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The Exploration of Happiness: Construction and Connections within the Populace of International Students in the United Kingdom – Emmanuel Johnson


Aims and Objectives


My research seeks to uncover the theme of happiness within the community of international students. With this project, I have the intention of achieving an understanding of mutual practises, which bind international communities together and underline seemingly ordinary routines. Frable (1997) indicates that identity is diverse and chaotic. This reality poses a crucial challenge for me, as I aim to unearth aspects of everyday practise that keep international students ‘going’ and make life bearable for us. Thus, altering our perceptions of ourselves and identity.

The reason behind this goal is the enormous meaning within the course, which envelopes traditions that constitute the totality of mutual connections in the community of international students. My remonstrance shall now be to deconstruct their identities and present them in a visually suitable manner on screen.

My focus is very much centred on the experiences and perhaps struggles of international students who are faced with the task of rediscovering their positions and identities in unfamiliar spaces.

This process encompasses a large volume of depth, which I believe at the moment is in the dark. I aspire to shed light on its dynamics, with hopes of drawing out enlightenment from non-internationals, on our plight behind the curtain.

Although this process has been ongoing for a long time. I am looking to critique current understandings of what it means for an international student to feel lost, due to his or her current environment, and subtleties of this reality.

As much as my project is focused on capturing the process of mutuality established by international students, as we try to make sense of our spaces; I intend to bring to light the emptiness felt by many of us, who try to build a life for ourselves abroad and far away from home. This is meant to correlate with the ethos behind the entire project – an imaginative piece, which reflects the continuous bustle of a group of individuals, faced with the objective of making sense out of their new-found realities.


Relevance to Professional or Academic Field


My project links to the overall framework of my professional and academic prospects for the future. Based on my interest in Media Production and Film, I intend to put my passion into use and work within this field in future. Henceforth, I have decided to make a documentary on the topic of happiness, and the connections that lie within the community of international students. This allows for me to express my passion for Media Production and produce film through it. Taking this route equips me further for challenges that I might face within the professional or corporate world.

My primary roles within this project shall be Director and Producer. I believe this shall present me with invaluable experience for the future, as it is my most ambitious project yet, and the one I have worked hardest at. Bazin nd (cited in Shaviro 2001) reflected upon his concept of ‘the myth of total cinema’ as he painted it as ‘a recreation of the world in its own image’. It is my goal for this project, as Director and Producer to recreate a reality, which can even sometimes be painful. This is what (Kotarba 1983: 15) describes as ‘a private, even lonely experience, as a feeling that I have that others cannot have, or as a feeling that others have that I myself cannot feel’. This project aims to capture the feelings international students go through, which non-internationals do not experience, and furthermore depict privileges that cannot be enjoyed by people foreign to particular demographics.

In addition to my professional field, which I have listed as Film and Media Production, the academic side of my identity is growing in relevance day-by-day. This makes it impossible to separate this aspect of my future from the other. As Matthew mentions; our identities are never stiff but always moving (2009: 36).

Although I identify as a Media Producer and Filmmaker, I also identify as a Cultural Thinker and life-long student of Cultural Studies. Therefore, I shall be using film as a tool of expression for this medium; highlighting my desired theories within it, including the most primary for my project; affect theory.

This research into happiness shall find itself at home to the body of knowledge within Cultural Studies. Ahmed in (Gregg and Seigworth 2000: 29) describes affect as ‘what sticks, or sustains or preserves the connection between ideas, values, and objects’. This quote highlights the very nature of mutuality that I have discovered from my observational analysis into the discourse of happiness within the community of international students. I aspire to deconstruct and expand upon this, and highlight meanings within those words. I aim to use this as a primary guide within my project, as I explore the concept of ‘connections’ within the populace of international students in the United Kingdom.

It shall permit for the embodiment of my identities and selves, and allow for me to find my voice, not only as a Filmmaker but also a member of the academic body of Cultural Studies.

My work shall contribute to already-existing research within an important aspect of this academic field, which is affect theory. The reason for its importance is existential to the fact that, affect and happiness and non-measurable tangents; stressing the need for further research and understanding on it.

