This is a joint Post by Oluwadamilare Olaniyi, doctoral student in the Department of Operations, Technology, Events and Hospitality Management (OTEHM) and Alaa Khaled, doctoral student in the Department of People and Performance.

Learning is fun! We are sure you all had moments of doubt while embarking on your PhD journey that learning is fun! You need to read this blog – it is a moment of confirmation.

Undertaking a PhD is a significant academic and personal endeavour that involves in-depth research, critical thinking and personal development. The life of a doctoral student is multifaceted, encompassing various aspects such as research, coursework, teaching responsibilities, networking and personal well-being. During the weekend of 15-17 December 2023, we were sponsored by the Manchester Metropolitan University Doctoral College to attend the Commonwealth & International Student Christmas Conference at Cumberland Lodge. Cumberland Lodge is an educational charity and social enterprise that empowers young people to lead the conversation around social division, providing students with the skills, perspective and confidence to question, challenge and understand some of the most complex social issues of our time. Cumberland Lodge also holds residential conferences, lectures, and discussions about social and ethical issues. Cumberland Lodge is located in Windsor Great Park, an ancient Royal landscape which is also ‘home’ to Windsor Castle. We gladly and boldly represented Manchester Metropolitan University amongst over 60 postgraduate students from other universities around the UK. 

The Commonwealth & International Student Christmas Conference at Cumberland Lodge is an annual event that brings together students from various countries studying at UK universities to celebrate the holiday season and engage in discussions on topics related to the Commonwealth and international relations. The conference took place over the weekend of 15-17 December 2023, offering participants the opportunity to network, learn from distinguished speakers, and participate in workshops and activities.

Experience at the Conference

The experience at the Commonwealth & International Student Christmas Conference at Cumberland Lodge can only be described as enriching and inspiring, as we had the chance to interact with peers from diverse cultural backgrounds, which fostered a sense of global citizenship and cultural sensitivity. It was truly inspiring to have this experience with a diverse range of students, all at different stages in their PhD journey. The staff at Cumberland Lodge also know how to foster a supportive and friendly atmosphere, and we quickly made friends while exchanging contacts.

The conference programme also included keynote addresses by prominent figures in international relations, panel discussions on relevant issues, and interactive sessions aimed at developing leadership skills and promoting cross-cultural dialogue. Moreover, the festive atmosphere of the conference, combined with the picturesque setting of Cumberland Lodge, creates a unique and memorable experience for attendees. The opportunity to celebrate Christmas traditions from different parts of the world further adds to the cultural exchange and camaraderie among participants.

Day one started with arrival at the Lodge, reception and introduction, a welcome talk by Dr Ed Newell (Chief Executive, Cumberland Lodge), followed by dinner and a keynote address titled ‘Belonging in the Festive Season’, delivered by Dr Kim Samuel (Founder and Chief, Belonging Officer, Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness).

Day two started with breakfast, followed by a pep talk on Love, Hate, and the Great American Divide delivered by Professor Melissa Butcher (Programme Director, Cumberland Lodge), followed by an intriguing workshop on How to Argue Better and Survive a Festive Fallout, which was very interesting. We then had a fantastic winter trail (walk) through Windsor Great Park, after which we attended the Christmas carols with Quire Voices, Christmas Dinner, Christmas quiz and festive soirée (karaoke), after which we then spent time at the bar and played different games, bonding with other attendees.

Day three, which was the last day, started with breakfast, checking out, and final reflections on Christmas conundrums were held with ideas being exchanged on lessons learnt so far after which we then proceeded for brunch and departures.

Key Highlights

One of the key highlights of the conference was the emphasis on fostering connections and building networks among students who share an interest in global affairs. This can lead to long-lasting friendships and collaborations that extend beyond the duration of the event. Additionally, the exposure to diverse perspectives and ideas through the conference’s programming contributed to personal growth and the broadening of horizons for attendees. Furthermore, the inclusive nature of the conference ensured that students from all backgrounds felt welcome and valued, creating an environment where everyone’s voice could be heard. This promoted a sense of belonging and encouraged open dialogue on important issues facing the international community.

Impact and Takeaways

The impact of attending the Commonwealth & International Student Christmas Conference at Cumberland Lodge extends beyond just the event itself. We both left with a renewed sense of purpose, a deeper understanding of global issues and a network of like-minded scholars who shared their passion for making a positive impact in the world. The knowledge gained from engaging with experts in international relations and hearing diverse perspectives will influence our future academic pursuits, career choices and personal development.  We were also provided with a platform to reflect on our roles as future leaders and change-makers within our respective communities. The connections made at the conference will lead to collaborative projects, research initiatives and advocacy efforts that address pressing global challenges.

In conclusion, the Commonwealth & International Student Christmas Conference at Cumberland Lodge offered us both a very transformative experience for fostering cultural exchange, intellectual growth and meaningful connections that extend far beyond the event itself.

We are both extremely grateful for the support we received from Manchester Met Doctoral College for making our weekend at Cumberland Lodge possible with the full funding provided.

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