Finding my ground | My journey to Stirling Management School [STUDENT BLOG]

Every pathway to the University of Stirling is unique. In this blog, postgraduate student Priya Rawal (MBA) shares the incredible experiences that brought her to Stirling.

Though the road’s been rocky it sure feels good to me.”

Bob Marley

I’m a self-made, successful and proud MBA student at Stirling Management School.

Since I’ve come to Stirling, I feel good all the time.

But life wasn’t always this smooth. I’ve had it rough for a good part of my existence.

Today, I’m sharing one of my most cherished experiences about how I found my ground and landed at the University of Stirling.

On a hot summer afternoon in 2010, I got a lucky break when I got a call from a company in the Middle East asking me to join the core revenue generation team. The company was a newly established, government funded printing press. They had seen my LinkedIn profile and made me an offer – and I couldn’t refuse, as I had lost my job only a few days prior.

I loved my new job and did well for myself and the company. I was paid handsomely and things were looking good for me – except the company kept increasing my targets each year, irrespective of market trends. So, five years into the job, the role had become repetitive and I began feeling the pressure of the glass ceiling because my company had a flat management structure and there was no scope for growth.

My choices were to continue in the same position or leave.

Breaking the glass ceiling

That’s when I began considering ways to break the glass ceiling. I thought long and hard, weighing my options for many months, but could not come up with anything – and so I discussed how I was feeling related to my job with my friends and family. Some of my friends thought I was being silly, as I was doing quite well financially. Others advised me to look for another job, and a few of them suggested I do an executive course to gain new skills. As for my family, they are simple people and asked me to come back to India.

I heard everyone’s advice and decided to stay in my job, as I was yet to become financially stable.

The next step was going to be big one.

Being in business development, I was used to strategizing for the future and using available resources is the key to any plan’s success or failure. This was my own life, and so going forward without a concrete plan was out of the question. I continued in my job for another two years and devising and following a vigorous savings plan to aid my future decision – whatever that maybe.

The thought of doing studying lingered in the background. I casually began to research topics I was interested in learning about, but the thought of not getting paid was very scary, as I was to give up my comfortable life and a successful career and that held me back.

I vividly remember the numerous times I opened university websites in UAE, called for information, booked appointments but didn’t show up.

Life went on in auto mode.

In late 2016, my close friend decided to migrate to Canada. We met for coffee and I asked her about the education system there and she spoke highly of it and suggested I could contact her agent to get some concrete feedback from a professional person. I thought that was a good idea ,and so took the details of the agent and decided to make enquiries the next day.

When I met the agent at his office a few days later, he advised that owing to my age, I wouldn’t be successful in getting into any university there – as most universities target fresh school graduates who study longer. I was 39-years-old and was disappointed to hear that, and so I decided to put the plan to study on the backburner and immersed myself in my work even though I dreaded the mundaneness of it. I had bills to pay, and was still following my savings plan to give me the financial flexibility to move forward. Another year passed.

In early 2018, I got a call from the agent informing me of an education fair to be held at the Crowne Plaza hotel. At this point I was 41-years-old, and the agent’s previous words of discouragement flashed back. But I had gained a momentum in my savings, and so out of curiosity decided to go to the fair.

The fair had universities participating from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, China and the USA. Almost all universities were targeting undergraduate students. I talked to several universities in the fair, and almost all of them had no courses for senior students. Just as I was beginning to feel disappointed and leave, I saw a booth for IDP Education in a corner. Until this point I was unaware of their field of expertise, but I approached them reluctantly.

The team at the IDP Education booth were young, enthusiastic and eager to help anyone willing and wishing to study abroad. Their expertise was in offering professional help to students, as they were tied with universities around the world. When I had a chat with the representative at IDP and told them I wanted to study a degree which was short, effective and offered value for the money I was going to pay, they happily booked an appointment for me to meet them a week later at their office.

On the day agreed, I went to the IDP office located in Dubai. The staff were warm and friendly. It was open office ,and representatives from every country sat at their desks, busy consulting and offering guidance to future students. I felt positive and waited for my turn. I was shortly asked to meet Mr. Shamil, who was a specialist and senior education consultant for UK and New Zealand.

