University is a step of my life I have been looking forward to since I was a kid. Though, till a few years ago, I didn’t think it would ever happen. My chances of going to university in Spain, while doing an enjoyable course, were nearly non-existent, due to financial (lack of money), academic (poor diversity course wise) and personal circumstances (family matters). When I moved to England many doors opened for me and university was one. It became an actual option which two years later became a choice and one year later became a reality.
On September 2014 I decided what course I wanted to study. Since I was a kid I had always wanted to be a vet, but I was not good at maths or chemistry, nor did I think I could achieve high grades, hence I had to scrap that idea and settle for studying zoology or animal biology. All I wanted was to help animals anyways and I could still do that with those degrees. I was happy. However, one day, while I was searching universities, I clicked on the wrong link: a link that took me to the right page, although I didn’t know it back then. “Sustainable Development” I read, confused at the course description in front of my eyes. I had never heard about that course. Never. I didn’t know it existed.
Curious, I googled the term, and a more known synonym came up: “International Development”. I was already familiar with the concepts of development and sustainability (very familiar since I’m passionate about closing the gap between developed and developing countries, the rich and the poor, while making sure resources are used fairly and wisely), but I didn’t know you could do a university degree on them. I was ecstatic. I spent hours researching and looking for more information. I fell in love with the course very quickly and I decided to change my degree choice. I didn’t even have to think about it much: “International Development” was for me. That course was everything I had always wanted but never searched because I thought it didn’t exist. And it had environmental and biodiversity topics incorporated into it, such as wildlife welfare and pollution: I could still study about biology related topics. So, without thinking it twice, I made the decision which was approved and supported by my tutor and friends.
After weeks of intensive research, on October 2014, I applied to five different universities to study “International Development”, including The University of East Anglia, The University of Reading, The University of Leeds, The University of Portsmouth and The University of Sussex. My preference order (from favourite to less favourite) was East Anglia / Sussex, Portsmouth, Reading and Leeds. By December 2014 I had a reply from the five institutions: Portsmouth gave me an unconditional offer (yey!), East Anglia gave me a conditional offer with just one condition (getting C in GCSE Maths), Reading gave me a conditional offer with just one condition (just proof of my BTEC diploma!), Leeds gave me a conditional offer with just one condition (AA in A-Levels) and Sussex gave me a conditional offer with just one condition (AA in A-Levels).
While getting an unconditional offer secured my desire of going to university, my two favourite universities, Sussex and East Anglia, put me conditions. I was certain I could get C or more in GCSE Maths, so East Anglia wasn’t a problem. But I wasn’t sure about Sussex’s condition: getting AA in A-Levels didn’t seem like a possibility because I wasn’t doing great in A2 Biology back then (I was getting Us and Ds in class papers and I was struggling really bad with my coursework).
As time went by I grew less passionate about Sussex and I believed more in East Anglia and Portsmouth as firm and insurance choices respectively. At the end of the day, East Anglia seemed a great institution. Still, I was upset about the high conditions I had to enter in Sussex and I was bitter because they didn’t take my BTEC into account (I met the conditions with it). Anyways, I ended up accepting East Anglia was my destination, and I forgot about Sussex.
On January 2015 I received an email saying that my UCAS page was updated. I had already received all my offers, I had no idea of what was going on. At first I thought Reading had changed my offer to unconditional because I had sent them proof of my BTEC diploma. But the update wasn’t from them: it was from Sussex. I had been selected for the “Sussex Unconditional Offer Scheme”, meaning that my offer from them would change to unconditional if I chose them as firm option. I was very shocked by this. The scheme was only for the best and most gifted applicants (in 2014 only 10% of applicants were considered for it), and I was not that type of student. Or at least that is what I thought. I tend to underestimate myself.
This new offer brought back my desire to go to Sussex, not only because I could secure going to one of my favourite universities, but also because I found out I could get tones of financial support (a bursary and a scholarship) if I went there. And, without doubt, I needed that financial support. I merely had that and the government loan, which wasn’t enough. I really needed it. So, obviously, I chose Sussex as my firm. And months later, my place was confirmed.
On August 2015 I received my college exam results back: I got A in both AS and A2 Spanish, A in A2 Biology and A in GCSE Maths! I couldn’t believe my biology grade at all! The maths one was also surprising since I wasn’t great at it in Spain. With those results, my life stage in college ended. In three years I obtained: a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Health and Social Care with grade D*D*D*, an A-Level Biology qualification with grade A, an A-Level Spanish qualification with grade A*, a GCSE English qualification with grade C and a GCSE Maths qualification with grade A.
Back in secondary school I had B as an average grade. I finished college with A as average grade. It is crazy. I must admit that secondary school in Spain was much harder than college in England, but I also must say that in secondary school I was lazy and I didn’t work as hard as I could, while in college I did the best I could always: I went the extra mile for everything. I stopped having the mentality that “a bit is enough” and I became an “overachiever”. Why? Because I was no longer a kid: real life was kicking in. I
I realised that with my low social status, my irregular financial situation, my ethnicity & gender, my poor networks and my lack of family attachments, I wouldn’t get far away without outstanding education and a lot of experience (yet I know these two won’t secure me a meaningful and good employment). It was time to work hard, and the fear of failure and living a “comfortable” but unfulfilling life as a middle age adult empowered me. I’m aware that university isn’t the only way to succeed in life and it isn’t for everyone, but it is the best way for me, since I like studying and I like learning before trying anything out. And in the career field I want to go into, “International Development”, knowledge is imperative.
On September 2015 I got ready to move to Brighton, where the University of Sussex is located. I guaranteed my accommodation in the cheapest residence on campus, I sorted out my financial issues and I bought most things I needed. I was ready for this new era in my life, and I couldn’t wait for it due to two main reasons: moving away from my family and getting more involved in social change.
As I have already stated various times, I’m not close to my relatives. I feel like a caged prisoner when I’m with them and they aren’t even the prison guards: I’m the prison guard. Moreover, 90% of my personal issues are family related and I can’t do anything about them but get stressed. Some situations are helpless. Parents are not always great and reliable, adult relatives are not always the wisest and most helpful. My family issues have troubled me since I was a kid. I’m not a confident person, my self-esteem fluctuates too much, and I even had to go to therapy for a few months during primary school because of depression and trauma. Due to all this, even if I love my family, I need to put physical and emotional distance between me and them, just for the sake of my sanity, which has been very poor during the last months.
When comes to social change, “International Development” is a subject that can help me incredibly to understand current issues I care a lot about, from gender & racial inequality to conflicts and peace, and it can also shape my abilities and opportunities to do something about them. I’m tired of not being able to do much about problems I care about, such as the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean or the high poverty levels in Sub-Saharan African. I want to do more than just volunteering for good causes or engaging in national campaigns. I want to run my own projects and my own campaigns. I want to start a social enterprise one day. And I believe that a degree in “International Development” will aid me a lot with these ambitions.
On conclusion: a new stage of my life has begun. A stage in which I will get more educated & skilled. A stage in which I will learn and develop my career. A stage in which I will cry and laugh. A stage in which I will meet people for the good and for the bad. A stage in which I will finally be able to be myself and face the consequences. A stage in which I can finally recover from years of bad emotional wellbeing and poor mental health. A stage in which I have more power over my choices. A stage in which I will be independent and autonomous. A stage in which I will regret and I will cherish. A stage in which I will let go my fears and I will live properly. Because it is my time to lift off and fly.
Sharing my life,
Emilie H. Featherington