Everything started just before my third year of high school, when I still had no idea what I might want to study – all I knew was that it definitely wouldn’t be maths. I sat down in front of my laptop and typed in “study options” and the first thing that I saw was Elab. I managed to set up an account before I realised that Elab specialised in sending people to study abroad, an option I had never even thought about – and was actually opposed to at that time. Many of my friends had long since been considering studying abroad and I always said that this wasn’t for me. As things turned out, I was the only one who didn’t stay in Poland.
I would probably not have thought any further about going overseas if Elab hadn’t contacted me. I was provided with a personal consultant and we talked extensively over the phone and swapped emails. Maybe I felt reluctant to pull out at this point, or maybe I just wanted to see how good I was – whatever the truth of the matter, I decided to apply to study in the UK.
The most stressful part of it all was… telling my parents and friends. I kept everything a secret for a long time, but I eventually blurted out that I had decided to try. My parents were hugely supportive, more so than at any time in the past, and told the whole family before I had a chance to do so. Nevertheless, I still felt that studying abroad was my Plan B, while they took it for granted that I would be going from the off.
I am not sure if I would have managed and succeeded without Elab. I asked for their advice all the time: what courses I should consider, which universities might suit me, how would I apply for schoalrships etc. I had no idea about any of these matters so it was priceless to have someone on my side who could help me decide where to apply, given my Matura results. My consultant also helped me write a Personal Statement, made sure I didn’t overlook the deadlines and, to top it all – checked that I had all the documents I needed to submit my application.
I was alarmed at the thought of leaving Poland, even though I had spent most of the last holidays in the UK, working as a waitress at the airport and improving my English in the process. As well as having to go through a tearful goodbye with my family and friends, I was just terrified at the thought of moving somewhere I knew no one, and having to study in a foreign language. It was the most stressful period of my life to date and departure day was the worst. The journey itself was horrifically long because of the huge number of students arriving from all over the world, but I eventually made it to the University of Essex campus, where I was going to study Journalism with Human Rights.
I had decided to live on campus in a hall of residence, and thanks to this on the first day I already met four people with whom I would be sharing a kitchen. Maybe not all four became my best friends, and definitiely not on the first day, but it was good to have someone to talk to in halls. I had been really worried about feeling lonely, and yet when I went home at Christmas, three months later, I already had a group of friends from all across the world. The most significant discovery was the teaching – and not only the fact that I didn’t need a doctor’s note to justify any absences, like in Poland – but that I could understand absolutely everything. It was all new, interesting and engrossing and once the initial stress was gone, I began to enjoy and feel grateful for having this opportunity to study abroad.
My university has a large number of international students, so I don’t feel as if I am the only one. Everyone is extremely helpful and I frequently found myself having to ask for advice and information, which was freely given by the people around me. There are loads of campus events on offer, concerts, meetings, fairs etc. To be honest, I can’t think of anything I would like to change.
If I had to decide whether to study abroad once again, I would definitely go for it and I recommend it to everyone. It’s an amazing experience and you may never get the chance to do something like this again.
It took me a long time to find a job, and this was definitely the biggest drawback of the whole experience. Since the town I live in is quite small, there are not many jobs available – and as soon as one is advertised dozens of people immediately apply. After five months, I did find work, but many of my friends either got a job much more quickly, or are still looking.
I work in a bar at night and it can be difficult to combine work and studying – some days I get to bed at 7 am, on other days I need to get up at that time. Nevertheless, it can be done and all you need is good organisation and a timetable.The fact that I work at night gives me free days during which I can study and carry out any little tasks I need to do.
My only advice when it comes to looking for work is to make sure you don’t get cheated: don’t do trial days, since one day usually becomes several and you won’t get paid. Make sure you get the right wage and not one which has been reduced because you are a foreigner, and apply, apply and keep on applying – it’s better to have lots of offers than none!