My Chevening journey: One year, thousands of life lessons

Carolina Echavarría Basy Communicator at the Presidency of Uruguayan Republic
21 Nov 2016
Chevening, Scholarships, dissertation, UK, culture
UY

Since I started my Chevening year (2015/2016) I have been writing a blog with two main aims: to be a travel diary of my experience living and studying in the UK, and to share my adventures with my family and friends. Writing in Reading was a way to tell others about my experience studying an MSc in Communication for Innovation and Development at the University of Reading. The original blog is written in Spanish as it is the language of my family and most of my friends. But I was invited to tell my story now in English, to share it with many others and maybe help motivate them to apply for this scholarship and start an amazing life experience. So, here we go, and I hope you enjoy it!

Lost in translation

It was September 2015. I said ‘goodbye’ to my family in Montevideo, Uruguay and ‘hello’ to unknown people in Reading, England. My luggage was full of dreams and a thousand expectations. It was the first time studying abroad, and it was the first time studying in another language, too. So, I imagined that none of this would be easy, but I stepped out anyway and faced the fear.

Whiteknights Campus is massive, and my school was in the middle of a kind of ‘forest’, thus the first week I was late for every class. During that time my head started a conflict between my brain and my tongue. While the first one thought in Spanish, the second one tried to speak very shy and funny English. I found myself in a new role: being a full-time student, which turned out to be more difficult than being a full-time professional. So, trying to read lots of papers in English, thinking in Spanish, unused to being all day at uni and studying at night was chaos.

Maybe, do you feel that this is what is happening right now with you too… don’t worry! There is a solution: ask for help. Universities have plenty of services to make your life better, to help you adapt to this new life, so don’t try to be proud if you feel like something is not in its place yet. It is normal to feel strange because you are out of your comfort zone. So be patient and ‘before Christmas you will be thinking in English’. That was what my counsellor told me and that was one of my first lessons learned.

Two winters in a row

Comfortable with the language, the next challenge was adapting to the famous weather of this country, known for its grey and rainy days. I like rainy days, so I was ready to enjoy them. But I wasn’t ready for the second winter in a row, this one much colder than the previous one in Uruguay. A winter where daylight lasts until 16:30 in the afternoon. I definitely wasn’t ready for that! I missed the sun, very much. Most days I got up in the darkness and came home in the darkness. But a surprise was around the corner: Christmas! Cities decorated with fairy lights, pubs with mulled wine and hot cider, and mince pies in the stores was the essence of a magical Christmas time. Be aware! Mince pies are available only (and only) at Christmas time! I don’t know why, but every time I asked about it the answer was 'it is a British thing'. Being away from home gave me the opportunity to share this special time with friends of many countries: Canada, Cyprus, England, Ethiopia, Greece, Ireland, Kenya, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, and the USA. All of them, sharing their traditional food and their holiday customs, gave me a different, funny, and unique holiday. And the winter went on, without the expected snow, but with lots of beautiful memories to keep forever.

The train line

Part of my history studies as a child, in Uruguay, was about the British Industrial Revolution. We learnt the process through which this country became one of the most significant power countries worldwide with the development of the train as the main star. But I’ve realised here what the train means to this country. It was the main way of transport that I was glad to use every time that I visited another city. If you plan in advance, prices are very cheap, and the service is excellent. The trip is beautiful, outside you will see miles of the greenest grass ever, with crops growing, livestock, and some big old house in the middle of nowhere.

Between classes and assignments, I took advantage of this inter-city transportation to go to cities that I probably could never visit as a tourist, such as Cardiff, Leicester, Birmingham, Oxford, Bristol, Winchester, and Edinburgh. Every city was greater than the other. London, of course, is the greatest one. It is unbelievable and full of things to do. As I was living only 25 minutes away from London, I went there many times and every time I wasn’t able to do all the things I wanted to. While London shows you the magic of a global intercultural city, on the other side of the kingdom, Edinburgh makes you travel in time to a historical place with their own identity and nationality. In the middle, hundreds of villages, towns, and cities, show you the British culture with all their eccentricities. Take your time, plan it, and visit as many cities as you can!

The best part of this year…

Undoubtedly, the best outcome of this experience was the new friends that I found here. Friends from all over the world! Some of them had the same expectations and doubts as I had, and others with a lot of wisdom to share. Different cultures gathered in a common space, with differences and similarities. A mix of people from Colombia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, The Gambia, India, Jamaica, Lesotho, Ghana, Greece, and Nigeria, just to mention a few countries of the many that now I know a little more about and would like to visit, as now I have friends there.

Chevening is also a community of people from different fields and interests. From the 2015/2016 cohort, I will keep not only friends but also potential partners for future projects. The group of Uruguayan students was a remarkable gang of candid people. Everyone opened their doors and friendship to the rest, and together we shared this experience throughout the year, and hopefully we will keep this friendship in the future as well.

The final task: the dissertation and the closure

The dissertation was the most challenging assignment during the past year. For me, it was the first time that I faced such a task. The main goal: to show what you’ve learnt throughout the master's degree in a unique research. Writing it wasn’t the main issue, I am now confident with the language. However, the challenge was to find the subject and to finish it in no more than three months. I must say that it wasn’t an easy job. It was hard and made me work tightly with a colourful schedule. It left me sleepless for many nights and with a caffeine overdose. 'To finish it, you have to hate it,' I was told by the uni’s counsellor as a way to complete the process I started a year ago. It definitely wasn’t ‘hate’ that made me finish it, but a mix of contradictory feelings of being so close to the end of this pathway, that I cannot explain with simple words.

Once I had finished it, the final step (and the most difficult one!) was to say goodbye to the campus that hosted me during the year—its greenery, its swans, and ducks at the lagoon, its lecturers and the friends, which one to one returned to their respective countries. And now what? This is the main question that I ask myself since I’ve finished. I know that I’ve learnt a lot, I feel different than last year, more tolerant and upon all, more humble. I’ve realised that the next challenge would depend on my own effort and work to make it happen, to create new opportunities, new experiences, and new possibilities, and I am not afraid anymore. So, let’s go for it!