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Tuesday 4 October 2016

Around 20 per cent of all students in UK higher education come from other countries, with many of those choosing to study at Southampton Solent University.

As part of our occasional blog series around students with English as a second language, Boniface Hima tells us about his educational journey to Southampton Solent University and beyond.

We first met Boniface, who was seeking advice regarding his academic writing, at the end of his third year at Solent University. He had just completed his dissertation towards a BSc in engineering, investigating the acoustics’ parameters for St Mary’s church in Southampton. The dissertation also provided recommendations for improving the church’s acoustic characteristics without affecting any of its architectural features. Clearly passionate about sound engineering and acoustics, he duly graduated with first class honours in 2015, and successfully secured a part-time job as assistant acoustics consultant for a local acoustics service.

An MSc in Applied Acoustics at Solent University followed hot on the heels of this excellent degree result. One of the fortunate ones to receive postgraduate hardship funding, he has spent this year investigating unacceptable noise levels (tonality) from plant machinery by looking into subjective and objective methods of assessing tonality noise in conjunction with psychoacoustics in human perception.

So where did Boniface’s journey begin? We were curious to know where his fascination for sound had come from, what brought him to the UK and what spurred him on to such academic success.

Boniface was brought up in Tanzania, home to the Serengeti National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro.

It all started in Tanzania. Arusha to be precise, where a six year old Boniface found himself working on his grandmother’s farm in the evenings after school: cutting the grass, cleaning the cows, working on the coffee and banana plantations and selling the produce. With such a laborious domestic life, there was hardly any time to study. Education certainly wasn’t a priority and very few people in the local area came from an educated background. As Boniface explained, “Getting food on the table is a priority”.

There are over 125 languages in Tanzania. As he was growing up Boniface learned the local language of Chaga from his grandmother and mother, and Sukuma from his father. However, in Arusha, where he completed his education, the common language was Kiarusha. To complicate matters still further, all school subjects apart from English were taught in Swahili. So even before he graduated from high school Boniface had become adept at languages and communication, gradually building up the blocks of knowledge and understanding that would serve him so well in the future.

Nothing dissuaded him from pursuing his studies. Even when he was getting up at 5am to tend to his father’s maize plantation during the school holidays Boniface knew his future came with an education rather than working the plantations. Although his grandmother was uneducated it was she who was his biggest supporter and who encouraged this dream. Notwithstanding challenging personal circumstances, he successfully passed A-levels in Physics, Maths and Chemistry, providing him with a secure foundation for his future educational successes.

Boniface at his undergraduate graduation ceremony in 2015.

It was sometime later, when Boniface was volunteering as a sound engineer in Dar Es Salaam, that he was attracted to a London college’s marketing campaign championing the opportunity of both study and work in the UK. Despite never having visited the UK before, or indeed travelled outside of Tanzania, this recruitment drive drew him in. With a kind loan secured from a friend to cover flights, college deposit and study, Boniface arrived alone at Heathrow airport with a £80 taxi bill to pay and nowhere to stay that night. It was a discouraging, and daunting, scenario.

This overwhelming feeling of insecurity and anonymity increased over the ensuing months as the reality of his situation sunk in: the 'study and work' promise didn’t fully materialise and London living proved unsustainable. As Boniface explained, “There is a myth in Africa that if you make your way to the UK your life will change. You will be able to do your studies at the same time as working so you can provide for your family. This is not convincing. You have to have a plan. Don’t just jump on a plane –if you’re not accepted by government it’s a difficult life.”

A year later it was the British Army’s recruitment advertisement, displayed on the side of a London double decker, which finally put his university dream on hold and sent him off on a completely different trajectory as a specialist driver for the Royal Engineers. The subsequent five years of army life provided him with the means to repay his friend’s educational loan and settle his student debts.

But Boniface’s original dream of a university education did come true, eventually. And his academic journey appears unstoppable. In September 2016, he will begin his PhD at the University of Southampton where he will not only be researching noise and tracking mitigation, but also instructing and inspiring another cohort of undergraduate students just like the one he once was. He aspires to become an acoustic consultant and highly recommends gaining hands-on experience to any students who are considering a similar career.

He has thoroughly enjoyed both the Solent University undergraduate and masters’ courses, and praises the work experience opportunities offered at undergraduate level.  He can’t rate more highly the 'state of the art facilities' and the opportunity to experience real life scenarios alongside the absorbing day-to-day teaching and learning experience. He believes he has acquired extensive professional skills too: team working; communication; report writing, mathematical understanding; and critical analysis, to name but a few.

Solent's anechoic chamber - one of many specialist acoustic resources.

There have been challenges too. Raising two small children alongside BSc, MSc and now PhD studies was never going to be straightforward, but his dedication to the benefits of an education has kept him going through the difficult times. He didn’t learn English, or academic English for that matter, in an intensive way in Tanzania but did spend hours of self-study, from academic writing instruction books to physics texts, and always valued the advice and guidance of his lecturers. His recommendation to others whose mother tongue is not English is to read extensively in English. Not just 'how to write dissertations' or 'how to write reports', but storybooks. Magazines. Literature. Anything!

Boniface has also assisted us with some bitesize study skills films containing tips for academic success which will be posted to succeed@solent in the near future. We wish him well on this fresh journey of discovery and thank him for sharing his academic journey and study skills advice with us.

Access Boniface’s films and a range of study skill resources on the Succeed@Solent website. You can also contact the team via Twitter or Facebook.

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