Post listening to my brief again, he offered me the option to study a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Studies in New Zealand. The course for a year and he told me the fees that suited my budget of AED 110,000 including expenses and accommodation for a year perfectly. He encouraged me to look into UK, but I shied away. I felt I couldn’t afford the fees in UK, as it was the leading education hub for international students.

New challenges

In three weeks, I had offers from three universities in New Zealand. I picked the Southern Institute of technology and signed off on the conditional offer. The conditions being passing IELTS 6.5 or PTE score of 60 and above.

The next week, I went for the IELTS test, and I admit, I went unprepared and was totally lost during the IELTS test. I scored a 6.0, and was to re-sit the test again. Other than not being prepared, I experienced discomfort during the IELTS test on grounds of the one-on-one interview. I felt the system of letting a human being judge my ability to converse in English, was biased owing to my nationality. Another issue was that the test results took three weeks to come, and so the waiting period was not something I was looking forward to doing again.

My consultant advised me to look into the PTE (Pearson Test English), taking my feedback of the bias from human element into account. I agreed to book a PTE test and getting an appointment was a piece of cake, unlike IELTS test. Another factor I really felt comfortable with was that the test was done on a computer screen and scoring was given based on clarity of speech, additionally there were tons of YouTube videos on practicing the mock test. I had learned from my IELTS mistake that practice was essential, and so I practiced a few mock tests before the actual test.

On test day, I went to PTE test centre in Dubai and completed the test peacefully. I got my results two days later and I had scored 89 out of 100. I was over the moon, and also felt reassured that things were going to fall into place slowly but surely. The IDP team submitted my PTE scores, and I got an unconditional offer two days later.

Now, the next big challenge: clearing medicals to get the student visa. I followed the steps and got my medical results the next week and made a shocking discovery about my heart. I had Atrial Septum Defect. Simply put, I was born with a hole in my heart and it was causing my lungs to work harder than expected. This was resulting in the right ventricle becoming larger than the left and impure blood seeping into my right ventricle, which meant I was breathing harder and I could suffer a potential heart failure or brain damage if left untreated.

Up to this point in my life, I had never experienced difficulty in breathing or doing any form of physical activity, but the doctors strongly advised me to perform an ASD device surgery to rule out the possibility of heart failure. Making a decision to do the surgery was a critical but difficult one.

I was an emotional wreck, as I felt like my life was slipping out of my hands. I couldn’t control the circumstances and felt helpless, especially because I was going to have to postpone my plan to study, as I wasn’t sure how long I would take to recover post-surgery – or whether I would live at all, as hospitals don’t guarantee 100% success for any surgeries. I was scared, very scared.

Wanting the best

Luckily for me, it all worked out well in the end. In Feb 2019, I had a successful ASD device surgery – and two days later I was discharged. After the surgery and having overcome so many speed bumps, I felt determined to live life to the fullest and I went back to IDP to inform them that I now wanted the best for myself – and since UK was the best education provider, I wanted to study in the UK.

My education consultant was thrilled to hear from me, and gave me the option to study a full time MBA in a few different universities in UK. So I submitted my applications to seven universities – and the University of Stirling came highly recommended by my education agent. Within the next four days, I got an unconditional offer from three universities, and University of Stirling was one of them.

As I was paying for myself and had a limited budget, I asked the consultant if he could help me with scholarship applications. He gladly helped, and I applied for the scholarship for Indian nationals at University of Stirling.

I was very close to deadline of submission for the scholarship by this time, was still working full time and had not informed my employers of my intentions to leave yet. I had hoped I would get the scholarship, but I was told it may take close to a month before the results were declared – and there was 0.01% of me getting it, as it was only given to one outstanding student.

