As a fan of FC Barcelona and an admirer of Arsenal FC, I could only think of Alexis Sanchez when the opportunity came to apply to attend a global summit of 25 research intensive universities in Santiago, Chile. Thanks to TGSS, the 500 word letter of motivation and a fifteen minute interview was no challenge for me.
That Wednesday was the kind of day on which my Nigerian friend will say ‘the weather was not making sense at all’. Though the suit I wore for the interview provided no insulation against the chill, my interview itself went well. My interviewer was someone I built rapport with on a previous trip, so I felt so comfortable that my half-baked Birmingham accent was at its best.
Three hours after the interview, this email dropped in my box.
I am very happy to say your application to attend the forthcoming U21 Student Summit in Santiago this May has been successful – congratulations! It was a highly competitive field as you can imagine, and you have done very well not only to achieve a place at the summit but also to be nominated by your College in the first instance….let me not get you jealous with the details.
I sprung into action. The first thing I did was to make a brief visit to the international relations office to process my visa. Being the only holder of a green passport among the three UoB delegates, I required a visa which took close to two months of frequent follow ups by the Universitas 21 Project Officer, to acquire. In the end, my green and white visa arrived two days to departure from Birmingham, and that was the beginning of my adventurous flight.
As if to kick start my long adventure, some technical issues prevented me from getting on my flight on my original travel date. However, the way British Airways handled the matter made me understand customer service differently.
With very few connecting flights from Madrid to Santiago, I had to be booked for the next flight which meant that I spend the next 24 hours at Heathrow. The experience at my hotel was painfully joyous as time seemed to run at the slowest pace I have ever encountered. The story was not over the next day because my flights got cancelled twice before Auntie Lizzy’s son finally fastened his seat belt, and took off to Madrid.
The flight from Madrid to Santiago was supposed to be 13 hours, but entry into Santiago took half an hour more. Once on Chilean soil, I had to rely on a creative combination of French, English and Sign language, to get myself transported to the hotel where all the other 49 delegates lodged. In the hotel, for the first time in several months, I was able to walk around without a sweater. What a welcome that was!
The week long experience in Santiago still lingers on my mind. I loved every bit of it, from the weather, food, music, tourist sites and the beautiful….. Let me not go too far. It felt so good presenting a road map for integrating students into sustainable development of their communities to the presidents and vice chancellors of the U21 Network. The brainstorming sessions pooled together interdisciplinary perspectives for problem solving and presented an opportunity to teach and be taught.
After the summit, a tour of Santiago, Valparaiso and the Maipo valley emphasised the contribution tourism can make to a country’s economy. The return journey was smoother with no complications but the security checks at the Madrid airport were something else. In all I had fun, learnt and networked, even though communication was not smooth in Chile, a Spanish speaking country.
Our continent must develop and TGSS scholars must have something to do with that development with this gained experience.
About the Author
Dominic Bassah TGSS Scholar from Ghana. He is currently studying MSc. Public and Environmental Health at University of Birmingham