Student Perspectives: Wiki Jeglinska (UoW)

How would you describe yourself? What defines your identity?

The main thing that comes to mind is my dual cultural identity. I was born in Poland, moved to the UK when I was six, and was educated in the UK my whole life. So I grew up in the UK but with family in Poland; I speak Polish; and I’m always reflecting on which identity I identify with more.

Do you feel that your unique attributes, experiences, and background are valued at your university?

I do feel that my skills and background are valued. In my department, in Education Studies, we talk a lot about educational inequalities, how some people are disadvantaged because of their background, and because of their cultural identity. For my undergraduate dissertation and in my master’s, my research has focused on Polish communities in England. So I’ve had the opportunity to bring my unique background to my research, and this has been really valued by my department because it’s not an area that gets a lot of attention in educational research. So I feel lucky to be able to bring my identity into these educational spaces and feel valued.

The other thing, in terms of my background, is that I come from a working-class family. No one in my family had been to university before me. So Widening Participation in education is something I’m really interested in. There is so much activity around widening participation and outreach here at Warwick, and I’ve been able to get involved in these schemes.

But on the other hand, while I feel valued, and I’ve been able to bring myself to these spaces, I know that’s partly because I have actively been looking for these opportunities, and that’s not easy for everyone. Some people may not be able to take this active approach and seek out those opportunities.

Do you feel comfortable being yourself at university?

The simple answer is yes, but it has been a journey. As I mentioned before, I was the first person in my family to attend university, and therefore I had this idea in my head of what university would look like: I thought it would be very wealthy people from middle-class backgrounds, and I was afraid about whether I would fit in at first.

But I’ve been so lucky in the people I’ve met, and similarly to Mercy I feel like I’ve had a personal development journey whilst at university. When I first started I was very shy, I wouldn’t put my hand up in a seminar, didn’t like to stand out. But throughout university I’ve met so many wonderful people, and been part of a lot of different spaces like the ones I mentioned before: the Widening Participation work, or my department where we’re encouraged to talk about so many issues and educational problems. It’s been a really enabling environment to meet other people and learn about myself. So I do feel comfortable being myself at university, but it didn’t happen as soon as I got here; it took some time getting used to.

In secondary school, you tend to study with people you’ve known for a long time, in the same town, at the same school. Then at university you meet so many new people; at Warwick especially we have such a diverse range of students from so many places. That’s not a barrier, it’s an amazing thing, because part of the ‘getting to know you’ process is learning about different cultures and countries; living with your flatmates in the first year you try food from different cultures. It really allows you to broaden your horizons, learn more about people, and come out of your shell if you are a little bit shy.

People at university are curious about you: you might not think that a specific thing about you is interesting, but when people ask about it, it makes you appreciate that part of you. When I say I was born in Poland, and moved to the UK when I was six, people say ‘That’s so cool, you speak Polish! Can you tell me about Poland?’ To me it’s normal, I’m Polish, I was born in Poland… But then someone asks about it and that makes me feel like it’s interesting.

I also feel comfortable being myself in the academic context. Part of it is the course you’re on and the tutors you have. In my course, we ask a lot of questions and do groupwork, which creates an enabling environment to be yourself. Doing A-levels prepared me a lot for the academic way of working and writing, so I have the skills and background to be comfortable being myself in this context. But I also know people on my course who didn’t do A-levels, who perhaps struggled with academic writing in their first year, and in some cases needed more support.

Do you mask or minimalise any aspect of yourself at university?

That’s quite a difficult question because I really do try to bring my whole self into the spaces I’m in. I try to embrace my experiences and my background. I enjoy connecting with people, and building relationships, and I’m very creative. So whenever I feel like I’m in a space where that isn’t valued, I tend to step away from it.

One thing I have struggled with is my home background. My parents haven’t been able to buy a house because of house prices, so they are currently renting, and since I came to university they’ve moved to a smaller place. That means there isn’t much room for me to go back to. That’s been hard to talk about with my peers: people say they’re going home for the holidays, and ask how long I’m going for. And I just go home for a couple of days. I’ve moved permanently to Coventry, and when I finish my studies I know I’ll need a job to pay rent because I don’t have my parents’ home to go back to. I see my peers going to do a gap year after their studies, or moving in with their parents, and I don’t really have the option to do that. So I struggle to talk about this: it’s not like I minimise it or try to hide it, I just feel like my peers aren’t in this position so they don’t understand.

Have you faced or witnessed discrimination, bullying or harassment in an academic setting?

Near the end of secondary school, especially, I did experience discrimination while the Brexit campaign was happening. There was this narrative of European migrants ‘going back to their country’. It was a time, a few years ago now, when that kind of thing was common, and it was taken as ‘banter’. You saw this kind of thing on social media, and I think a lot of people were repeating what they saw, or what their parents were saying. I’m not really sure whether they meant it as banter, or whether they meant it seriously. I obviously found it hurtful, but at the time all I really did was to laugh it off, because I didn’t know how else to respond.

When things like Brexit are happening, we know it’s going on and everyone’s hearing about it on the news and social media, but schools just ignore it because it’s an uncomfortable topic, it’s very political. There are many sides to the debate, and schools don’t create safe spaces for people to develop opinions and ask questions. But schools and universities have a responsibility to ask the hard questions and have discussions that can be uncomfortable and challenging – this is something I’m quite passionate about.

As I said before, in the Education Studies curriculum at Warwick, we ask a lot of questions and we’re encouraged to reflect on these things, but there is room for even more of this: challenging perceptions, challenging where the curriculum comes from, and incorporating current issues that we hear about on the news into what we’re learning.