My heart sank at this news. Not getting the scholarship meant I had to settle, even though I wanted the best for myself. By now, I had been working with IDP Education consultants for over a year and I trusted their feedback, and so I had to get into University of Stirling. Nothing less would be worthwhile. I firmly believed so, which meant I couldn’t give up now. I was almost near the end of my education journey, and I was going to make it to University of Stirling one way or another.

Travelling to the UK

It was time to come up with yet another plan, and this time I decided to take a rational approach: to physically visit each university, check the facilities, meet the course directors and students in person and understand how the course was delivered instead of just accepting any offer that was affordable.

I had my flight booked for the 2nd of June and was excited to come to Scotland to visit University of Stirling. I had communicated with the MBA program director, Prof. George Burt, and had an appointment to meet him on 3rd June 2019. I had appointments with the other universities as well, and was in between preparations for the flight when my phone rang.

It was my brother, and he informed me that my mother had passed away a few minutes ago.

I felt the ground below my feet shift. My mother was bedridden for two years, but she was the happiest person I have ever met. She was my rock – my source of joy. We spoke every single day for an hour or more. She always said it was the happiest part of her day as I listened to her talk, and she could talk as much she liked.

Now, as I received this devastating news from my brother, I realized I would never hear her voice or see her smiling face again. I had lost my favourite person in the world, and the timing was critical as I was about to leave for Scotland the same evening.

I don’t know how I had the inner strength to move forward. I cancelled my flight to Scotland, sent apology emails to all three universities and instead flew to India to perform the final funeral rights for my darling mother.

You might wonder why or how I could perform my mother’s funeral. The answer is, my brother is a brain haemorrhage survivor, and so I took on the responsibility of providing for my family from the young age of 25. My mother was a single parent, and it was my responsibility to complete the rituals, which meant I had to remain calm and think straight even when my heart had broken into a million pieces.

I had to stay strong for my brother. We completed the rituals and mourned in silence.

Choosing Stirling

I got back to Dubai on the 13th day after my mother’s death and resumed work. Once again, I booked a flight to complete what I had started and visit universities in person. A week later, I was in Stirling and I called Professor George the same evening I landed. He promptly gave me an appointment for the next day morning.

I stayed the night at Stirling Court hotel ,which is part of University of Stirling and on its campus. I was on a tight budget, so had walked from Stirling bus depot to the University, luggage and all. It was a fun 5km walk and I took the opportunity to stop now and again to take in the breathtaking views of the blue sky, the green grass, the rolling hills and beautiful river that runs through the town.

I have to admit, I was overcome with joy when I reached the campus. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful – especially the Loch area. I put down my bag and lay down on the grass near the loch and took a selfie of me and made a mental picture of me sitting here after class, it felt so good.

The next day, I met Professor George at his office. He was polite and exuberant and gave me a run down of the course. I remembered the recommendation given by IDP Education, and felt reassured that I had chosen a good partner in IDP.

During the meeting, Prof George encouraged me to join, but I couldn’t say yes as yet – as the course fees were way out of reach. As I was leaving, he asked me whether I would join the course in Sep and I told him my limitation.

He advised me to apply immediately for the Business Excellence Scholarship award and gave me the details for it. I went back to my hotel and applied for the scholarship the same evening, hoping I would get it.

I then went to Wales and visited University of South Wales and Metropolitan University, but they were a far cry from University of Stirling. The course directors were unavailable to meet, the campus was smaller, overcrowded and the deal breaker for me was that the course was taught for four hours a week and one had to self-study more.

I did not see the value in that, as I preferred the University of Stirling delivery method of classroom lectures from 9am-5pm, all weekdays more. I learn from listening to lectures in person as well as from group discussions. It was all clear to me now: but the challenge of unaffordable fees was still not overcome. I left for Dubai two days later, and eagerly waited to find out the results of the scholarship.

A week later, I got an email from the student advisory team, congratulating me on being awarded a ₤10,000 Business Excellence Scholarship award. I thanked my mom for blessing me from above and felt happy for how far I had come in my quest to find education. In Sep 2019, I landed once again in Scotland, but this time I was a proud student of University of Stirling.

My journey was long and hard but, it was worthwhile.

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