All entries for Monday 24 October 2005

October 24, 2005

Want a Scholarship? Be Innovative!

Rediff, 24.10.2005

Indians who go abroad to study can be divided into three categories:

~ The brilliant ones who come out on top after many rounds of the scholarship evaluation process

~ Those backed with enough financial resources from their families

~ Those who simply get 'lucky'

This means those who could not make it have ample scope for lame excuses. I believe otherwise — I think everyone who works hard has shot.

Visa application

You have two options after graduation: to return to India or to find a job abroad.

I would imagine every aspiring middle class student would want to help his family repay the enormous debt they incurred to send him overseas. Besides, his family may be expecting him to settle down there.

Unfortunately, you have no easy way out; a vast majority of employers will not sponsor your work permit. The Fortune 500 companies definitely will, as will some others, but the competition is fierce.

In such cases, a quintessential desi subject should see you through — graduates in electronics engineering, medicine, computer science, etc, are needed by the Western economies. But if you are like me and want to study Humanities and Social Sciences, you've got to grind your teeth and keep plugging at the job market.

Try not to do what I have seen some Indians do — study for a degree you don't really enjoy in order to get a job here.

I went to an English public school and, during the visa application process, the visa officer asked why I wasn't looking at eminent boarding schools in India — she even cited the Doon School in Dehra Dun.

However, I was looking to specialise early and across streams — History and Politics with IT and Business Studies — which the inflexibility of our system does not allow.

She insisted I could do my A-level courses in India, to which I replied that such a pursuit would be minus the facilities provided by Brentwood School, where I had got admission.

I knew I'd hit the right button. There was no way she could have even come close to arguing that such facilities exist in India. Be it sports, or any other extracurricular activity, or research related guidance and support, it was all there at Brentwood. The world is at your fingertips, material published on that day in the farthest corners of the world will be at your desktop. In India, the newest available edition of a book I wanted was dated 1960.

How did I find out about the schools in England? Through the World Wide Web.

Then the questions moved on to funding — since I had won a scholarship, there were little problems there.

Parents

Parental support can be a huge stimulus. On the other hand, parental disapproval can nip your ambitions in the bud. Fortunately, my parents never got in the way. They were, ultimately, hugely supportive.

When your 15-year-old son tells you he wants to go abroad to study and live on his own, you can't blame parents for freaking out just a little. Among other things, the fact that they had to pay for all this must have crossed their minds as well. After I won the scholarship, though, their resistance was purely emotional.

Since then, I couldn't have asked for more supportive parents. I think my mother is secretly happy; she knew I was being stifled by the education system.

I know that, despite my endeavours, my parents still have to foot a hefty financial and mental bill to support my educational and living expenses. But, every time I speak to my father on the phone, he gives me the impression he's got everything under control.

That pretence — I know it is just that — is precious!

Scholarships

How did I win the scholarship? I researched a number of top UK schools on the Internet, and applied to a good number of them to increase my probability of getting through. I applied for some need-based bursaries and some academic-based scholarships as well.

Since every school has a different administration procedure, there is no uniform application method. You've just got to go to each school one by one and follow their instructions. It's not like UCAS, when you send off six copies of an application to six universities.

I was offered some bursaries and academic-based scholarships on the basis of both, but most were not enough to cover a large enough chunk of the massive fee bill. I decided to do something out of the box — I submitted some papers I had written on historical and political issues to the concerned departments as proof of my genuine interest in the subjects and explained I deserved special consideration. It worked! The department head was impressed (I became his favourite student before even joining the school) and he recommended the amount of my scholarship be raised.

I don't remember thanking Lady Luck for my success, though I may have thanked God. The numerous sleepless nights I spent worrying about the outcome of my application, the various books and journals I read to research for the papers I was preparing and the many rejections I had received before I succeeded never once made me feel unlucky.

You may not be born with a silver spoon, but you can pick up your food and eat it with your hands.

My Struggle

Customer Service Assistant — that's what they called me at my first job in the UK. I then moved on to being an administrative assistant (it's like being a receptionist) until I finally got a research assistantship.

Working for the resume was not sufficient, I had to work the full 20 hours allowed to students under the law per week to make ends meet.

Having nowhere to stay during vacations (hotels being outrageously expensive!) I cleaned floors and stacked books at the Ramakrishna Mission in return for food and shelter.

But, hey, I did it! I passed high school from a British institution.

I did not qualify for most scholarships while applying for my degree at Warwick University because I hold an Indian passport. So I decided to apply for various grants and was awarded the Sidney Perry Foundation Grant. Unfortunately, it amounted to a mere £ 500 (Rs 40,000) which, of course, is not enough. Academic fees can run into £ 8,000 (approximately Rs 639,923) a year and that's only for a degree in the Humanities. I continued with my part-time jobs.

Another chapter of struggle begins as I look towards doing my master's degree in the UK. I've got my admission and the hunt for funding has begun.

Brushes with Racism

Though racism is absent on the surface, it brews in the deeper strata of society. I did face some amount of racism in school. Initially, this was disturbing; later, it became monotonous.

Yes, you may have some losers in life hurling abuses at you after a football match or a round of binge drinking so just be careful about which streets you venture into.

This kind of life is not for the faint-hearted, nor is it for those who yearn for good fortune to drop like a pie from the sky.

Epilogue

As far as I am concerned, luck and fluke are synonymous terms. I would advise anyone planning to go abroad not to count on them.

Those of you who never thought they even had a shot at going abroad to study — remember, no matter how unlucky you consider yourself in life, it doesn't matter when it comes to this. As long as you have what it takes to live life on the edge, and have a long-term plan for where your life should go, you'll do just fine.

Aruni Mukherjee, 19, is a final year undergraduate at Warwick University. He moved to England at the age of 15 in 2001. He writes to erase common misconceptions among students who plan to pursue their studies abroad.


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