My university experience till date has been one of the most unique, interesting, hectic and highly confusing in terms of adapting to a life I could not even imagine before. It's been a blend of fun and determination to stay focused, which is a continuing process and difficult to manage. I consider this reflective essay an opportunity to 'pen down' my experiences, strengths and limitation that I encountered during my first year as a BA (Hons) Business Management and Studies student. These experiences influenced my day-to-day life and the development of my academic skills both directly and indirectly. Throughout the year, the numerous assignments, presentations and other module-related coursework presented challenges I have not encountered before and was both looking forward to and frightened by on a certain level. However, looking back on how I managed to organise my time management and balance my personal time, I am happy to say that semester one was a lesson to learn from and I am confident in thinking I am prepared to face new upcoming challenges with an optimistic attitude and determination to keep improving.
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Being an international student, studying in a foreign country, away from family and loved ones, has been overwhelming and challenging. The first challenge I was faced with was adjusting to the new culture and environment around me. Students coming from different cultures go through a phenomenon known as the 'Culture shock' (Carroll and Ryan,). Culture differences include the physical environment, accommodation, the transport system and food which take time to get used to. Considering I come from a country with rich and colourful cultural background, getting used to the historical and cultural aspects of living in the Great Britain was a struggle at first. However, there are other types of 'shock' the students from other cultures encounter as well. The so called 'Language shock' had a lesser impact on my comfort as I have been studying English as my first language previous to coming here, but distinct accent of Wales made it hard for me to communicate to locals, which I find intimidating. And lastly, (Carroll and Ryan) explain that students from different cultures often encounter he so called 'Academic shock'. The academic system here is very different compared to how I was educated in my home country, therefore giving me an opportunity to explore new ideas and perhaps realise new learning techniques that help me develop academically. Of course, there were some difficulties I encountered on the road to improvement and many more are to be expected, however I did not realise it would have such a significant impact on my previous abilities and knowledge. For example, writing assignments in an academic fashion is a new experience for me and finding relevant information and sources opened a new avenue of knowledge I had previously not encountered and admit to have struggled with at the beginning. However, the valuable feedback I received from my first essay helped boost my confidence and will to improve at all times.
So far, the many new experienced turned out to be both positive and negative, having a different kind of impact on my learning and personal life. Probably the first and quite large difficulty I have encountered was the Harvard Referencing System and dealing with plagiarism, which we discussed at the beginning of the year. In India, my home country, we are not required to produce essays and other types of assignments consisting of references to other texts and sources. Therefore the world of British Academia based on avoiding the infamous plagiarism and always producing evidence of what is your own work and what is not, reminded me of trying to learn how to ride a bike. There were a few falls but in the end I managed to pick myself up and focus on the task, helping me learn and improve a skill that has been completely foreign to me beforehand. The amount of different types of sources, such as written text, academic journals, presentations and websites was initially over-whelming, which made me feel insecure about my abilities. However, I have soon realised that it does not have to be such a struggle and as I previously mentioned, the determination to learn and succeed won in the end. The best help I had at the beginning of this process was S. Cottrell's guide on different types of referencing, which is a source that can be used at any point in my studies, even if another type of referencing will be required in my later years as a budding academic. (Cottrell) As stated by Allen (2005), finding and using information is a strategy that makes ones work easier. One has to focus on what is needed and read a lot of literature in order to get relevant matter from sources. I have put this knowledge to use hopefully successfully and hope to improve in the future. Receiving an encouraging 'A' grade for my first assignment, made me realise that no student is perfect at the beginning if their academic journey and experience, and therefore I started believing in simply giving my best to any work I produce, which essentially is what is expected of me.
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As previously mentioned, the first semester was a lesson to learn from and the value of feedback was something I did not realise until it helped me improve radically. I have come to see that the reason why feedback is so important is that it gives all students a board to bounce off. The lack of references and relevant material in some of my essays was pointed out to me in a manner that was both professional and instead of making me feel defeated actually made me to push myself into improvement. In order to improve as I wish, I need to be more organised and have a clear understanding of what is expected of me from each assignment before collecting any information that might be relevant to the topic. Therefore I have been inspired by my fellow students who work according to a study plan which helps them organise their time, stay on track with their assignments and leave some time in order to contact the tutor if any difficulties or miscomprehension arise.
