Searching for belonging: learning from students’ photographs about their higher education experiences

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Searching for belonging is the transformative individual process of developing connections, making homes and hoping in the ecologies of a community. Belongingness influences academic performance, confidence and well-being. Therefore, understanding how students embody and search for belongingness in their higher education experience provides insights into student agency during their learning and development. Through an arts-based method – photography – we facilitated postgraduate students’ reflections on their higher education experience at a UK university during the Covid-19 pandemic. This method decentres the dominant role of (usually English) language in producing knowledge about student experience. Our findings suggest that belonging is constructed through a liminal space of making embodied, material, affective, aesthetic and mental connections to a new environment and is grounded in the humanistic endeavour of being a connected person at a place. The students’ photographic insights about belonging are not confined by essentialist boundaries of their nationalities or student status, which might be foregrounded in the existing narratives about (‘international’) students and their experience in UK higher education. Instead, they reflect a humanistic, holistic sense making of students’ experience, in which the students are evident as agentive, confident, and capable of home-making and searching for belonging.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
JournalLondon Review of Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2023


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