From a rural teacher to a PhD candidate in England

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Dinara is a second year PhD student in Education at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

Teacher is like a diplomat

My name is Dinara. I am currently a 2nd year PhD student in Education at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.
I was born and raised in a large family. My parents are from Uzbekistan, in 1980 they moved to a city of Aktobe in Kazakhstan, where I was born afterwards. My parents work really hard to provide us with a decent education for our future development. I have seven siblings and we knew that raising us was not a walk in the park for our parents.
In 2006, I graduated from high school and found it difficult to choose university and a degree. I had been interested in English since school, where I studied it in depth. The passion for foreign languages motivated me to apply for the Faculty of International Relations and Languages. Unfortunately, the results of the high school exams was insufficient for me to apply for grant for that degree, and the finding allocated for it was limited. However, as I had a special quota fro disabled people (because as a child I was diagnosed a disability of the 3rd group) and taking into account my fairly high score of the high school exams, I was awarded funding for three other degrees at once: Translation, Study of Foreign Languages and the Faculty of Philology. After long family discussions and listening to my parents’ advice, I applied to the Faculty of Education and obtained a bachelor degree with honours in "Foreign language: English and French" in 2010.
Upon my graduation, I started working at a high school located in the capital city. In spite of teachers’ work being quite difficult that requires a lot of energy, resilience and patience, it gives a teacher sense of fulfilment and excitement. Moreover, in my first year of teaching, it became evident to me that a teacher should never stop learning and being curious about the world around them. The world is constantly changing and I, as a teacher, also need to keep improving myself throughout my life for the sake of students’ prosperity. Therefore, before embarking on the doctoral program, I had worked in various educational public and private institutions of preschool, school and university education; I had had the opportunity to work in different cities of Kazakhstan, as well as abroad; I had received two master's degrees at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan (MSc in Educational Leadership) and the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom (MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL). My last job before embarking on PhD program was an English teacher in the village of Semenovka, Akmola region in Kazakhstan.
For me, work of a teacher resembles work of a Diplomat. Transferring knowledge and teaching life skills to children, and instilling in them moral-ethical values feels like creating bridges between the present and future, aimed at contributing to the development of the country and the life of each of my students individually.

Autonomous language learning is the key to equality

I became interested in applying for the doctoral program during my master's degree in Leicester. In one of the courses in Psycholinguistics, I wrote a term paper on the Autonomous Language Learning. This topic had been fascinating me since my childhood when I was diagnosed with a disability and autonomous learning became a way of learning on an equal terms with my peers for me. As a child, I had not been aware of the existence of this term until later when I became a teacher and researcher, I realised importance of the Autonomous Language Learning. In the rapidly developing world, learning a foreign language has become very important for economic, political and social welfare of people.

Supervisors see me as a colleague, not a student

After I had arrived in Kazakhstan upon completing master's degree at University of Leicester, I started looking for professors who conduct research in the Autonomous Language Learning. I applied to several universities, went through interviews and eventually chose the University of Bristol. The University of Bristol has a fairly extensive research experience and potential. Our university takes pride in having professors who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, which indicates that university’s prioritisation of research.
Moreover, I would like to emphasise the role of my supervisors in my research. On the one hand, they are excellent mentors who would always help and advise. On the other hand, they do not restrict me as a researcher but rather treat me as a colleague rather than a student. Their attitude towards me motivates me take more responsibility for my studies.

The process of application into doctoral studies took me a year

If we dwell on the process of admission to PhD program, it took me almost a year to be accepted to the university. Search for a suitable program, supervisors and the admission procedure take considerable time to prepare. A lot of useful information could always be found on website of a university itself, but the most important thing is to start applying well in advance, at least six months before the start of the program. I am not aware of doctoral programs in other countries, but in the United Kingdom it usually lasts 3-4 years. In the field of education, there are two qualifications of EdD (Doctor of Education) - Doctor of Education (by profile) and PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) - Doctor of Philosophy in the field (Education). There are no fundamental differences between these programs, except volume of dissertation. PhDs write much more words and dwell profounder into theoretical knowledge. Education in England does not consist of lectures, seminars and courseworks only. First of all, students are provided with various opportunities to develop as a researcher and practitioner. It is an exciting process, but one also need to have excellent time management and motivation to keep working and moving forward.

Autonomous learning is the ability to make decisions and take responsibility for your own learning

I study Autonomous Language Learning and the role of a teacher in its promotion in the context of trilingualism policy in secondary education in Kazakhstan. As an English teacher, I strive to create learning conditions for children so that they get the maximum benefit, but at the same time always remain in search of new knowledge. The concept of autonomous learning is like a golden key or one of the keys to solving a problem. Autonomous learning is, first of all, the ability to make decisions and take responsibility for your own learning, which part of lifelong learning.

English gap between urban and rural schools in Kazakhstan

Children at school do not always know how to build their own path in order to successfully learn and develop, especially when it comes to learning a foreign language A teacher plays a crucial role in the formation and development of students. On the other hand, the policy of trilingualism in Kazakhstan has been extensively and widely promoted and particularly in secondary education. However, during my career as a teacher in both urban and rural schools, I realised that there is a difference in the promotion of English language.
I hope that my research would help to reveal how English teachers in cities and countryside conceptualise autonomous language learning, as well as, whether there are conditions in place to successfully promote the policy of trilingualism in Kazakhstan, in particular for English language as there is not always an environment for communicating in English in our country.

Differences in education in England and Kazakhstan

I think the main difference in education in England and Kazakhstan is the very approach to learning. In the United Kingdom, PhD studies involves a lot of independent work. The student paves his/her own way of learning. In the first year I took courses which were marked by assignments and examinations, nevertheless, a student is provided autonomy to conduct his/her own research and choose different courses.
Moreover, I also have a lot of opportunities to develop my teaching and research potential, which is provided by the university and other educational organisations. For example, last year I won a grant from the Ministry of Education and Science of Germany (Hamburg) and took part in a summer school for doctoral students in the field of Multilingualism at the University of Hamburg in partnership with the Macquarie University, Sydney. Whats is more, I also participated in various conferences and seminars for doctoral students and researchers. From time to time, I am engaged in teaching activities and delivering courses for undergraduates, as well as disseminating my knowledge and experience as a volunteer for English language teachers and students. I am currently completing a program on the Effective Planning for Effective Teaching, which I am going to launch and distribute on a volunteer basis among English language teachers in rural schools of Kazakhstan.
I think that many universities in Kazakhstan today are also switching to a training format similar to the British ones; our universities are trying to adopt the best world experience. I am proud that Kazakhstan graduates of foreign universities are making considerable contribution to the schools and universities in Kazakhstan.

Conquering not only academic peaks, but mountain ones as well

In addition to teaching, I am a travel enthusiast, which is what I try to do when I have free time. I also do sports to keep my health and mood in good shape. For example, in England there are wonderful landscapes, and my friends and I go on mountain hikes. We have already managed to conquer several peaks in the UK, and also went hiking for quite a long distance. Now we are preparing to conquer the peaks of Wales (Snowdonia).

Gratitude to Kazakhstan

I would like to express my deep gratitude to my country and our people for proving me the opportunity to be Bolashak scholarship holder twice. I would not have even dared to dream of studying in England if I had not received the presidential scholarship. I would like to wish everyone to find their true calling, and many peaks would be defeated by you despite difficulties of life!

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