What makes us to act as an advert suggests is wanting more; to have more, do more, become more. Human nature is to get and KEEP comfort; remain in comfort. The paradox is that, getting greater level of comfort almost always requires breaking or disrupting the current state of comfort. I am writing this from what has become the comfort of a massive library which is hundreds of miles away from home. I see close friends across book shelves all around, many friends. It’s a Friday and we will be going for a pint with some friends, not only from different universities in the city but also none of us shares a nationality with another.
So how did I get here? Early last year, like many others I responded to an ad. Having been in search of an opportunity to study in Europe, the advert seemed tailor-made for me. First, a chance to travel for studies. Second, on offer were courses leading to a career in Energy and participation in (sustainable) development in my country. This is my passion. I wanted a change of career, badly, I should say. And thirdly, someone was offering to foot the entire bill. My search continued and, needless to say, weeks later (or should I say ages later) I arrived in a foreign Island country. Hitherto, this country was mysterious to me. For instance, Great Britain, United Kingdom and England were somewhat synonymous, perhaps loosely exchangeable. Like why the biggest premier league is called English Premier League and not British.
If knowledge is power, then imagination is the superpower. Imagination forms the basis of all stereotypes. Culture shock varies in severity based on what we imagine. Borders are said to exist only in our minds. Racist or other discrimination tendencies are more perceived than real, and if real, they are created from some kind of belief. So, landing at Heathrow Airport can be as thrilling as it can be shocking and confusing. My take on this? Most of the hundreds you see around the busy airports are also new. This holds true from the airport to the lecture hall; and largely to the walkways around campus. So just ask.
The Swahili saying kupotea njia ndiko kujua njia (getting lost is the best way to know the way) is proven true by the first few weeks. I have laughed at myself over things that almost distressed me when I was new in town. It’s more laughable if I was afraid to ask. Even in the lecture room, there is nothing too obvious to ask. Did I say ask? It is written, ask and you shall receive.
In one year, I have attended many parties (including Hogmanay), hiked, taken day-outs in the countryside, boat ridden and kayaked, visited other cities for fun, had drinks in the public parks and barbecued. I have been to exhibitions, conferences and sporting events (I played more football here than ever). I have crossed the sea to Scandinavia (mainland Europe). I volunteered in the student parliament and participated in a leadership development programme; with a certificate signed by the Vice Chancellor. I became NEBOSH certified. These experiences have turned out to be more enriching than the formal lectures. Please remember, there are many lessons that cannot fit in the transcripts or be described on certificates.
The academic workload for a UK Masters has been squeezed into 12 short months from the traditional 18 to24 months. It is a lot, very tight. There is no room for second chances, say in exams. The big question is, how could you even find time for all these? My answer, avoid procrastination. Ask for direction. Now. Ask for guidance now. Go for the party at the earliest opportunity. Sign up for that weekend trip to the picturesque British Isles or the Scottish Highlands first, and then fix the workload with the time left. Trust me, you will be fine. They picked you from a crowd; you are smart enough.
The best friends you make here within the one year will be made on the sidelines of these informal functions or at least outside the lecture rooms. If you forget all else, remember, questions are the answers. Ask. Ask. Ask.
As I return to East Africa, I am truly way better than I was a year ago. I know better, my imagination is bigger and most of all, I got the awareness that I am capable of much more. It is not a whole year, it’s just a year. A year-long holiday if you so choose. There is unlimited fun to have and I got excellent grades to ice the cake. Yes! Distinct grades, which are what Tullow Group sent me to Britain for.
About the author
Zephania Kivungi is a Tullow Scholar from Kenya, studying MSc Sustainable Energy Technology at Glasgow Caledonian University. He intends to return to Kenya to start a social enterprise with another Tullow Scholar and a Commonwealth Scholar, who he met in Glasgow. The social enterprise will offer distributed clean energy systems to especially rural households.