Mapping international cultural partnerships at King’s

King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowships gives undergraduate students the unique opportunity to learn alongside leading King’s academics and experts. This blog, written by undergraduate International Literature student Natasha Daix, reflects on the experience of working alongside the Culture teams to map and explore King’s international cultural collaborations.

As a King’s Undergraduate Research Fellow (KURF) working with Ruth Hogarth, Director of Cultural Partnerships & Enquiry at King’s, my role was to explore the landscape of the university’s international cultural collaborations. This entailed mostly desk research: I was to comb through the King’s website and promotional materials to catalogue all of the university’s international partner HEIs and record them in an Excel table, labelling their department, global region and the type of partnership they had with King’s (such as student exchange, research, joint teaching etc). Once this was done, I selected a few other UK universities and rummaged through their websites to find information about their cultural partnerships. The end goal was to find partnerships that King’s could either learn from, or potentially participate in.

The result is quite satisfying. It was quickly visible that King’s has more substantial partnerships with Asian, American and Australian universities, a multitude of smaller partnerships with European HEIs, and only few partnerships within South America and Africa. Furthermore, information on other universities’ international cultural collaborations was hard to find. My finding suggest that, amongst its closest competitors, King’s is the only university to have such a developed infrastructure around the production of culture and partnerships. Or, perhaps, King’s is the most transparent about its cultural collaborations.

I was attracted to this KURF assignment because of the international and cultural aspects of the project. Being a student of International Literature, it was interesting to find out about King’s involvement with international universities through its exchange programs and joint teaching. It was also exciting to imagine ways King’s could be involved with international universities culturally in the future, because these partnerships have the potential to directly impact on students’ experience of higher education.

However, for me, working in the Inigo Rooms in Somerset House East Wing was one of the best parts of the Fellowship. Every time I walked out of the office, a new addition had been made to the gallery space, bringing together, piece by piece, King’s recent exhibition, Paths to Utopia. We watched a black and white painting full of strange mythological creatures cover the walls of a neighbouring room and the creation of an immersive cave-like structure containing deformed mirrors popped up in the corridor space. Truly here the worlds of artists, academics and policy makers collide, sometimes quite literally because of all the construction.

As an admirer of visual arts, I could not hope for a better place to work during a month of my summer break. The experience has sparked my interest in a sector I was barely aware of until now, and that I would like to be more involved in.

The Fellowship was greatly enhanced by the bright, passionate people I worked with in the office. I enjoyed their live commentary on the recent Referendum and it was lovely to have Ruth as a supervisor, as she was always encouraging and trusted my decisions. The autonomy I was given felt very empowering. Overall, it was a great first experience in the working world, which has had a powerful impact on my outlook. Indeed, even as I meet students on my Summer Abroad Program in Shanghai I am thankful to King’s – I cannot help but catalogue all the HEIs Fudan University is partnering with! Perhaps they could be interested in future partnerships with King’s.

Words by Natasha Daix.


Reducing stigma around Autism Spectrum Disorder

Hidden challenges: a day in the life of a young person with Autism Spectrum Disorder is a project that aims to improve public understanding of autism spectrum disorder in young people by producing engaging visual illustrations to depict their day-to-day life. The project was led by Virginia Carter Leno, a PhD student in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s. Victoria writes below about her motivations for the project and the research that went into the production of the cartoon vignettes that were produced in collaboration with Dominique Sherwood, an independent graphic designer.

This project started for me after a conversation with a parent of a young girl with autism. She was explaining that her daughter has extremely sensitive hearing, and so to her even people talking quietly can sound like shouting.

She said this can cause her to become distressed and sometimes shout at people in public, including in their local supermarket. She said thankfully everyone there was very understanding, but she worried this would not be the case elsewhere. This got me thinking about how parents of children with autism might feel that the general public may not understand why their child can become very distressed in certain situations, and at times may cast negative judgments.

Therefore I wanted to make a piece of work that would educate the public about why some young people with autism might behave in slightly unusual ways, with the hope of increasing public understanding about what life is like for a young person with autism.

Stephen Final

I spoke to clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and people who work in autism research, and also consulted with parents of children with autism, and adults with autism. This allowed me to get a really in-depth idea of the types of situations young people with autism might find challenging, and how this can lead to behaviours that the general public might find confusing or unusual.

I decided the best way to convey this information to the public was to create a series of short stories or vignettes about four young people with autism, and a certain situation they might find stressful. Next I teamed up with a graphic designer called Dominique Sherwood, who helped me to sketch out what the scenes for each story would look like, and then created colourful cartoon-like graphics for each story.

When we had our first draft of the scenes, I consulted with the parents of children with autism and adults with autism I had spoken to when I started the project, to make sure what we had created echoed situations they had experienced, and asking if they had any feedback on the way the vignettes looked.

Tom Final

After taking their advice on board Dominique made any necessary changes and created the final four vignettes. I hope you like them, and most of all I hope they will help the public understand the everyday challenges young people with autism can sometimes face.

Find out more about the project on the Culture web pages.

Words by Virginia Carter Leno, a PhD student in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s.

Images by Virginia Carter Leno and Dominique Sherwood