Maiya is currently pursuing her Master's degree in British Studies at Humboldt University. She found this programme and enrolled via StudyPortals. We asked Maiya about her experience of searching and applying to a university abroad.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your name? How old are you? Where are you from?
My name is Maiya Chekalova, I am 22 and I was born in Kazakhstan.
Where are/were you studying and what programme? What degree and how long is your programme?
At the moment I am a Master’s student, receiving a Master of Arts in British Studies at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. The programme is 2 years long and I have just started the second year.
Why did you want to study abroad?
I wanted to receive a unique experience and increase my future opportunities with a more competitive degree. I also wanted to challenge myself, as I was aware that educational systems differ a lot in Kazakhstan and European countries.
Deciding for a university
What were your main priorities when choosing your university and your programme (e.g. academics, accommodation, university services & facilities, personal & professional development, city & culture, cost & funding, practicalities, social life)?
Of course, reputation and courses offered were very important for me, but I had to consider my financial situation at the time. Honestly, I did not think much about the location, thinking of myself as a person who easily adapts and was searching through the whole Europe. Another important factor was the teaching language: I had just passed IELTS and aimed for courses taught in English.
Was this your first study choice? What other universities did you consider? What was the main reason of your final choice?
Initially I applied to Manchester University to study a Masters in Interpretation as at that time I was in my last year to receive a Bachelor of Arts in Interpretation. It was at this point when I discovered StudyPortals and started to search for different options. The course in British Studies particularly attracted me as after my first visit to the UK I was fascinated with this country and having the opportunity to study it in detail sounded wonderful for me. Also, it corresponded to my criteria, namely, it was taught in English, it was free and located in Europe. I thought it would be a great idea to completely change the direction from what I was studying back then and accept this challenge.
Did you know from the start that you wanted to study in that particular country and city? Why did you choose for this particular location?
As I mentioned before, I did not know much about Berlin when going there but I still did not feel anxious or nervous. Maybe it is the reason why I completely accepted it in the way it is from the first day and fell in love! The course was what attracted me in the first place and I was lucky to find myself at home there.
How did StudyPortals help you in your decision process?
StudyPortals is an amazing website! It helped me a lot as it has a great range of courses and it is possible to select different options to sort them according to one’s preferences. I think probably each weekend I went on StudyPortals and browsed through courses, marking the ones I could consider until I finally found the Master of Arts in British Studies. Without StudyPortals I would probably have never applied, so it was REALLY helpful!
Did you take a language test (e.g. TOEFL, IELTS) when applying for the programme? If yes, which one did you choose, why and how was your experience with it?
I took IELTS in October 2013 and scored quite high 8.0. IELTS was more attractive than TOEFL for me, because of its simpler grading system and I was able to get free preparation materials from the internet. I prepared completely on my own, probably three times a week and took the preparation seriously, except of the speaking part which was my mistake as I scored the lowest there. The tasks for the exam itself were pleasantly easier than those in preparation materials but they still required high concentration. I would say the most important thing is to have a clear mind, to forget about everything for the time of the exam and not stress out if something goes wrong. Reading forums or talking with those who already passed it could also be helpful.
What would be your advice for students from your country that consider to study abroad?
I would firstly advise: Do go abroad. It really opens your mind; it is a unique experience one must have if there exists such an opportunity. Never be afraid to change your life, never be afraid of challenges, and remember that everything happens for a purpose and in the end something you found boring or useless may turn out to be the best thing you have ever learned. It is very important to have a positive attitude towards anything that happens to you. I would also say: Try to search for the right course but remember that even if you end up being in the wrong one it at least will show you what you really want. I may give a short example: My course required me to do a lot of research and write many essays but at the same time in June 2015 I was in charge of catering section for the project we presented to a public within the framework of scientific night in Berlin. It was there where I understood: Research is not what I would like to do in my life. What I enjoyed was the development of menu, purchasing of ingredients, cooking, managing the whole catering team, seeing people loving our food and receiving positive feedback from my team members for being a skillful leader – that’s what inspired me!
How did you finance your stay abroad and what financial advice would you give to future students?
I was working since I was 18 and I had some savings, though luckily my family could afford to sponsor my visa application (which required a big sum of money) as well as support me through my studies. Unlike my fellow students, I did not work permanently while studying as I decided to concentrate on one thing, though I was doing some distant work and occasionally taking jobs in Berlin as well. There are a lot of funding opportunities, grants, scholarships, and, if one is determined to find one, it will definitely happen. I am a saver myself, but I would say money management is important when living abroad. There are a lot of cheaper activities for students, you can register in Facebook communities where people help each other for free and cooking yourself DOES save a lot of money.
Why would you (not) recommend this particular city / university? How would you rate your experience on a scale from zero to ten (0 – It was a total disaster, 10 – I had the time of my life)?
I would recommend the programme Master of Arts of British Studies to the people who want to have initial experience of studying abroad but still would like to enjoy and not to overwork during studies. You should be interested in the UK and its structure, first of all, and be ready to form your opinion and voice it.
However, if you’re aiming for a more serious course that will significantly increase your chances on the employment market, it is not the one. Berlin is one of the most amazing capitals, it is the city where everyone can find something for himself, and it is very vibrant, multinational, cultural and very fashionable! If I rate my experience, I would give it an 8, because the teaching process, the people, the opportunities were amazing but I do not have a 100% certainty this degree will work on its own without me doing additional professional courses.
Is there anything that you would do differently if you could do it over again?
I would probably try to be more relaxed in the beginning because I had a very high stress level as I considered myself the most unsuccessful in the course. Also, I would definitely learn German more persistently.
What was the biggest surprise in your study abroad adventure?
The biggest surprise was to discover that Berlin is one of the most amazing cities in the world!