Websites, brochures and fairs may give you the formal information about a specific programme or the activities you can take part in at the University. However, the sensation of being a student can only be conveyed by someone who has “been there, done that and got the t-shirt”. Here is a list of things that I have learned as an International master’s student that did not appear in any of the FAQs:
A master’s is an opportunity to change your career
I pursued the Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship master’s because I wanted to diversify my background as a lawyer. Studying a REALLY different topic was a scary thing to do, but I took the chance. Now that my classes are over, I really appreciate what I did because it was an improvement on my career. Although, I had to make some checks and balances on my own expectations (check my blog on this topic).
Over several months, I have had the opportunity to meet people who work in the field I would like to pursue and I now understand that it does not matter what background you have. As long as you are eager to learn new things and can demonstrate certain knowledge about the topic, you can land in a job that you have never previously done.
Also, I had the opportunity to choose three elective modules, which allowed me to handpick the subject I would like to focus on during my time here. If you have this opportunity, I recommend asking previous students about the modules to get their opinions because, again, it is far more valuable to understand what to expect. You can do this through LinkedIn or asking your programme administrator if they can get you in touch with alumni or students finishing their course.
The “back to school” syndrome after a few years of work
In some cultures like mine, a master’s degree is pursued after having some work experience because many believe that you grasp more value by connecting it with real experiences. Before coming here, I worked for almost 4 years as a lawyer in a big law firm in Colombia (yes, similar to the one in “Suits”).
I now say that it’s true – you take more of your learning if you can think about real-case scenarios you’ve been involved with. But, it is also true that it is hard to bring back your studying habits. At the beginning, it was daunting to go through all the course readings, write assignments in a foreign language and get used to the grading system in the UK (which, I have to say, is pretty different from the Colombian one). And don’t get me started in studying for exams…
However, as with everything in life, I got used to it. I had to work hard and sometimes I didn’t fully enjoy the subject of each reading, but the overall experience of being a student in a foreign country has been amazing and entertaining. For those who are in the same position that I was, I recommend that you should be very organised with your time and even ask for advice from classmates who have just finished their studies.
Travelling and going outdoors
As a person who LOVES to travel and to be outdoors, one of my main goals was to go to as many new places I could whilst doing my master’s. I must admit that I imagined I would have more time to go places (back home I try to go out every 2 weekends) but, luckily, I have managed to squeeze various getaways.
To balance the academic calendar and my trips, I made plans and strictly committed to them. For example, if I wanted to go to London for the weekend, I would buy train tickets and book accommodation in advance, so I knew I had to finish my assignments or my readings by then. With this this method, I was even able to have trips in exam season and before hectic assignment deadlines to free my mind and manage the academic stress.
You can plan daytrips to towns near the city (believe me – if you search online, there are plenty to discover) and if you enjoy hiking and the outdoors like me, there are several trails you can do (I recommend the Walking Englishman website to plan them). Also, weekend trips are the best way to shake off the monotony of the academic week and lead you to new towns, cities and even astonishing landscapes. I have even managed to do some camping here in beautiful places such as the Peak District (check my blog for more info).
On the economic side, having a part-time job as a waitress at Old Trafford has helped me organise these trips.
For international students like me, you often read and hear that a master’s abroad is an opportunity to meet new people, discover new cultures, get involved with new activities and basically anything that can be categorised as new. However, what does new really means?
So far, new has meant I have met people from nearly, ALL over the world. This has been an opportunity to start interesting conversations about different customs and traditions, such as cooking classes with different spices and being present in religious experiences such as the Iftar (the moment Muslims break their fast every day during the month of Ramadan). It also has meant meeting people from my same culture, celebrating my own traditions whilst being away from home and speaking Spanish in the days that my brain decides to forget how to speak in English. All of them have now become my family away from home and I carry them close to my heart.
New has also meant learning to cook decent dishes to avoid the temptation of ordering food or eating in cheap restaurants every day. It also meant discovering different ways to communicate with my family and friends and understanding the priceless opportunity of having your dearest ones next to you at an arm’s distance.
And finally, new experiences meant seizing every opportunity the University, the city and the country provided, opening my eyes to things I didn’t know. These opportunities included company-field-trips, an infinite list of talks and seminars, beautiful towns and trails to explore and meeting a diverse range of people, discovering insightful things which I will remember for life.
I still have to complete my dissertation – something I would surely reflect on in a later blog – but I hope this list helps you gain a more insightful glimpse of what is it really to be an international student pursuing a master’s.