Part I: Grad school – how to expand your brain abroad!

Photo credit to

Photo credit to

** Note that this post only refers to MA or MSc. A PhD has a whole other set of options and alternatives that aren’t covered here.

I had always wanted to get a Master’s degree. Part of this was the urge to have more letters after my name a higher quest for learning, some if it was the vague notion that it might help me get a better job (as I was working for a university at the time, this was legitimate), and there was a part of me that was slightly insane genuinely missed being out of school – it had been five years since my undergrad finished.

Getting my MA in Canada, though, appealed less. I wanted to see somewhere new, and that would be a great way to immerse myself while having a purpose. And we know I *do* love to multitask! I had moved to England permanently and then had to move back home abruptly after a family crisis. It felt as if my time there hadn’t really finished…and so after an overnight decision at the end of May while on vacation in Singapore, it was time to make the move. I arrived home on a Monday. By Tuesday, I’d chosen my top three schools. By Wednesday, I’d applied. By Friday, I’d browbeat my references into sending their letters off, and two weeks later, I’d been accepted into my choice of schools.

photo credit to

photo credit to

Decision time. Children’s literature at Reading or Roehampton, or….science fiction in Liverpool! Easier decision than I thought. Hanging out in the home of the Beatles, reading books about robots and time travel? SOLD!

aliens and I

Photo credit to C Steinmetz

Here were the pros of going to school outside of Canada:

*MAs in the UK take one year, versus two in Canada. If you’re able to get a leave from work (as I did), then you’re working the second year rather than still in school, so it kind of mitigates the higher tuition cost

*it combined the adventure of travel with the schedule of school. There were enough breaks and holidays (and weekends!) to do a great deal of wandering around and see some spectacular things that we don’t have at home.

Exhibit A:


Photo credit to S Gudlaugson

*classmates who have a completely different culture and view of the world. My program was tiny (there were *three* of us), but we spanned three countries, and Christian came all the way from Luxembourg. My roommates in my dorm were from everywhere, studying a bewildering variety of things. New perspectives, new ideas, new everything. It was fantastic. And I have friends all over the world, for life.

*the opportunity to reinvent yourself.

It’s wonderfully freeing when no one has any preconceived notions of what you’re good at, whether you’ll like something or what your opinion on a topic will be. You can be whoever you choose to be, with no backstory or explanation required. You learn a lot about yourself when you’re starting from scratch again.

The only major con is $$$$$. Big $$$$$. When I went, the pound was 2.4 to the dollar. Multiply that by 9000 pounds, and it’s a staggeringly huge number.

While there’s the obvious solution of student loans or savings, there are plenty of other ways to defray the cost. Most of these will only apply to Canadians, but there will be various other country’s alternatives that are similar.

*Most student visas come with the option to work part time. Take it. If you work for somewhere international, like Starbucks or Flight Centre, for example, see if you can transfer or at least make a connection at a local branch where you’re going. If not, sign up with the employment centre. Do some of the paid research studies in various departments.

*local scholarships and bursaries! Scholarships are generally based on academic merit. Bursaries are geared towards financial need and both have their place. Look at every possible option. Are you (or your parents or aunts or grandparents) a union or association member? They may have a scholarship – go and find out. Does your field of study offer incentives to minorities, and does that apply to you? Do you do volunteer work? Your organization might offer something. Check your worksite and your parents’ worksites.

*government learning grants and scholarships. Start here and choose the country you’re interested in. For the UK, there are a number of programs that are funded by both the Canadian and the British governments, such as the Commonwealth Scholarship or the Killam Prize.

*consider countries where the Canadian currency is high and your dollar will go further. Think Latin America or Eastern Europe, Africa or India. The world is a big place – go and explore it!

*Check into what graduate school costs are, and if there are any. Universities in Finland, Austria, and Norway offer free or low cost tuition to international students. There are others, but those jump to mind.

Don’t be that person who muses ‘I wish that I had…’ Go ahead and do it. People rarely regret what they actually did, but spend endless time regretting what they didn’t do.

Part II (to be written sometime soon! Promise!) will cover the nuts and bolts of how to go from zero to heading off to the airport. Stay tuned, campers!


One thought on “Part I: Grad school – how to expand your brain abroad!

  1. Pingback: Grad school Part Deux – the nuts and the bolts. | Transforming the Now

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