Tuesday 7 August 2018

#IAmChevening: A year in the making... for a year in the UK!

So I've been um semi-sharing, but not quite really talking about the Chevening thing. Right.

TL;DR: I have a Chevening scholarship to do an MA in Creative Writing: The Novel at Brunel University London.

What is that?
A full scholarship to do a 1-year masters in the UK.

What's covered?
  • university tuition fees
  • a monthly stipend
  • travel costs to and from the UK
  • an arrival allowance
  • a homeward departure allowance
  • the cost of one visa application
  • a travel grant to attend Chevening events in the UK

What do you have to study?
Anything, actually! When I first talked about it, my parents asked, "Don't they only fund STEM programmes?" (not in those exact words lah). The answer is no--Chevening does fund arts-related programmes too! Somewhere on the site (which I can't find now, lol) it mentions that scholars are selected by the local British High Comm based on the needs of the country (or something like that?) so probably in the past, the focus was on STEM. Based on the current whatsapp group, it feels like 50% are in medical-related subjects, but there's business, law, engineering, journalism, education, and governance. And in the arts, we have writing, cultural studies, media and comms, and comparative lit. yay.

How did you get it?
I applied online, was called for an interview, and was chosen!

So simple meh?
Okay, so the long, convoluted story goes like this...

Sometime in 2016 I thought about applying for Chevening, discovered you had to write 4 essays and then got lazy. Hahaha. BUT THEN IN 2017... my secondary school classmate, Evelyn Teh, became a Chevening scholar... and you know how it goes. (She can means I can also la! Right? Right?)

So even though the journey feels like it's just begun, it really started in August 2017 when I started an application. There's a bunch of stuff you need for your application, but most of it is pretty basic: an existing degree, 2 years' working experience, referees. The difficult part is the essays. Because ESSAYS. ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AND WHY. You either have too much to say or not enough, if you get what I mean?

But you're a writer. How hard can it be?
I'm sure that's going to come up 90% of the time. But no. This isn't Sara meets Garuda or freaks out at the pontianak in her room. Or Danis meeting a dragon. This is omg how on earth do I network, I dunno, I talk to a bunch of writers on twitter and facebook and run this write-in that hardly anybody knows about and leadership skills? What leadership skills? Can I claim stressing out over mywritersfest and making detailed excel spreadsheets for events as leadership skills? Ok wait well I was a manager in my past (working) life. I managed people! And teams! And whyyy do I want to study in the UK uh because it's uh UK and like Tolkieeeennnn and CS Lewissss and actually oh why this uni ah? Um, it sounds interesting? It's probably going to help me? And my career goals are to uhhhhhh sell books? Hopefully in Malaysia? Menghebohkan MYWriters and Malaysian writers in the future? *runs around like headless chicken*

Well, obviously the final essays were much more lucid than that (ha) because I was shortlisted for the interview, but the point is this: essays are hard. Work on them. Figure out what you really want. Get people to read them to see if they're excited about it... or just underwhelmed. Freak out a little. And for once, well twice (in your essays and during your interview) in your life, exude the confidence of the mediocre white man. Because you know you really can. You are able to can!

At any rate, my email says I submitted my application in October, way ahead of the November deadline. (Really? I was that kin cheong? haha).

Apply then finish ah?
Not quite. After that came uni applications. You get to pick three courses/universities during the Chevening application, so you should start applying for these as soon as you can. The thing with uni applications is this... I did a four-year dip/advance dip course in TARC, where my application mainly consisted of submitting SPM results and ticking off what course I wanted to study. UK uni applications are... much more complex. They require personal statements (MORE ESSAYS URGH) and references. I technically needed an academic reference but because I graduated in 2006, I asked if I could get two work references and they said ok.
Special note on references: make sure all your references are on letterheads and SIGNED. Or at least from OFFICIAL EMAIL ADDRESSES. Because I did not know this was such a sticking point. Haha. Caused little mini panic right there.

Then I had to take an English exam, both for Chevening as well as the uni application. Being the crazy person I am, I had nightmares of not being able to speak English during the spoken IELTS test... when my primary language is... English. Go figure.

All that kept me busy until the interview email arrived in February--and then it was major, major panic time. I hate interviews. My first job interview was basically me chatting with a manager I previously interned with (no interviews required for internships then!). My second job interview was primarily a phone interview (in my pjs haahaha) with a subsequent chat with HR and some outgoing manager which I've mostly blanked out of my mind. I feel like interviews question your right to exist... but that's just me. But yeah, go with all the confidence of the mediocre white man! Toot your horn and show the world how awesome you are! You can go hide under the blankets after its done, but for that short span of time (half an hour? I think? I don't wear a watch and my phone was in the security locker so I actually don't know) you have to sell yourself and your capabilities. NOT sell yourself short. Both sound so similar, I know.

Then it's more waiting... and more waiting... and even more waiting. Until June!
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The time after your conditional selection comes is the REAL crunch time. That's when you have to hustle and GET YOUR UNI ACCEPTANCES LIKE ARGH UNI PLEASE LET ME INNNN. The thing is, you need an unconditional offer (some unis only give a conditional until you pay a deposit--but don't!) and do a simple medical check and sign some stuff. I did get my conditional offer from Brunel in May so I had to write in to them with the scholarship stuff to request the unconditional offer.

And then you send in all the stuff they asked for and wait. Because your Programme Officer has to talk to your uni and they're handling like hundreds of other students and unis. So you wait. And you wait and then you wait summore. Okay? Because it was only about a month after I sent them everything that I received a confirmation on the final award letter (FAL). Sigh.

ANDDDD it's only after that that you get your CAS (from the uni) to apply for your student visa. Well, apparently that depends on your specific uni--some people in the group got theirs even before getting their FAL, others are still waiting to get theirs... *shrug*. So I had to wait impatiently. And even after the email notification... it took about 2 weeks for the actual letter to reach my hands.

And so here I am now!

My Chevening journey has already been one year in the making. I'm SO looking forward to what this next year will bring. Right now, I'm just waiting for my visa application to be processed (submitted everything last week) and then get my flights booked, and I'm off to London next month! <3 I'm counting down to the day I get to announce that I'm celebrating my 34th birthday by starting an MA. LOL. (Yeah, classes start Sept 24.)

Pre-departure briefing and reception is this Thursday so I'm finally going to meet the 30-odd people I've been chatting with on whatsapp since June or something. I forget when. But like forever.

Lessons learnt? Be patient. Be less kin cheong. Be confident. Don't panic. Go in God's grace. :) [But mostly, Waaaaiiiit. Wait summore. Wait longerrrr.]

If you are still interested in Chevening after this super rambly post, applications are now open for the 2019/2020 cohort. Check out the timeline here!

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