International students, independent study and introversion: My UROP Research Experience
Ever since I applied to Reading and attended open days where research was mentioned, I’ve always wanted to be a part of the undergraduate academic community. So, in the summer between my second and third years at university, I embarked on a UROP project.
UROP, or the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme, provides middle-year students with the chance to conduct a research project across six weeks over the summer, alongside a supervisor. Each project is unique and can be chosen based on your degree course or your personal interests.
I studied the independent learning strategies international students on a pre-sessional English course. The project’s aim was to discover the activities students were doing to learn English in their free time, and their attitudes to these strategies. I interviewed students about their experience of learning English outside of class, and analysed the data qualitatively, revealing information about which resources students are finding useful.
I discovered that many students favoured practical, hands-on methods of learning, such as interactive listening and reading exercises. However, many also told me that they valued ways of learning that they found fun – one girl said, “the most important thing for me is that my sources are interesting.”
Another major trend among my results was that students said meeting native speakers to practise with was an enriching experience and one that boosted students’ confidence when navigating this new language.
I hoped that these findings could be used by teachers of the English course to facilitate better language learning for their future students. Indeed, the lack of opportunities for international students to meet with native speakers prompted me to liaise with my supervisor about running a conversation class for all pre-sessional students to attend.
The best thing about my project was, hands down, the opportunity to meet and talk to a large number of international students. They were from a medley of different countries, including China, Thailand and Saudi Arabia. I had been to some of their home cities before, and it was exciting to talk to people from those places. It was incredibly rewarding when the students said that the interview had been a good opportunity for them to practise their English, and that they had gained a lot from it. I even exchanged contact details with some of them, and plan to meet them again in the future.
The project didn’t just allow me to have an interesting summer and meet new people, though. It also fuelled my interest in applying for a master’s degree, and I now feel as though I am already set up with the research skills needed for this. And even if further study turns out not to be my thing, I know I’ll be adding a significant extra chunk into my CV when I get round to it. If you are considering doing UROP, I highly recommend it!
Written by Sabita Burke