Not only shall my work contribute to what already exists, it will also present a fresh perspective, reflective of my identity as a disciple of Cultural Studies, who also happens to produce visual media texts.

The words ‘passion’ and ‘passive’ are part of the same lineage, which connote ‘suffering’ in Latin (Ahmed 2014: 2). This is expressive of the fact that, although I am conveying my passion for Media Production and Cultural Studies via this final piece, I will face challenges whilst getting into the safe spaces of international students. Because of this, it is important that I am most comfortable with my passion in this project. This allows for me to direct the production in the right path, and allow for others to steer it to a constructive end.


Research Approach or Methodology


My work shall make use of auto-ethnography throughout the entirety of the production, as I undergo the process of lived cultural and personal experiences of international students within their own groups and demographics. I aim to capture the meaning behind being in a group, being part of something that matters, and the collective underpinnings which bind this mutual process.

I shall make use of interviews and focus groups, as a way of capturing the thoughts and opinions of my participants. My goal is to establish a rapport with my research subjects firstly, before going into filming. This is needed in creating a comfortable atmosphere of trust, which shall allow for better expression of selves within my project.

Auto-ethnographers are at will to use personal lived experience, in addition to their methodological literature gained from research, in hopes of representing their researched culture as familiar to the masses (Ronai, 1995, 1996 in Ellis, Adams and Bochner 2011). As a fellow international student who finds solace within smaller groups of common interests, I shall also be contributing towards the final output of the project, due to similarity of experiences with my participants.

I am looking to explore two genres of documentaries within this project:

  • Participatory
  • Performative

I believe this works accordingly with my auto-ethnographic approach, because, although I may not be the central point of focus within the film, I shall have an influence on the turnout of its narrative, both visually and auditory.

I intend to adopt, but not replicate Michael Moor’s approach, particularly in his 2002 documentary; ‘Bowling for Columbine’. This is predominantly because the documentary does not appear ‘scripted’, as its narrative seems to deviate from a set of ‘stiff’ rules, and is fluid and experimental in approach. This gives room for more expression from crew and cast.

I aim to question how happiness is constructed within the populace of international students in the United Kingdom. As a result, I shall be engaging in participatory observation as a way gaining an understanding into reasons why subgroups are created within the international student community, and whether mutuality is achieved through them.


Expected Outcomes


It is my desire to create an understanding of the complexities we as international students face away from our home countries, whilst chasing a degree abroad. This connotes struggles of identities in the sense that, they become subject to a high degree of change – which often leads to a less-understood and more confused interpretation of who we think we are, and how we see ourselves in the long run.

Through my background in Communication, Culture and Media, I hope to affect the way international students are perceived by both higher institutions of learning, and natives of the country. I look to attain this by highlighting certain unseen experiences, which help us get by in everyday life and give us a reason to hope on something greater in future.

Through my engagement with auto-ethnography, I will arrive at a clearer understanding of the meaning behind mutual practises between international students, which help to create connections amongst individuals. This shall also provide an avenue for fellow international students to communicate their feelings in an unconventional manner.

It is my hope that, adjustments can be made in the way international students are orientated upon arrival in the United Kingdom, and certain support mechanisms can be put into place to support students who now think of themselves differently, because of exposure to foreign values placed on them via learning, and lived experience within society.




Ahmed, S. (2014) The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.


Ellis, C., Adams, T., Bochner, A. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’. Volume 12, No. 1, Art. 10. Available at <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095#g2> [11 July 2017].


Frable, D. (1997) ‘Gender, Racial, Ethnic, Sexual, and Class Identities’. Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 48. Available at <http://maxweber.hunter.cuny.edu/pub/eres/SOC217_PIMENTEL/frable.pdf> [11th July 2017].


Gregg, M., Seigworth, G. (2010) The Affect Theory Reader. Durham: Duke University Press.


Kotarba, A. (1983) Chronic Pain: Its Social Dimensions. Beverly Hills: Sage.


Matthew, K. (2009) Heidegger and Happiness. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.


Shaviro, S. (2001) ‘The Cinema of Absence: How Film Achieves a Greater Reality by Showing Us What Isn’t There’. Film Supplement: The Periphery. Available at <http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=7939> [11th July 2017].


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