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Ethnographic research and analysis

1. Introduction

This paper explores the topic of Ethnographic research and analysis, based on a conducted
interview with a native German-speaking student, coming to Scotland. The aim of this essay
is to present and interpret the conversation, introducing underlying key concepts. Main
points from the interview have been brought up and discussed.
Beginning this ethnographic research as an insider, being a student and a foreigner in
Scotland, I was also examining the situation from an outsider point of view, being a non-
German, not having lived in the country, not being an exchange student. Therefore, a neutral
approach should be adopted to understand the persons unique experiences in the host
environment. Through the interview that me and the interviewee conducted, I believe there
was a two-way learning process that took place in mutually exchanging information and
experience.
I have decided to use the name Kai for research purposes, in order to preserve the
interviewee's confidentiality. The interview was conducted in one of the university
classrooms, in between classes. I intentionally chose that time, so she could feel comfortable
talking about her experience, being in this natural university classroom.

2. Relevant concepts

Finding oneself in an unfamiliar environment brings up forward notions such as anxiety,


stress and culture shock. Such deviation from the familiar is considered challenging. Culture
shock could be presented as the degree to which a person can cope with competence and
authenticity in a foreign cultural setting (Molinsky, 2010). The new culture acquisition
process can be influenced by a number of factors, such as the length of stay in the host
country (Ward et al. 1998). At the beginning of the interview Kai kindly explains that her
exchange program commences at the start of the second trimester and finishes at the end of
it, which is a period of six months. Perhaps this could be one of the reasons for her to think it
is hard to find new connections in the city or a suitable part-time job in this time. Having a
temporary residence in the country, according to Ward et al., poses some drawbacks to
getting accustomed to the new environment.
Another topic of interest is the interviewees view on education in Germany and Scotland.
Being used to the schooling system in Germany with full days of study could explain the fact
why Kai thinks the work load at the university in Edinburgh is not as challenging and
strenuous as in Frankfurt. However, Eriksen (2001) found that the person is a social
product, but society is created by acting persons, which implications could be recognised in
support of the non-essentialist approach. It allows to consider the person as an individual
with nonstative thought and actions, not entirely depending on the culture he is coming
from. It allow the process of discovery (Okamoto, 2016), which might be the underlying
ground for Kai to prefer Scotlands individual-based learning, rather than lectures, taught in
Germany to a large audience of students.

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3. Analysis on cultural differences

o Hierarchy: How do you expect teachers to treat you, and vice versa?

When I asked Kai to describe the main differences she sensed between approaching teachers
in Germany and in Scotland, she had a thoughtful expression. In her experience, a teacher
could always be approachable. In Scotland, where lectures are designed in a matter of
discussion, this seems to be easier. In Germany, however, it is not impossible, Kai says. She
advised me that you can arrange an appointment with the teacher after class time, when he
can answer your questions. Since lectures are carried out with a large number of people, it is
often the case that questions are left for the end of the lecture, if any.

o Socializing, making friends

One of the issues she was concerned about was socializing. It may sound common sense on
theory, but when put into practice, it often poses a problem. Especially, when it comes to
integrating and interacting with local people from the foreign country or an institution. Kai
concluded that spending less time in lectures in Scotland, reduces her chances to meet new
friends in the classroom. Unlike in Germany, where she spent five full days in lectures, here
being only two days in the university, does not get her ahead with socializing. Looking on the
bright side, however, she had a chance to befriend locals at her workplace and in general
outside of uni, as she emphasizes. In Germany, for example, one possible decision for such
an issue is the Buddy Scheme. It provides the chance of teaming up with a student from the
host institution, who adopts the role of an insider who can introduce student life in the
foreign country. Perhaps, universities in Scotland could benefit from such an approach in
order to make their international students feel welcome and settled in the new place.
In Scotland she was lucky enough to find a part-time position in her last months of stay,
where she confines that it is easier to speak to local people and make friendships, she
confined after the interview. Undoubtedly, being part of more groups, increases the chances
of a person to be a part of the local culture: participating in a sports society, workplace,
volunteering, taking part in university activities and so on. Kai declines having taken a part
in a university society, neither here nor in Frankfurt, which tends to lead to a more non-
essentialist approach in her thinking.

o Thoughts on independent studies

Independent studies seems to be a topic that Kai quite likes here in Scotland. She tends to be
rather favourable of it, when it comes to her chosen program of studies. It allows more time
to organise herself in a manner that she finds particularly useful, rather than following day-
to-day lectures and paraphrasing somebody elses words.

