International student experience: Studying sociology at Kent

International student Min-Zhe Qiu came from China to study her Sociology BA (Hons) degree at the University of Kent. We asked Min-Zhe to tell us more about her experiences of living on campus, her course (and module) highlights, learning Japanese as part of her degree, and working with an NGO in China.

Can you tell us why you chose to study Sociology for your degree?

I chose to study Sociology because I have a lot of interest in investigating the development of society. Since sociology is the study of structure, development and function of human society, I believe studying it will help me understand the principle of social development. It is agreed worldwide that analysis of social development is essential and it is always evolving. As a result, talented professionals are always needed. So why not choose it for academic study?

What attracted you to study Sociology at Kent?

I found the ranking of Kent’s sociology research was really high and I believed I would have an incredible study experience at Kent. I was also attracted by the sense of history and traditional culture of Canterbury, which deepened my determination to study here. Another thing, which surprised me after I had lived in Canterbury for a while, was the weather. I studied an International Foundation programme in Manchester before coming to Canterbury and the weather there was… kind of awful! I was really happy when I found there weren’t many rainy and cloudy days in Canterbury.

Did you live on campus in your first year?

Yes, I lived in Park Wood in the first year. Park Wood is a bit further away from the central campus but the environment is really nice. I chose ensuite accommodation because I prefer having private space. Taking a walk around Park Wood was one of my favourite things to do in my spare time. I highly recommend Park Wood if you don’t mind living a little bit further away from the centre of campus.

How is the course going?

Quite well for the three years. I think the best thing is the freedom in module selection. The number of compulsory modules gets smaller every year. You are allowed to choose the modules that you’re really interested in and the scope of elective modules is not limited to social sciences. As well as optional modules related to social sciences, there’s also a range of ‘wild option’ modules to choose from. I chose to study the history of photography and Japanese. I also chose modules related to gender study as I’m always interested in gender equality issues. All the teachers I met were very helpful and supportive.

Do you have a favourite module?

My favourite module was on Modern Chinese Societies, which I chose in my second year. Growing up in China, I never got a chance to look at Chinese societies as a bystander. This module gave me a good chance of jumping out of my inherent impression and looking at China from another angle. Dr Joy Zhang can always find a way to make study fun and enjoyable. I chose another module led by Joy, Sociology of the Global South, in my final year.

What have been the highlights of your course so far?

Maybe, getting a final mark of 74 for a module on the Sociology of Mental Health? I’ve actually achieved 82 and 75 for two of my Japanese modules but it doesn’t give me as big a sense of accomplishment because I used to learn Japanese by myself. I used to have some difficulties in my first year of study; I’m not a native English speaker and learning humanities or social sciences requires relatively higher levels of language ability. Also, it was not easy to fully adjust from the way I learned to think within the Chinese education system during the one-year Foundation programme. It was a bit hard in the first year when I tried to change my study mode. Luckily, I got a lot of help from my seminar leaders as well as some other students. Up to now, the module on the Sociology of Mental Health is the one with the highest final marks except for Japanese in my Year 3 modules. Nothing cheers me more than being aware that I’ve made real improvements.

How have you found the experience of learning online?

Quite convenient and the learning experience is also better than what I expected. For international students like me, learning online satisfies my family’s wish for me not to return to the UK in the short term, but also ensures that I can study as usual. I think learning online may, to some extent, make it easier for me to get to know the students in the same group and communicate with them. We meet different people through random group discussions every time.

Can you tell us about the experience of learning Japanese at Kent?

I was a little bit worried before I took Japanese modules because of the possible difficulties of learning another foreign language in a non-native language. It was a big relief to me when I found that all the Japanese teachers I met were quite helpful and the lessons were well arranged, very easy to understand. Sometimes we watch videos about Japanese culture or listen to songs in Japanese. I used to learn Japanese by myself but never learn it systematically under academic guidance, so the Japanese modules at Kent have really helped me fill this gap. I’m planning to take the JLPT test this year.

We understand you’ve been working with Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – can you tell us what you’ve been doing?

I was born and raised in Shenzhen, one of the richest cities in China. I got to know the first NGO (also the first Non-profit Organisation) in my city when I was in junior high, Youyou Education Public Welfare Development Center. It’s an organisation focusing on the education problems of children in China’s rural areas. Using the money that I received at each Spring festival, I started subsidising students in rural areas through Youyou and doing volunteer work in my spare time as well. I often go to the office of the organisation and assist in data sorting, material packaging and distribution, and some other tasks within my capacity. I’ve also taken part in social practice events organised by Youyou. In summer 2019, I went to Sandu Shuizu Autonomous County in Guizhou province as a volunteer to participate in the social practice of “Teenagers Hand in Hand”. Leading two 14-year-old girls in my group, we lived and worked with local children for two weeks. In summer 2020, I went to Jinggangshan and Anyi in Jiangxi province, paying visits to 281 local poor students’ home in order to collect and screen a new batch of students for the “Torch Scholarship” funding projects. What I saw and heard in Guizhou and Jiangxi touched me deeply and gave me more understanding of many social issues in impoverished areas.

What other opportunities have you taken advantage of during your time at Kent? 

I joined the publicity department of UKC Chinese Society in Year 1 and became the leader of their Facebook group in Year 2. Sometimes I helped with editing the posts on the official WeChat account of the Chinese Society. In Year 2, I was also responsible for communications between the university and the Chinese Society during the planning of annual large events, such as the Voice of Kent and Chinese New Year Gala Show. I also met a lot of people in Chinese Society – I met one of my best friends at university there.

What’s next for you? What are your career plans?

I will move on to study for my Master’s degree. I’ve already received offers from UCL, Bristol and Sheffield. I also applied for a Juris Master programme at a university in China but haven’t the got final result yet. Only two of the law majors of all the universities in China are assessed as A+, and this university is one of the two. If I manage to get accepted to the Juris Master programme, I will engage in legal-related work in the future. Otherwise, I will go to UCL to study an MSc Social Policy and Social Research programme. My future career may relate to human resources. I will return to China as well.

Finally, what advice do you have for international students coming to Kent to study your subject?

Studying sociology at Kent will give you a wonderful experience of freely exploring social science knowledge. Please take advantage of the support from your seminar leaders and tutor. They will help you overcome any problems you meet during your studies. The natural environment of the campus is quite good, very suitable for outdoor sports such as walking and jogging. Also, there are many colourful and exciting social activities which can enrich your after-school life and help you expand your social sphere. Don’t be afraid of feeling lonely because you can probably find the students’ society of your nation. I hope you enjoy unforgettable years at Kent!

Explore the choice of Sociology degrees at Kent (including single honours and joint honours programmes)