So most of my real life every day during the first semester consisted of walking to and from the lecture rooms, my student accommodation, the SIRC office (where all Nippon fellows have a desk), and the library.

I have built up confidence from the first semester’s hard study. Consequently, I feel I can manage my schedule well and balance my time between lectures, reading and leisure activities. I have also enjoyed becoming acquainted with last years’ fellows, who, like me, often stay at the SIRC office into the late evening. However, there are some pubs close to SIRC and also the Graduate Centre, where we go now and then together to have a little break for one or two hours from our hard work at night.

Furthermore, SIRC staff and fellow students have arranged a few hiking trips in the wonderful countryside of South Wales. On one occasion we even brought wine with our picnics in the mountains. Once we chased after a drifting plastic bag when a gust of wind took it into the air and carried it above the unspoilt pastoral mountain slope where we had been picnicking. We all knew that a plastic bag from us would stain the purity of nature and embed shame in us.

The trips arranged by the Graduate Centre lead students to nearly every hot spot in Wales or the South of England. I made a pilgrimage to William Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon, where I visited the Holy Trinity Church. I listened to an elder gentle volunteer articulating the legacy of Shakespeare in front of the tomb of Shakespeare in the chancel of the church. What an amazing young man Shakespeare was when he first came to London by walking two days from his birthplace and worked in the first opera theatre of London as a boy who took care of customers’ horses before he wrote his famous works.


The visit to the ancient site of Stonehenge in England is another amazing encounter with one of the world’s wonders. I am astonished over the talent of people who lived several thousand years ago. On the way back from Stonehenge, I visited the town of Salisbury where the cathedral is a major attraction. I saw one of the five original copies of Magna Carta sealed by King John there, and I took the guided tour to listen to the legends of the lords and other noblemen who lie silently in the cathedral. Although I did spend some of my time socialising and visiting some places of interest, the study programme continues to demand most of my attention. But, the only difference to me in comparison with last semester is that I feel happier and I expect to keep it that way. 

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  Lijun Tang - 30 January 2006 

As a second year research student, the temporal unit of 'term' does not form part of my calendar any longer. However, I was reminded by some of the new Nippon Foundation fellows (who had brushed off the pressure of meeting deadlines!) that the curtain of the first term of 2005/2006 academic year has dropped. They can now relax a little bit till new term's deadlines, which unfortunately are not far away.

As the first batch of fellows, we contributed to the preparation of the Nippon Fellowship progress review. Although this in itself was a rewarding process, only upon completion of it did we have the full taste of reward. The reviewers, as usual, gave warm (-hearted) compliments both before and after the interviews. Their praise of course could (or should?) be regarded as procedural politeness, which aims (either intentionally or unintentionally) at motivating us. But I (or should I say 'we'?) did appreciate the compliments, be it due to vanity, or for other reasons. Sometimes we need to enjoy vanity, don't we? Isn't it vanity that sometimes motivates us going forward? Then why be ashamed of it and pretend to dismiss it out of hand immediately?

Of course, we should not get addicted to vanity. Compliments aim to motivate us rather than trap our steps. The next few months for most of the first batch of fellows will be very busy as we conduct our research, travelling around to meet and interview our informants. We will be apart from each other. The hectic runaway life will probably not give us enough time to miss each other. But we will certainly miss each other's SIRC presentation. Those who do present however may be relaxed, as fewer listeners mean fewer questions!

As Victor said in his reflective 'Taking Stock', we are learning to walk and fly in the academic world. In the following months, we will be 'walking' in to the field. Next year, probably, we would fly. We have learned, and have to learn again and again to fly (in different worlds). Flying, however, entails flying away.  I am sure that you have your own opinion on whether this is an opportunity, or a curse of modern life. When I fly away and when emails replace gatherings,  would I be busy with learning to fly again?, Or will I spare some time to miss  the international party, which, according to Syamantak's accurate counting,  encompassed eleven nationalities, in the Bhattacharyas' family? Will I miss the Christmas parties, bowling, and lots more? We will see.

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   Lijun Tang - 27 April 2006

Last summer a lecturer asked me, 'After one year's training on social science research methods, did you change your world view?' To be honest, I did not understand much of what I had studied. The training confused me more than it changed me. So my answer could only be negative at that time.

Another year has passed. I ask myself the same question. Now the answer is definitely positive. In applying the training to my own research in the second year, my sociological sky becomes less cloudy, though far from blue. Goffman makes clear for me from a theoretical height how we interact with others.  Freud points out that I am repressing myself. Giddens is right that I am more reflexive, since I have to reflect on my experiences in order to understand these abstract theories. In other words, I put my reflexive self into their theoretical frameworks in order to test and absorb them. Foucault is laughing; he says  ' your subjectivity has been shaped completely by these sociological discourses.' I do not deny.