According to Burn and Sinfield (2003), group work is a technique designed to reduce work load and share equal responsibility among group members to achieve goals in a limited time period. Group presentations became my favourite way of learning and something I look forward as a part of each of my modules. We usually work in a group of 3-4 people and during both the first and the second semester; we had the chance of preparing and presenting 3 group presentations. According to the Marxist views on education, working in groups at university prepares us to for the world of work by introducing us to any team work that we can encounter in our future employment, as well as authority respect and audience awareness. The limitations of our first group presentation experience varied from getting to know and work with people I did not know previously, and organising time for group meetings. One of the group members was, to put it as a laic, rude and had no consideration for other team members' opinions, as well as wanting to do more work compared to others. His behaviour and attitude made me and the others feel less important and willing to work with him, as we could not contribute in the way we wished to. Since the lack of appropriate way of communication was so pronounced and equality in work contribution was non-existent, our performance was average and resulted in unusually low grades to all members. For our next assignment as the same group, we have decided to clear any issues that arouse during our first presentation to improve both our working relationship as a group and our performance to gain better grades and improve based on the feedback we received. The discussion helped us in many ways as we managed to assign equal contribution of work and made working together as a group less stressful and more of an enjoyable experience. Our presentation was not only spot on as required, but our teamwork has improved rapidly and was noticed by the tutor, receiving positive feedback as well.
Burn and Sinfield (2003) have suggested various tips and gave invaluable advice concerning group work, in order to make it more successful and productive. This advice included a variety of group work forms and processes, such as Belbin's group roles, SWOT group work techniques and Adair's processes. Personally, I have found the SWOT group work technique to be most inspirational for my future enhancement and wish to include this technique in the future while preparing assigned presentations. SWOT analysis of the group allows one to identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in a group. This helps nullifying the weaknesses at an individual level, and promoting the strength of the team members on a holistic level. The lack of knowledge of various presentation techniques inevitably resulted in, what I personally consider, an average, bordering on abysmal performance during my first presentation. Upon personal reflection, I realise my own limitations in the area of working with people and therefore wish to improve inter-personal relationships as a part of my personal development plan.
The A levels I completed in my education in India consisted of subjects in the Science field and some related to it. Hence, not having a background in studying business and economics on a certain level like my fellow students was a considerable disadvantage, just like my lack of knowledge in the referencing ethics. Since I did not possess the basic knowledge of business, I was considered to be a slow learner compare to other students in my modules. Understanding economics was one of the biggest struggles I experienced and till date still find it difficult to comprehend, which I admit is highly discouraging. The regular economic quizzes provided on the blackboard helped me improve exponentially, however that does not mean I still do not feel like a fish out of water in this field. Finance however is a subject I enjoyed greatly, compared to how economics made me feel, and received valuable feedback on which allowed me to improve and gain better results. It was the subject I enjoyed studying the most and even considered majoring in it.
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All new modules I had the opportunity to study provided many new ideas and concepts for me, but with every positive comes a slight drawback. Each module requires a certain type of assignment, either a report or an essay. Both types of assignment form were foreign to me before my life as a developing academic and therefore the lectures on how to write an essay, reflective or other, helped me greatly in understanding the way in which my work had to be written and presented. Report style assignments were a struggle as a concept, closely tied to not having experience in studying business and management beforehand, where I believe such skills develop more gradually and improve at university level. Therefore instead of improving upon a skill I already had, report and essay writing is something that I had to learn consequently to coming to Britain and only now, after gaining some experience with assignments, I can improve on whatever skills I have gained predominantly in the first semester.
Lastly, managing time is a rare resource or rather a skill, and there can be severe consequences if not grasped and developed correctly. Not only as a student but as a future employee as well, working in a demanding environment requires having a firm grasp of time management. Without this expected and highly demanding skill, future employability may become an issue, which I would rather not face. Since I am provided with the opportunity to learn how to manage my time and organise my schedule as university, I would consider it a personal failure if I did not develop these skills in order to gain better employability.
Gaining new skills and improving upon the existing one is a continuous process, however I take it as an opportunity and a challenge to improve not only academically but as a rounded human being as well. My experience in Great Britain will hopefully become something to cherish and my determination and strengths something to focus at while looking for a future employment as well.