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#MyCheveningJourney: Applying, getting accepted, and living the Chevening dream

I realized the Chevening application for 2019-2020 is going to open again soon, and it has reminded me of the long (but very much worth it) road it took for me to get to live my Chevening dream.

I’ve always wanted to pursue further studies abroad but haven’t thought about the United Kingdom until around 2014. I always had my eyes on the United States — Columbia University and Brown University to be exact. I also thought of applying for the Australia Awards scholarship. But in those years, I never finished my applications and realized I probably wasn’t ready to pursue a masters degree and live abroad.

In 2014, I learned of Chevening through friends who have been accepted in the scholarship programme. I researched about it, and thought to myself that this was the scholarship I was looking for. However, I looked at their roster of scholars and got really scared. Back then, Chevening only accepted 8-10 scholars per year, all of whom were known to have contributed a lot to their field — people who had years of experience and who were leaders in their field of expertise. I wasn’t that. In 2014 I was at the beginning of what would be quite a long quarter life crisis (I don’t think my quarter life crisis has ended, to be honest) and I didn’t feel I deserved such a prestigious award. I started my masters in UP in Comparative Literature. I only finished one semester (what did I tell you about quarter life crisis?!). And I started teaching at the GK Enchanted Farm in Bulacan.

The next year, 2015, opened a lot of doors for me. This was the year I started publishing stories and leading campaigns on climate justice. I went to the UNFCCC negotiations in Paris, France later that year. This was the year The Guardian recognized me as one of the “Young Climate Campaigners to Watch Before the UN’s Paris Summit” and the year I got to have a photo shoot at The Louvre for a German magazine (I’m far from being a model but it’s the closest I ever got). But that year I also met Pari, who was also in the Climate Tracker fellowship programme as I was. We became good friends, and that’s where she talked to me about Chevening, which she applied to that year. Pari eventually got accepted and went to study at the London School of Economics. That gave me a lot of courage to try for the next round of scholarships.

I also think that may experience in 2015 and 2016 in the climate change advocacy allowed me to know better what I want to do, and understand better why I want to study what I want to study.

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Greenpeace Magazin photo shoot at the Louvre in France. I was so tired and sleepless coming from the COP21 the previous night. I had no make-up on and I somehow regret not looking nice enough for the magazine. Oh well.

Amidst all the busyness of life and a handful of hesitation, I decided to apply for the scholarship in 2016, for the incoming 2017-2018 academic year. I submitted my application in September (yes, I submitted my application very early but that doesn’t affect the results, which I’ll talk more about later), went for my IELTS exam in October, and started applying for universities in December/January (the moment they opened their applications). After months and months of waiting, I got my email saying I was shortlisted sometime in February, was interviewed by a panel by May, and was given my scholarship award by July. I left the Philippines in September and now I am two months away from finishing my masters. I could not believe how fast time flies!

To say that it has been a wonderful and fulfilling journey is such an understatement. In my 10 months here in the United Kingdom, I have learned as much inside the classroom as outside. Being in the School of International Development at the University of East Anglia, I’ve learned from experiences from my classmates who have come from different countries — from Japan to Cameroon to Argentina to Uganda to Madagascar. Each perspective has given me so much to reflect on. I have even joined protests here in the UK!

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UEA Chevening scholars at our dinner with the Vice-Chancellor

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Student protest in Cambridge University in support of lecturers whose pensions were threatened

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My course mates in UEA taking MA in media and International Development, during our Christmas Dinner

PREPARING FOR CHEVENING

Now, I know a lot of people have a lot of questions about Chevening and how to prepare for it — from application, to interview, to living the dream. For starters, here’s Chevening’s FAQ page. What I’ll try to write in the next section are some advice/tips which worked for me. Other people had other ways of preparing for their application and it might be good to know how others did it too! But personally here are some of the ways I prepared for my Chevening journey:

  1. Prepare for your essay answers 

    Chevening application will have a lot of essay questions! Now, some people can definitely answer them quickly and submit the day before the deadline (I know someone who did that and got the scholarship!), but don’t risk it. The questions are varied, from your professional experience to your personal motivations. Think about your answers well, and don’t lie. I believe that Chevening chooses people who are sincere in what they want to do in their fields to help the country.


  2. Research your chosen universities and programmes, and make sure to apply as early as you can 

    Did you know there are some people who get the scholarship but don’t get accepted to any UK universities? In the end, they need to forfeit their scholarship. What a waste, right? And you don’t want that to happen to you. I applied for Chevening having already listed the top 3 universities I wanted to study in: University of Glasgow, Sussex University, and University of East Anglia. I was attracted to the UK initially because of UoG’s MLitt programme on environment, culture, and communication. I also wanted to apply for Sussex because I knew they are ranked first in the world in terms on Development Studies. In the end, however, I realized I liked University of East Anglia’s flexible programme on Media and International Development, which allowed me to choose different fields of development study from health to gender to education to conflict, with media as my core modules.

