'My supervisor is great - but I can't get up in the morning'

March 19, 2004

Six months in and some of our postgrads are finding the going tough. As experts gather for today's conference on 'Postgraduate Education', The Times Higher catches up with the students it is tracking over three years to see how they're coping

Russian student Alisa Chukanova seems to be thriving at Southampton University despite some language problems. She is sharing a house with three English students and says the cultural immersion is doing her good. "It's good for my language. We spend some time together, and I really enjoy the atmosphere. But I don't go out too much. I don't really like things such as clubbing, it's not me."

Chukanova, 22, who is doing her PhD in cultural studies, has found the differences in the British academic approach to the subject challenging and stimulating. "Humanities in England are more precise. You have to be able to prove your work and defend it completely. You have to have strong arguments for every point you make. In Russia, you are allowed to just talk about some ideas around the subject. I think the English approach helps you to develop your ideas better."

She enthuses about the research for her PhD, which focuses on the "mediate" cultures of Spain and Russia - cultures that "don't exactly belong to the West or East". She explains how the Spanish intellectuals of the beginning/middle of the 20th century explored the "intuitive cultural space" of Spanish culture, the rejection of European rationality and the quest to find a "dwelling place of life" or a "spirit" that exemplifies Spanish philosophy.

She cites Don Quixote as an example of the symbolism that typifies the difference in Spanish philosophy. "Don Quixote is associated with the figure of Christ. Spanish scholars believe European rationality is leading nowhere and that Spanish spirituality can save the Western world. By his ideas and spirituality, rather than by his deeds, Don Quixote is able to change the world. Spain is kind of the same. It is not able to invent something useful for other nations, but it is able to add something that European rationality can't invent by technical means."

Chukanova has a busy six months ahead - writing her chapter plans, preparing a presentation for feedback at the end of the year and continuing to teach undergraduate Spanish cultural studies. She says she feels far from isolated - her tutors are there if she needs them - and she plans a trip back to see her parents in the summer.

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