When I first started my postgraduate study I was surprised by how the lecturers and local students interacted. Students were talking to the lecturers like friends or peers!
They would argue any point if they disagreed, or interrupt anytime they wished. Lecturers would not be offended but appeared to be relaxed and sometimes excited about subsequent discussions. This is the first time I felt that personal opinions actually matter, even when faced by the “experts”.
Coming from a culture which emphasises respect for and obedience to those who are in authority, such as lecturers and supervisors, I still find it hard to adjust to the local way of doing things, even after living in the UK for 3.5 years. It still takes me a long time to be bold about my ideas and position.
In my culture making peace with others is one of the crucial goals of dealing with interpersonal relationships. Therefore, I was and sometimes still am inclined to remain silent on certain issues so no one may be offended. On the one hand direct confrontations and potential conflicts can be avoided, but on the other hand it is hard for others to know what my genuine thoughts are. Moreover, I have been taught that those in authority are right most of the time so I should obey them. In this sense raising a different view seems like a rebellious act. Although I learnt that reasoning is not equivalent to offending others, speaking out against those in authority is still a challenging breakthrough for me.
Recently, I had a meeting with my supervisor. We had different opinions towards a chapter of the thesis that I wrote. In the meeting, my supervisor was questioning about certain points addressed in the paper and the relevance of this chapter to my PhD research. In the past, I would follow his advice and alter my opinions accordingly. But this time, I chose to provide justifications for the parts which I deemed crucial for keeping the chapter. The meeting turned out to be a fruitful and rewarding one.
This positive experience encourages me to speak out my mind more boldly and freely, not for the sake of challenging those in authority, but to be critical of opinions and information and to facilitate genuine exchange of ideas.