If tracing back to the first year, there was still something changing me. It was not social theory, but a question from a fellow student, 'how much have you finished, honestly?' Although I knew that the word 'honestly' was just used habitually in casual occasion, I could not stop reflecting on it. There seems to be two types of people. One type would say that they have just done 25% if 50% has been done; the other type, in contrast, would say 80% if they have just done 50%. I belonged to the first type. I did not want to invite Freud to analyze this, who would probably say that this is a 'modest complex'. Rather, I asked myself: does it do any harm to me or to others if I say that I have done 50%? The answer was by no means positive. Why not try to be honest then, in order at least to avoid another shock?

Honestly, I have become more honest. I was extremely reluctant to mention my failure in the past. When studying in a foreign country alone, loneliness attacks me quite often. While in the past, I did not want to mention this, for being lonely is an indicator of failure. Now I can discuss this openly (maybe because I feel less lonely now, since I am in a big group). I no longer feel ashamed to show my failed assignment to one of my colleagues. Of course, this is not so much to help him avoid similar mistakes as it is to help myself overcome the psychological barrier (should I say honestly?).

Let Foucault sing The Power of Word: the only word 'honestly' and the meaning we automatically attribute to it changed me. For better or worse, an open self, at least, is refreshing. It feels good sometimes to stop equivocating.

Honestly, I am not 100% honest here. In Goffman's term, this is just a front-stage self-presentation. Do not expect me to invite you to my back-stage.  Moreover, (post)structuralists might ask, 'do you know what is in your so called back-stage?' since for them, the structure of the back-stage is virtual and therefore it defies the penetration of self reflexive light (no matter whether Goffman and Shutz agree or not). In a recent conversation with a friend who has no sociological background, he concluded, 'we are all playing a game by its rules.' I, too, have to follow the rules of self-presentation. The rules, of course, are far from obvious. I can only hope that I did not violate them.

A second thought to my friend's words may be necessary. It perfectly summarizes the basic idea of Goffman's classical Self-Presentation in Everyday Life. The only difference is that Goffman uses 'play' rather than 'game'. Also, it has insight into (post)structuralists' central idea - the 'invisible structure'. Even more, Giddens' structuration theory, which tries to transcend  the dualism of interactionists' agent and (post)structuralists' structure, looms  large in it, since it is 'we are playing a game' not 'the game is playing us', and  since it is not just 'we are playing the game' but also 'by its rules'. If my friend knew this, he might joke, 'why do you do sociology, honestly?'

Finally, humbly, and, of course, honestly, although I am showing off my knowledge of social theory, my understanding of it, actually, is superficial. To the delight of the lecturer, however, my subjectivity has been changed even by this superficial understanding and is subject to further transformation.  Let Foucault smile. 

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   Syamantak Bhattacharya - 17 December 2004 

I arrived at the Cardiff City Centre bus station the night before the registration at the University, hired a taxi and headed for the University accommodation at Cartwright Court. From the time I was selected, the Director of SIRC Dr Sampson, and the International Office worked very hard to find me this family accommodation. What's more, when we had difficulty in getting one, my would-be supervisor Dr Bailey even offered for me to share his residence until the time something more suitable could be sorted out.  Accommodation, particularly the family type, is a bit of problem if you do not start planning well in advance. It gets particularly bad in late September when some 22,000 students pour into the city's prestigious University.

It was a great change for my wife and I shifting from Singapore to Cardiff. Negotiating a displacement of 50 degrees in latitude and 100 degrees in longitude wasn't that simple. Everything from weather to the British accent was so different! What was even more demanding was the shift from a professional lifestyle to an academic one. I was returning to classroom lectures after nearly a decade and I enjoyed it.

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   Mohamed Ghanem - 22 November 2004

Before coming to Cardiff I did not know much about this town, the capital of Wales and life in UK, although I have had some experience of living in Europe. Compared to other countries the life here is more expensive, but the city itself is nice and people are very friendly. I would especially like to mention the SIRC staff and people from International Department who helped me a lot to settle down and I am very grateful to them. Due to some unexpected circumstances I was late to start my studies, but with very their kind assistance I settled in and began to concentrate on my study. The Nippon Foundation gave me an excellent opportunity to come to the modern and developed Cardiff University and to study social science research here. As a former seafarer, my background is not in social sciences,  and in the beginning some new terminology was not very clear for me, but  step by step I am getting used to this terminology and after successful  completion of this course I hope not only to be able to transfer the obtained  knowledge and skills to the others at my home country, but also to contribute  to the improvement of social science research at  Arab Academy For Science and Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT).

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   Lijun Tang - 24 October 2004

Cardiff University is one of the biggest and most prominent universities in the UK, as well as in the world, and it lies in the city centre. Several libraries and computer rooms provide students here sufficient resources to cope with their studies.

For a Nippon Foundation-SIRC student, the benefits come from not only the fellowship which are certainly generous, but also the luxury supports from both SIRC and School of Social Science, which are beyond the wild dream of other students.

The first year programme is mainly social science research training. For those who do not have a social science background, it may take time to understand those philosophical terminologies and their implications as well in the beginning. However, it is interesting and rewarding. It motivates you to think about the world and the lives of human being. It provides lots of food for thought. Imagine how wonderful it would be once you open your eyes in the mind to see this world! Suddenly a new horizon and a more colourful world appear before you.

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