Being awarded a GREAT scholarship by the British Council to Warwick Business School during a pandemic was quite a challenge for our contributor, Diandra Khalishah. In this article, she shares her scholarship journey despite the uncertainties of face-to-face learning in the United Kingdom (UK).
A master’s degree was my dream
Studying a postgraduate degree in the UK has always been my dream since 2016 – when my friend and I became the only undergraduates to present a communication strategy research paper in front of PhD candidates and professors in SOAS, University College London. UK academics’ thirst for insight mesmerized me, and I wanted to become a part of the community. The same desire to constantly find insight eventually became a significant driver to my career choice as a branding researcher – where I fulfilled my thirst for meeting new people and discovering insights for growth.
Every journey has its ups-and-downs, so does mine. There were times of hardship, balancing highly demanding professional responsibility with postgrad preparation; there were disappointments from scholarship rejections. But people said: persistence is the key. Remembering the phrase, I continued to strive until I finally received my Letter of Acceptance (LoA) from Warwick Business School (WBS) in early March 2020. Upon receiving the LoA, I continued my scholarship hunting journey – one of them was applying for GREAT Scholarship from the British Council and the University of Warwick. If granted, the scholarship would omit 15,000 GBP from my tuition fee while allowing me to pursue my aspiration to build my UK career through the newly-announced Graduate Route visa.
However, my joy did not last long. The COVID-19 pandemic hit our global community hard, and the world was forced to pause. Every place was closed; daily activities forcefully turned online; eventually, questions and fear appeared: When will the pandemic end? How would the world look like after the pause? What would happen to us as a community?
COVID-19 Pandemic as a Crossroad
At that time, as an incoming student, I was at a crossroad. To go or not to go – should I defer? Would I still get the school experience as per my expectation? Would I be able to gain the most during these uncertain times? How would I make friends and transition to a new country where social interaction is highly restricted?
Fortunately, I was accepted at WBS with experience in long-distance learning. Proactively getting in touch with the school, I was informed that the teaching for 2020-21 would proceed as blended learning (face-to-face during smaller classes and online during bigger classes). I was convinced with the proposition, but I needed more – as a master’s degree is a high-cost and lengthy investment for my future. My moment of truth finally came – it was when I got another letter from the University of Warwick confirming my award for the GREAT Scholarship in June 2020. Both factors finally reaffirmed my decision to become a postgraduate student in the UK amidst the pandemic.
Become a Pandemic-student Taught Me Valuable Life Lessons
In my short experience of blended learning, I walked across a quote by Socrates in the WBS building wall, which truly resonates with the current situation. The saying goes: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” The quote got stuck in my mind, and I started to wonder: did I utilize my limited energy well enough to build new in the change? Specifically, did I take the right path by becoming a pandemic student to gain more insight while leaving a job I love?
Well, it requires a lengthy thinking process to answer those questions. Even now, I don’t have the exact answer as it still continuously formulates during the journey. Nonetheless, let me tell you a few lessons I acquired to face change (so far):
- Know your objective
Most people who have an understanding of basic economics must have heard about ‘opportunity cost.’ It’s the loss or the benefit that could have been enjoyed if the alternative choice was chosen. Before focusing your energy to build something new to face change (mine was deciding to become a pandemic student), ask yourself these questions to figure out your opportunity cost: What is your main reason to change (e.g. postgraduate)? Would it still be fulfilled if another equation affects the journey (e.g. pandemic)?
Once you know the answers for both, you’d be more knowledgeable and aware of facing change; hence, you can focus your energy on build new.
- Understand the limitation.
My Strategic Management lecturer said, “The only constant thing in life is change, and we can’t control it. What we can control is our reaction.” But the real question is: How we could control the reaction?
My answer would be: understand the limitation. Personally, this question takes the longest to answer as it requires thorough observation and rigorous effort to imagine ourselves in various situation (uncertainty from the pandemic makes it more complicated). It is not easy, but you can immediately adjust expectations and implement agility into your plan once you figure out the limitation.
- Take the risk and gain as much out of it.
We know our objective and understand the limitation. What’s next?
It is no other than taking the leap of faith. It’s scary and uncomfortable; however, we would never know how it would turn out unless we execute the plan. We might fail or succeed, yet there would always be valuable lessons in whichever direction we go.
My decision to be a postgraduate student amidst a global pandemic (who watches the lecture from my room, meeting people online, and wearing PJs more often than jeans) might be the best decision for my future. It may also become the worst decision for my future. Who knows? Only time will tell. I consciously took the risk because I promised myself to gain as much lesson from it – both the good and the bad.
*All photos are provided by the author