Farewell to Chevening

I wrote a blog for the Foreign Office recently on Chevening where I said that Farewell is a time of mixed feelings. It’s such a fun event: getting to see you all in one place again, hearing how your year has been going, and what you have been up to.

But it’s also a bit sad. Whilst most of you won’t be heading home just yet, it is goodbye from the programme as we leave you to finish up your dissertations and exams and make the most of your final months in the UK.

Reflecting on that Farewell event and on some of the conversations I had, I decided to say a few final words before you leave. So here goes. Three things: an observation, a request and a promise.

Firstly, the observation

Many of you will have followed with some interest (or more likely, bewilderment) the ongoing discussion the UK has been having with itself about who we are as a country. Brexit has become all-consuming for us Brits: the prism through which we discuss everything, from farming to foreign policy. But more than anything, it has become a discussion about the type of country we are.

My observation is this. When I hear about scholars volunteering with local community groups, getting involved in universities and helping one another out, when I hear from you about the challenges you’ve overcome, the risks taken and sacrifices made just to be here, I know what type of country we are, even if it’s not always obvious. Nothing makes me prouder of being British than seeing Chevening in action and seeing the difference programmes like this can make. So, thank you. Thank you for your commitment, your drive, and for showing Brits like me that we can do some things right.

Secondly, the request

It’s one I have made before and that I’m sure you have heard a thousand times since you started your Chevening journey. We chose you for Chevening because we saw something in you that was special. As part of this year’s 35th anniversary campaign we have featured 35 Chevening Changemakers; for me this is what it is all about. You are all Changemakers: that’s why we picked you. With Chevening we don’t just invest in the individual, we are also investing in your county and community. We ask you to return home when you finish your studies not because we don’t want you here, but because we want to you make your communities a better place.

Through our Changemakers campaign, and talking with other alumni, I have seen just how much of a difference you can make. So my request is this: Chevening (I hope) has changed your life. Now it’s your turn to change others’ lives for the better too, and put your Chevening experience, and the advantage of the network and prestige you have as a result, into practice. Not just for yourselves, but for those around you too. We’re counting on you, so no pressure.

Finally, a promise

From now on, you are family. You’re one of us. One of Chevening. Our door is always open, at Chevening but also at our embassies and high commissions around the world. Use this network to help you make the most of your experience, to keep in touch with those you have spent your year with, and together, be Changemakers.

It has been a privilege and a joy to spend the year with you. Thank you for making it so much fun. Keep in touch (I’m on Twitter @BenBCoates): I can’t wait to see what you all do next.