5 amazing things about my Chevening yearTuesday, July 07, 2020
Between the ages of 17-19 I spent my summers working as a filing clerk inside a bank's vault. I would spend hours filing and retrieving documents. When I would emerge from the massive steel-reinforced chamber for a break the first thing I would go looking for was the national and local (Western Mirror) newspapers that were delivered to the institution daily. A decade on, I still read (and write to) these newspapers, albeit online.
I am what some Jamaicans would call a country girl. When I returned from the UK recently I got to thinking, how could I share my Chevening experience with young Jamaicans, especially with those who have limited direct exposure to someone who benefited from opportunities like the Chevening Scholarship?
As a filing clerk, when I would recline in the swivel chair at my little desk, scouring the pages of the newspapers, I would always be fascinated by the articles which I could relate to — the ones which had some element of me in there. The articles that were written to inspire the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) beneficiary; the child of a minimum wage earner; the child who had experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) — all of which I was — to actively pursue prospects like the Chevening Scholarship.
It is my hope now that, through this article, I may encourage and equip others to pursue the same opportunity, if not better. My hope is that people reading this will be able to dismantle the barriers in their own mind and start to believe in themselves and believe that opportunities are out there for them to pursue.
Having had such a fantastic year abroad, I think that part of the responsibility of being a scholar, whether Chevening, Rhodes, Fulbright, Commonwealth, etc, is to come back and share how our experiences were. Many of you reading this are perhaps considering applying to the 2020 Chevening Scholarship application round, which opens up this August. If you are, I would say, go for it! And if you aren't, I would still say go for it! You just never know.
Since being back, many a people have asked me about my experience. It wouldn't be beneficial to the whole lot if I only told a few. So here it goes. To the 'vault readers' across the island, here are the top five best experiences that I believe the Chevening Scholarship afforded me:
1) A fully-funded master's, anyone?
I was able to gain a postgraduate qualification in my chosen field from one of the top universities in the UK — The University of Sheffield, a member of the Russell Group of Universities. During my year of study, I read, wrote, researched, submitted, uploaded, presented, watched, interned; you get the picture. In summary, I was able to upskill.
I want to underscore that there is a mindset shift that is required to transition from undergraduate to postgraduate studies. Therefore, I would suggest, even before applying to the scholarship, begin to think about your aims and objectives for wanting to pursue studies in the UK? Is the same degree available locally? What additional advantage would a British master's offer you? Is your speciality a priority area for the British Government in Jamaica? Could your chosen degree programme be funded by another scholarship opportunity or by your UK university department?
There is also a lot to be said about being an 'mature' student. Many of you may not have been in a classroom setting since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. No worries, getting back into the classroom can easily be supported by the available student support services. Wanting to pursue a master's is just the first step, you then need to get clear about the nitty-gritty: Why do you want to do it? Do you have a dissertation topic in mind? Having a topic beforehand is a major plus, as you can score extra brownie points in the interview.
2) Awesome travel opportunities
You remember how your parents used to say “education will take you anywhere”? Or was it manners? Anyways, the point is that travel opportunities are a major plus for any overseas scholarship. Given that you'll be based in the UK, it will be much easier to start ticking places off your bucket list. From places within the UK, like London or Edinburgh, to places in wider Europe, like Paris or Barcelona, you will be able to travel to your heart's content, albeit on a student budget and a limitation on how many days you can be out of the country whilst studying. Some scholars even take it a step further and go to Africa or Asia — you can check out their Instagram pages for inspiration. In short, securing an international scholarship is a great way to cure wanderlust. There is one important factor that I forgot to mention in this equation. The equation being [overseas study opportunity + stipend + personal savings = travel opportunities]. Your scholarship stipend will be just enough, and so, no, your stipend won't be sponsoring you to go to Dubai! Foresight is essential, so start saving if you want to be sending a postcard to your mother in Jamaica from Morocco.
3) Exceptional networking opportunities
I can honestly say that I have met people from all over the world. Has anyone ever heard of Cape Verde? I actually now know a Cape Verdean. Apart from the exotic, being a Chevenner affords you leverage; leverage which you can then use to secure more opportunities. Chevening organised networking events for us throughout the year at various universities across the UK covering various disciplines. So, the networking wasn't just left up to you, as a scholar, it was facilitated as well. In my travels, I met professional Jamaicans in various disciplines and capacities. One of my master of public health programme batchmates was a Jamaican who secured funding through the Europubhealth route. I communed with Jamaican-British families, who enabled me to compare and contrast my lived experiences of being in the UK versus being in Jamaica. They say, Jamaicans are everywhere. It's true; I've met them. And who is not a 'born and bred' Jamaican, is four to five generations removed from a Jamaican relative. You would be surprised to hear the lengths people would go through to prove their Jamaican lineage, despite not knowing Negril different from Trelawny.
4) Want to try new things, anyone?
I am going to attempt to list all the new experiences that I had in just one year. I tried marathoning, bicycling, archery, fencing, snowman making, ballet (tried learning the actual dance, as well as attended a ballet concert), scuba diving, golfing, rowing, belly dancing, pole dancing, tapestry weaving, bath bomb making, bread making, clay pigeon shooting, swimming, chocolate making, acrylic painting, (attempted to) learn German, you get the picture. The only thing I did not try was skydiving, which is still on my bucket list. I literally just took the student union's activities booklet and signed up for as much as my schedule would allow. I told myself I was not only there for a degree, but for an experience. The activities I engaged in were mind-expanding. They enabled me to not only learn a lot about yourself, but to appreciate what it takes for other people to become proficient at those activities. Once you're in the university space you will be able to explore your interests and develop new ones.
5) Game-changing mindset shift
The most incredible experience that I had occurred in my mind. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” How could I participate in the 2019 Edinburgh Marathon Festival and not look forward to coming home to participate in the Reggae/Kingston City Marathon Festival? — something I had never done before. Likewise, how could I do a clay pottery taster session in the UK and not come home to sign up for Edna Manley College's 'Ceramics After Dark' 10-week course? I wanted to draw and extend parallels as much as possible from my experience in the UK to my life in Jamaica. Since returning to Jamaica, there is no way that I can return to my pre-Chevening way of thinking. My outlook on life has changed. My demand on life has increased. No more self-limited beliefs, I say.
Post-Chevening, I now have my 'opportunity glasses' on. My brain has been reframed. I am no longer in survival mode; I am now in thrive mode. So apply, apply, apply! Don't just take my word for it, go see for yourself. Seeing is believing!
Dr Nicole Nation is a 2018 Jamaican Chevening Scholar.
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