Life at a foreign university: Chennai boy at Queen’s University Belfast shares tough Covid days, internship and part-time job in UK

(This letter is part of a series of The Indian Express where we bring you experiences of students in different foreign universities. How life is different in these countries – scholarships, loans, food, cultural experiences and what they learn other than academic)

Mohammed Abdul Salam, 23, from Chennai, is currently pursuing a Masters in Urban Planning and Design at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is a masters student returning to college who, like many other students, had to battle the pandemic, travel restrictions and more to graduate.

This is why I went abroad

I studied BEng Civil Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast (2017-21). The curriculum was industry aligned and I really enjoyed the learning process. This is the reason why I decided to pursue a master’s degree in the same university. Besides academics, my general motivation was to learn to live on my own in a foreign country. Unlike many Indian parents who are overprotective, my father encouraged me to learn, to try, to fail, and most importantly, to fail better.

I’ve always preferred to approach the university directly, because establishing communication does wonders to help convey your profile and interests.

Scholarships available at QUB

immigration picture

Since I was a masters student at the same university, I was able to avail the alumni discount. However, there are several other options and one can usually only accept one scholarship, even if they are eligible for multiple scholarships. In my case, the old-timer discount was the highest, so it worked that way.

I suggest aspirants try to apply early and send a cold mail to the university and relevant department (usually the international office) asking for details of scholarships available for international or Indian students, especially .

Student loans: Summarize your situation, present all the documents

I think it’s wise to apply for a loan when you’re considering studying abroad, even if you don’t plan to take advantage of it right away. Having the guarantee of a financial institution helps you complete the application and visa process without much hassle as the financial criteria are much simpler to meet when you have been sanctioned for a loan.

The process can be initiated by your local bank branch through an online portal called Vidyalakshmi. When presenting your case, it is best to summarize your situation to the local bank manager with a document containing your course fees, details and prospects after graduation to ensure a smooth loan approval.

Using the Covid pandemic for a social cause

As university classes came to an abrupt end due to the Covid pandemic, I had to return to India during my last semester – which was an internship year – of the undergraduate degree. During quarantine, I co-founded a charity start-up called ‘@FeedTheNeedy2020’, with my brother in Chennai. This initiative served more than two lakh meals to those in need, such as motorists and many other day laborers who had lost their jobs during the pandemic.

This initiative gained popularity and helped me win the QUB SU “Supporting Our Community” award in 2021.

However, the Covid break has also allowed me to assess my progress and prepare for the future. Before Covid, lectures were always in person, but now the university has transitioned to adapting to a hybrid teaching style to be ready for any disruption.

During this time, I applied for my Masters and was selected for the prestigious Washington Ireland program. So I returned to the UK in March 2022.

Washington’s program in Ireland — program benefit, election process, experience

During my undergraduate studies, I actively represented students on the council and in various campaigns. I ran several elections in the student union. My work led me to win the Graduate of the Year award for the PwC Inspiring Leaders program in 2019. Having had experience in both leadership and service, I was encouraged to apply for the Washington Ireland Program and Leadership (WIP), and I was selected.

This is a six-month program that introduces college students to Washington, DC for summer internships and leadership training. Through the program, I was able to intern at a New York-based sustainability SaaS startup called “Sustain.Life,” as well as an interview with Secretary John Kerry, the U.S. Presidential Special Envoy for the climate.

Mohammed Abdul Salam interviews Senator John Kerry as part of the WIP program.

Importance of part-time jobs, cooking at home, expense tracking

I try to cook as much as possible at home and plan my days around meals and even snacks, which helps me stay organized in many ways. I would suggest students try to keep a journal of their expenses in a format and not be too hard on themselves. It is important to sustain yourself through the experience and not to exhaust yourself.

Now that I am done with WIP activities, I will apply and work part-time positions to support myself. To support themselves, students can look for several part-time jobs such as international student ambassadors at their university, other similar job profiles at the university’s international office, serving tables at local restaurants, a cashier at a local store and much more. . Just remember that there are fixed hours an international student is allowed to work during a week. As an international student, you must not exceed the prescribed working hours as this will be considered an illegal act.

Advice for future aspirants

I would advise applicants to ensure that they have their grade sheets, proof of identity, bank statements and CAS letters and any relevant documents scanned and stored in a document as you may need them regularly throughout the application process. application and also when you come to the university in person as well.

Once you have done your basic networking and documentation, reaching out to established advisors would help you gain access to more universities, as they tend to have established connections. However, at the end of the day, be sure to make an informed decision based on all factors.

Plan for the future and take stock of your personal situation and your ambitions. Write it down and don’t hesitate to tell people who have already done it. Also try to establish direct communication with course directors and admissions teams. Most importantly, keep in mind that no task is below you, nor any task above you. It is important to have a vision and to seek challenges in that vision before you come abroad and while you are here.

Leave a Reply