The Quest to Study Abroad: My Commonwealth Scholarship Journey

By  Naa Ayorkor Sowatey-Adjei
Posted 7th June, 2020

On 6th November 2019 I graduated from Bournemouth University, United Kingdom with an LLM – in Public International Law with Distinction on a Commonwealth Shared Scholarship. The road to getting the Scholarship and achieving this degree was fraught with many hurdles but it all ended in praise. In this article, I share some key lessons learned on my journey.

BE DETERMINED
Most of the time, people have the desire to study abroad (outside Ghana) for both undergraduate and postgraduate studies but are not willing to go through the various rudiments to get there. In 2017 I decided to study for a master’s degree in Ghana. I discussed this with my sister, and she convinced me to apply for various scholarships to study abroad. I was initially reluctant because I felt such processes were just tedious with a lot of essay writing which may not yield any positive results. I however overcame my doubts and started the process. She added, “even if you don’t succeed, no one would get to know; it’s just you and your computer”. I had to overcome various disappointments from unsuccessful applications before the door finally opened. I was however determined to get there, so I never gave up.  I kept on believing that it would receive a scholarship and by the grace of God it worked out in 2018. It is therefore key for one to remain determined.

BE OPEN-MINDED
I have come to realize that people often have their focus on one particular country, university or course of study when seeking to study abroad. However, it is very important to keep one’s mind open to various opportunities available out there. During my application, I had some key Universities in mind where I hoped to study. Sadly, when then Commonwealth Scholarship Secretariat in the UK opened applications in 2018 none of the schools I had applied for had opportunities for me. I quickly had to change focus and I finally chose Bournemouth University and I have not regretted this decision.

BE PREPARED AND FIND OUT MORE
If you plan to study abroad, you need to be well prepared. You need to have all your documentation ready i.e. all school certificates, transcripts and key people to write recommendations for you. You also need to have your passports and birth certificate ready. I added this because an opportunity may come your way within a limited time frame. If you have these documents readily available, it makes the process easier. Most Universities request applicants to write various English examinations and other tests such as TOEFL, IELT, SAT, GRE, or GMAT in Europe and North America depending on the program you intended to study. Ensure that you are prepared to write the exam when it becomes necessary.

Every institution has different policies regarding admissions and scholarships. You need to be abreast with the policies of the institution you are applying to. Some universities require you to put in separate applications for admission and scholarship whilst some require just one application for both. In my case, I had to apply to the school first and apply to the Commonwealth Scholarship Secretariat for the scholarship after gaining admission. You would also need to study the scholarship packages that are available carefully. Some provide full or partial tuition fees only, full or partial stipends only as well as full funding covering both tuition and maintenance costs.

As you intend to move to a new country to study you need to read about their visa and immigration procedures for international students. This is vital if you intend to travel with your family or other dependants. You also need to find out more about their tax laws, health insurance and work policies for international students. Such information is most often available on the institutional websites in the section for International students. For instance, in the UK, International students are not required to pay tax whiles studying, are allowed to work for only twenty (20) hours a week and are required to pay a health surcharge dependant on the duration of their program.

It is also important to read the stories of various alumni from the institutions you seek to attend in order to get more information. I read a lot of blogs from various alumni and contacted other alumni to get clarity on various issues. You can also take advantage of the various study abroad programs organized by Institutions of higher learning. The British Council in Ghana for example organizes annual Open Days for students to meet representatives of various universities in the UK.

BE READY FOR A CHANGE
Finally, one must be willing to adapt. Most people get a culture shock when they travel abroad and it takes a while for them to cope. There are major differences in the systems abroad and one must be willing to adjust in order to live peacefully and comfortably. In the educational system, the mode of tuition at the postgraduate level is mainly research focused which is not always the case in Ghana (I can only speak for Ghana since I am Ghanaian). To get the best outcome of the new learning system you may encounter, there is the need to adjust to the style of learning. Be ready to do a lot of research on your own and ask for help when you get confused whilst studying.  In my case, I was entering a new area of study i.e. International Law and I needed a lot of help from lecturers and colleagues. I took advantage of all the resources available and got the best results at the end of the day.

In conclusion, to anyone out there with the desire to study abroad, I would encourage you to take the first steps in faith – know the program you wish to study, search for schools offering such courses, find out the funding packages available and note application deadlines. The next thing would be to put in your applications and submit all the required documents before the given deadline.  God would reward your hard work. It is Possible!!! Be Positive. You are more than a conqueror!!!

This article is published with the kind courtesy of the author – Naa Ayorkor Sowatey-Adjei. She recently graduated with an LLM – in Public International Law from Bournemouth University, United Kingdom.