Perseverance pays off: What I learned from applying to Chevening four times

Chevening Scholar Rafael Zhansultanov from Kazakhstan shares the insights and experiences he gathered from applying to Chevening four times before successfully embarking on his Chevening year at the London School of Economics.

Working at the intersection of economic empowerment, market analysis, investment, and strategic management, I applied to Chevening because I wanted to gain a holistic understanding of the strategies that could assist low- and middle-income countries to further develop in a sustainable and inclusive manner. As my influence, responsibilities, and scope of work grew over the course of my career, so did my calling to update my knowledge and my skills. I saw Chevening as my pathway towards this goal.

Having met a number of Chevening Scholars in my home country, I was inspired by their success stories and knew that accessing this opportunity would have a transformative impact on my ability to lead and continue to deliver impactful projects. I also saw it as an opportunity to join forces with other agents of change at home and abroad.

Wanting the Chevening Scholarship was just the first step, however. It took me four years and four rounds of applying for Chevening before I successfully embarked on my Chevening year at the London School of Economics.

Here is what I learned from the four rounds of applying:

1. One does not become a Chevening Scholar by chance.

Growth and development take deliberate effort and time, which will eventually be rewarded in the future. Every time that I was unsuccessful, I not only went back to my application to see how I could change it and improve it, I also took active steps to further contribute to the socioeconomic development of my country, so that I would have more to talk about the next time applications opened.

2. Do not wait for a miracle, be a miracle in your sphere of influence.

As they say, victory is an overnight success 10 years in the making. In between submitting my applications to Chevening I actively went out to see how I could volunteer for and help my community. During COVID-19, for example, I organised a fundraising campaign to help people in Kazakhstan affected by the crisis. I also started an ecological movement to clean national parks in Kazakhstan and launched campaigns to plant more trees and fight deforestation. Each of these projects helped me build a strong community service portfolio, enriched my leadership repertoire, and differentiated me from other exceptional applicants for the Chevening Scholarship.

The Chevening Scholarship is awarded to applicants who have demonstrated that they already make the most of available resources and opportunities to better the situation in their home countries. Hence, start small, build your portfolio of impactful projects, make a lasting change at your level of influence and demonstrate that you can deliver meaningful change with what you have.

3. It will be worth it in the end.

Being a Chevening Scholar has been one of the most challenging, rewarding, and fulfilling chapters in my life. Thanks to this scholarship, I received cutting-edge knowledge, expanded my professional network, and interacted with some of the smartest and most inspiring people in the world.

I will take a note from Winston Churchill, who, when reflecting on his premiership, once said: ‘I felt … that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and trial.’ I honestly feel the same way. Looking back, I feel like my time at work, academia, and community service has prepared me for this life-changing and transformative endeavour in the UK.

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