Living the dream: Making Southampton my new home (First part)
January 1, 1970
by Steph Enriquez
I have encounter a lot of people that, like me, want to study abroad but don’t know how or where to start and ask me for advice on how I did it. I have helped a couple of friends with their doubts but I wish I had had someone to help me. Today I share my story in this blog hoping that it will reach those people in need and that it will, at least, give them the idea of how to start.
Step 1: Take the decision to fulfil your dreams!
When I finished my bachelor degree I found myself in a dilemma, I wanted to travel around the world and I wanted to study a master’s degree. Unfortunately, I knew that both goals required a big amount of money and I had little to no savings in my bank account. I came to the conclusion that instead of spending money to achieve both goals separately I could do both at the same time. The decision was taken, I was going to study a master’s degree in Europe!
Now, I think it is important for you to know that once I get an idea in my head it sticks in there until I accomplish it. Not having money in the bank account was not going to stop me!
Step 2: The strategy
When I was analysing my economic situation I realised I only had two options: (1) work hard for a couple of years, or (2) get someone to pay it for me. Option No. 1 sounded very mature, I would be a responsible grown-up working hard to achieve her dreams and since it would not be easy I would appreciate the experience even more. But there was something wrong with that plan. How long would it take me working in Mexico saving Mexican pesos to be able to spend euros or pounds? Years!!! Was I willing to wait years to fulfil this dream? Maybe not. In that moment I had nothing. I didn’t have a boyfriend, I didn’t have a well-paid job, I didn’t own a house or a car… it was easy to leave “everything” behind me and move to another country, but would I be willing to do it in a couple of years when I would have had (I hoped) a more settled life with a good job and a serious relationship? Probably not… I was worried that this was my only chance to do it, it was now or never.
Since option No 1 was discarded I was left with option No 2. Now, who would pay for my studies? My parents were not an option. I had to find a scholarship and/or get a student loan.
Step 3: Putting plan into action
I spent around 6 months researching all the scholarships and student loans available for my area of studies, analysing their requisites and ordering them by higher probability to get. My area of study is not a priority for the Mexican Government so from the hundreds of possibilities available to Mexicans to study abroad I narrowed it down to three organisations: two organisations that offer student loans (FUNED and FIDERH) and one that gives scholarships (CONACyT). The first requisite for any sponsorship is the acceptance letter from a University so the next step was to choose a University.
Some people know exactly what master’s degree they want to do and in which university but that was not my case… so how to choose a program from the millions of universities around the world? It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Once I had chosen the sponsorships I wanted to apply for I looked into the universities the sponsors have an agreement with and chose from there the programs that interested me the most. I ended up with 5 universities in my list: Queen Mary University of London, University of Liverpool in London, University of Southampton, University of York, and Université de Toulouse.
I applied to four different universities, three in England and one in France. I was accepted in the three universities in the England. I didn’t apply for York because they started receiving applications when I already had a response from the other Universities. I used the free service of an organisation called Across the Pond. They were the link between me and the University and they gave me all the best tips to make the best application giving me a higher probability of a positive outcome. I chose the University of Southampton for really simple reasons: the living expenses are lower, the weather is better, and I already had a friend in Southampton. I got accepted in the University of Southampton in November 2013 to start in September 2014. I planned the acceptance of the University in 2013 because the scholarship I wanted to apply for has two calls: one in January and another one in June. I applied for the January call because it was the one with the most scholarships available to give away and because if I wasn’t successful I would have the time to apply again in June. The organisation Across the Pond was a huge help to solve questions regarding scholarship and university applications.
My sponsorship applications were accepted by the three organisations. The scholarship would provide a monthly amount for living expenses and around 20% of the tuition fees. I could accept just one student loan and get my parents to help me to cover what was left (around 10%) or accept both loans. This was not an easy decision to make. The thought itself of being in debt for 10 years would make me panic. I didn’t know what was going to be of my life in 2 years, how could I know if I would have the money to pay for the next 10 years!? I would have a master’s degree, yes, but let’s be honest, a master’s degree when trying to get a job in Mexico is worthless, employers care about work experience, not about the level of study. I had a very serious conversation with my parents which ended in my father saying “you will always have our support, if at some point in the future you don’t have the money to pay we will be here to help you out” (in Spanish, obviously). To be honest, if it wasn’t for my parents support I wouldn’t have done half of the things I’ve done in my life and I’m not talking about them giving me money, it’s about what they say and how they say it that made me feel I could conquer the world. But that is, as we say in Mexico, “harina de otro costal”… or in English a story for another time.
Once the University and money situation was arranged and secured the next step would be to get the study visa, however, being half French and having a European passport, I didn’t need one. The only thing left to do was to find accommodation. The options were the university’s halls or private accommodation. Both have its pros and cons. With private accommodation I could find a house that I liked, I would be living with no more than 5 people, rooms are usually bigger than the ones in halls, I would know from the beginning who I would be living with, I would have privacy, I wouldn’t have to hear the parties of people from first year during week days, and it would have been a bit cheaper. On the other hand, in halls I wouldn’t have to clean the communal areas, no problems with landlords, if something gets broken it gets fixed immediately, people from the school would pick me up from the airport, and it would include the bus card. I chose the student halls because I think it makes life easier when you just arrive to a place you know nothing about. And I have to admit I hate cleaning so having someone to clean for me was like music to my ears. I went for the second cheapest room (never go for the cheapest!) in the hall that was closest to the faculty I was going to attend. The problem with halls is that you never know what you are going to get. When applying I was asked for 3 options in order of preference and they try to accommodate you in the best one. I was lucky enough to get the hall I selected as a first option but I know a lot of people that ended up in random rooms paying more than what they wanted.
After this long process the University was chosen, money was on its way, accommodation was ready and the only thing that was left to do was wait for the greatest adventure of my life to begin…
Step 4: make the most out of it
To be continued….