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    Saranghaeyo, UEA!

    In choosing your university, don’t forget to also research about the city you’re going to live in. Some people end up regretting their university decision because the city isn’t right for them. In my case as a writer and lover of books, I couldn’t be happier with Norwich, a UNESCO City of Literature.

    Chevening will allow you to change your university choices only once, during the interview. After that, you are expected to get in any of those three, your first choice being the university you enrol in, unless you don’t get accepted. In which case you will be expected to enrol in your second choice, and so on and so forth.

    UK universities usually ask for your transcript of records, two reference letters, diploma in English, motivation statement, CV, and your IELTS (or other english exam) results. For my references, I submitted one reference from my former college adviser and one from my employers. An academic reference helps as they would want to know if you are capable of finishing a master’s degree while a professional reference helps for your experience on the field.

    Once I had all my documents, it was a breeze applying for my universities. I got accepted in all three universities and I only had to wait three to five days for my acceptance letters. Note that other universities can take longer.

    In the end, I went to my interview with unconditional offers from three universities and I believe that also helped me in the further stages of my application.


     

  3. Prepare for and take your IELTS exam early 

    I know some people who take their IELTS exam the last minute as it really isn’t needed until the final stage. But remember the IELTS is needed in applying for your university, so it will be handy to apply earlier on. Chevening requires you to have a total band score of 6.5 with minimum scores of 5.5 each for listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Also check your universities their English requirements as it might be higher than Chevening requirements.

    How did I prepare for it? I took advantage of the Free IELTS Practice Tests from the IELTS website and the British Council website. For listening, I also listened and watched to a lot of British shows. I found the writing part the hardest as it was very technical and this was where I got my lowest grade (what a shame for a writer, heh) so I also suggest you to practice writing technically. The speaking test was rather easy, you will be asked a question and will have to carry a conversation with the examiner.

    The IELTS is quite expensive. I took the IELTS Academic and paid almost 10,000 pesos for it (I had to save up for it for months!). So make sure you don’t fail and not waste that money!

    For the Philippines, here is the list of  IELTS test dates and venues.


     

  4. Prepare for your interview 

    Once you get to the interview stage, you have been shortlisted from thousands of applicants. So congratulations! Making it to that point already is an achievement. Now, preparing for the interview can take many forms. I know some scholars who did mock interviews with other applicants, which helped them in the real interview at the British Embassy. However, I still think nothing could prepare you for the real one — except knowing what you wrote in your application essays, and knowing in your heart of hearts that you want to change your country and the world for the better.

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    Dinner with the British Embassy people, they are very nice although the interview will be nerve-racking!

    Seriously, I didn’t think I passed the interview. I was told after that I had one of the toughest panels. I was tested about my commitment to my field, my knowledge on policies and politics on climate change and energy, and even my personal struggles. I remember coming out of the room feeling I will not get that scholarship. So I did get pleasantly surprised after getting my scholarship award letter.


  5. Prepare for your medical exams! 

    Once you get your scholarship award letter, you will be asked to get your medical exams. Believe it or not, some people fail this stage and have to forfeit their scholarships. They have to make sure you don’t have tuberculosis and if you’re a woman, that you are not pregnant. I was 200% sure I didn’t have TB or a baby but being in that clinic made me doubt it. LOL I remember the nurse saying, “You’re not pregnant!” and me saying, “I’ll be more surprised if I were, I’m not the Immaculate Conception.”


  6. Prepare to leave — be open about experiences, and be prepare to get sad a lot 

    I remember during our orientation at the British embassy we were told to get ready for the winter as many get depression. It is real and is called seasonal affective disorder. I got hit by sadness I have never felt before during the dark cold winter months. I missed my family and friends, I missed Filipino food and Christmas, I missed warm nights. I wanted to go home and I was crying almost everyday. Luckily, I had Filipino housemates and a Filipino community that supported me. It will be tough, and you will need to toughen up.

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    My first proper snow with the Beast from the East! It was a cold, cold winter.

Chevening is a great opportunity to study and experience world-class education in the United Kingdom. Here you get to experience diversity and become critical of the world you thought you knew. Heck, I even met Kazuo Ishiguro and Margaret Atwood, two of my literary heroes, here in the UK! There hasn’t been a day I haven’t been thankful for the scholarship programme. If you’re thinking of getting a masters degree in the UK, I hope you apply too.

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Philippine Chevening Scholars at our Farewell Event. Look how much my hair has grown!