“I think what I like most about the university so far is actually my course, and the relationship I have with my peers and lecturers and professors. That’s really made the biggest difference, I really enjoy going to classes and doing the work”
What is your name, course and nationality?
My name is Katherine Lai, I’m a third year music student right now, and I was born in Hong Kong but I moved to Shanghai when I was four and that’s where I grew up for most of my life.
If you can rewind back to when you were researching study options, what made you choose the UK and Oxford Brookes specifically?
I wanted to come to the UK because of the way university programmes are designed here. You can really just go straight into the subject you want to study here and I knew that I wanted to study music. It wasn’t really a question for me so the UK was where I was looking at most. I wasn’t actually looking at Brookes specifically, I had my eyes on a couple of other schools but my brother was applying for Architecture here at the same time and I was helping him with some emails and things. I really liked the way that Brookes responded to his questions, even though they weren’t relevant to me, it was about his questions and Architecture. Something about the tone of the emails or how quick they responded made me think ‘Oh, I haven’t heard of this university, I wonder if they have Music’ and they did. I had a look at the programme and it seemed very interesting. It had a good range of musical topics that I could study that I hadn’t studied before. I went through the application process and everyone I spoke to throughout the process was very welcoming and very kind and I really think that’s what helped put Brookes over the finish line for me.
Which teams did you find most helpful?
It was both the admissions team and for the rest of my application process a lot of the communication happened with faculty staff, so Music staff. So my interview or any questions about what I had to submit as my audition - it was quite a seamless process and everyone was just very responsive.
Why did you choose that route, have you got quite a musical background?
I started playing the violin when I was about five, and I’d been involved in orchestras and performances and all of that since then. It was always something I really enjoyed and something I wanted to pursue further. I still play the violin, I’m currently playing with the university orchestra. I also just started with the pit band for the university musical, the production of Fame. It’s been really fun just to get involved just with people.
In terms of Oxford Brookes as a university, what do you like the most?
I think what I like most about the university so far is actually my course, and the relationship I have with my peers and lecturers and professors. That’s really made the biggest difference, I really enjoy going to classes and doing the work and I’m sad that this is my last semester, I want this to go on for longer! So I think that’s been my favourite part, and also just meeting and being around like-minded people who also love music as much as I do, they have very different backgrounds to me but the fact we all love music actually makes it easier to be a community and connect with each other.
Have you used any particular facilities or services at Brookes that have been particularly helpful?
The library has been incredible. I mostly go up to the fourth floor where the music books and collections are. That's been very extensive and helpful for the research that I have to do, and I’m still doing. Also, the Richard Hamilton building is where I spend most of my time.
How would you compare the UK teaching style to Shanghai?
It was a bit of a shock at first that we could address our lecturers by their first name, I think it’s a mix between us being mostly adults or a bit older, more mature but also that was something we could never do at school growing up. But then actually, it’s been really nice that this group of lecturers we have now, they really care about student voices. Class discussions are really equal, there’s a lot of safe space for people to speak when they want to, speak when they don’t. Actually I think that everybody’s here to study the thing that we want to, there’s much more engagement, which makes for discussions and activities to be better.
As a city, what do you like most about living in Oxford?
I really enjoy how much emphasis there is on heritage and history. You can see a lot being done to maintain the history that the city has, keeping the really old buildings still functional but also taking care of them. Also, I grew up in some of the biggest cities in the world so coming here to Oxford was very, very different. As much as there was a learning curve to get used to it, actually I just enjoyed being in a smaller space where it just feels like places are easier to get to, it feels like a smaller community where you can get to know people. Mostly just because it’s so different from where I grew up, or the places I grew up in.
What’s your favourite thing about being a student ambassador?
For me, it’s the opportunity to get to know other student ambassadors from the School of Arts. As much as we are the School of Arts, we kind of keep to our own subject course sometimes. But, being a Student Ambassador and working the open days and applicant days, they are quite long days, and you do end up spending a good amount of time with each other, moving things or just helping each other out. And then naturally alongside that you get talking and get to know each other, so that has been my main opportunity to get to know people outside of my course. So far I’ve mostly been doing the open and applicant days, I’ve also been trained to do subject workshops. I’ve been trained to deliver a taster lecture and go out into schools around Oxford to give a music talk to get kids more engaged with music. It’s a range of sixth form and GCSE students.
What are your future plans?
When I first came to Brookes I already had my mind made up - I was here to do my undergrad and then I’d go straight into a master’s for Music Therapy. But, it was actually my experiences in this programme studying subjects in music that I’d never been able to (things like film music or recording studio practices) that really opened up my eyes to what I enjoy, and so these experiences lead to some other ones in the last two and a half years which made me second guess my pre-planned path into music therapy. So I’m thinking now I’m going to take a break from academics, maybe for a couple of years and actually go out and do some practical things. Maybe live music marketing which is something I found I really enjoyed, or just music business admin work for composers, just to see a bit more before I bury my head back into a book. You never know who you meet along the way - networking is such a scary thing but it can also happen really naturally if you just go out to different events or get talking to people, you never know who they know or what they do, whether or not you’ll be able to form a professional relationship. A lot of these people that I’ve met, I didn’t plan to meet any of them so that’s been really nice.