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o Practical issues, such as dress codes, food , getting around

Having the experience in living in a massive metropolitan as Frankfurt, Edinburgh surely


seems like a piece of cake to Kai. She did not admit to having any problems with getting
around the city. Being a tourism enthusiast also pushed her to see more of Edinburgh and
explore its sights (her favourite being the National Museum of Scotland).
An interesting topic that was brought up was food in the university canteen. Surprisingly, Kai
admitted to not having a Mensa/ a canteen in the university in Frankfurt. She compared it
sizewise to Napier university and explained that students and staff did not see any need of a
canteen, although she was enrolled in a full-time course that requires everyday vocation to
the university. In comparison, her host institution in Edinburgh has one, which she finds
very practical, since the university is situated far from the city centre and not within a
convenient distance to any other shops.

Globally, as a researcher, I tend to think that Kai tends is a combination of both essentialist
and non-essentialist view on culture. She tends to judge academic experience, based on her
previous knowledge from Germany and make a comparable conclusion in her answer,
drawing from her culture frame of reference. However, she also possesses the ability to
choose and make decisions about which method she finds best in her studies. She came to
Scotland, because she was intrigued by the Airline management module which she found
only in the university in Edinburgh, although she had a variety of institutions in Europe to
choose from. Her consciously-aware choice reveals her non-essentialist, non-traditional
approach in decision making.

Kai did advise me that studying in Germany is harder than in Scotland as an overall
experience she was able to gain. This notion related to the amount of hours a week, spent in
lectures to the number of final exams for the consecutive year as well as perhaps a limited
university support, may seem challenging. And it is a difference that is worth being known in
advance, before commencing an exchange program. Therefore, adequate information should
be provided in both exchange countries that students can find most helpful.

4. Conclusional notes

In conclusion, I would like to add into the essay the personal conclusions I was able to draw
from the interview with Kai. Following her steps, I could conclude that: it is worth getting
out of ones comfort zone and making effort to find friends in the new place. Admittedly, it
can be hard to communicate with local people, however, efforts could always be made. There
are a number of ways like signing up for a society, finding a part-time job, where you can
socialize and etc. Another invaluable piece of information I received from her, as an advice to
other students as well, is getting as far ahead for information about exams, support as
possible in order to be prepared for the process of the exchange: mentally, physically,
academically.

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5. References

Bates, R. (2011). Schooling Internationally: Globalisation, Internationalisation and the


Future for International Schools. 1st ed. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge.

Eriksen, T. H. (2001). Small places, large issues: an introduction to social and cultural
anthropology. London: Pluto Press.

Molinsky, A. (2009). A situational approach for assessing and teaching acculturation.


Journal of Management Education, 20(10), 122.

Okamoto, K., Kuhn, M., Vessuri, H. & Yazawa, S. (2016). Academic Culture: An Analytical
Framework for Understanding Academic Work A Case Study about the Social Science
Academe in Japan. Stuttgart: ibidem.

Ward C., Okura Y., Kennedy A., & Kojima T. (1998). The U-curve on trial: A longitudinal
study of psychological and sociocultural adjustment during cross-cultural transition.
International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 22, 277291. 10.1016/S0147-
1767(98)00008-X

Yuefang Zhou, Divya Jindal-Snape, Keith Topping & John Todman (2008) Theoretical
models of culture shock and adaptation in international students in higher education,
Studies in Higher Education, 33:1, 63-75