After spending nearly 20 years in the education field, I made the bold decision in 2009 to return to university to study for my Master’s degree. I had just lost a job that I loved, managing a large educational literacy project in the 8th largest school district in the United States. The project was funded by a grant from the Florida Department of Education and unfortunately the funding for the project was slashed when the recession hit in 2008. I had wanted to go back to school for a long time, but life and family obligations had always gotten in my way. My oldest daughter was already studying for her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Surrey in the UK and I always wanted to study abroad. So, I decided to sell my house in Florida and attend, in the fall of 2009, the University of Roehampton as a full-time postgraduate student in the Education Leadership and Management programme.
As a mature student and single mother, my journey was most likely a bit different than most students who choose to study abroad. It was difficult, but I was able to find an estate agent to work with me while I was still living in Florida and was able to secure a flat to live in prior to moving to the UK. I was bringing my younger daughter, Grace, with me, who was 17 at the time, so I also had to find a sixth form school for her to attend. After a lot of research - and luck - I found a wonderful state sixth form school for her to attend in Putney, prior to our moving. Initially, Grace was not at all happy that I had taken her away from her friends and a high school that she loved attending in Tampa, Florida, but it ended up to be a life changing and wonderful opportunity for her.
Besides wanting to live and study abroad to gain a more global perspective, I liked that I could earn my MA degree in a year, rather than the typical two years it would take in the United States as a full time student. What I didn’t realise was how very intense the course would be to complete in a year, even as a full time student. It had been years since I had been a university student so I knew it would take me a while to get back into the habit of studying, but I had always liked to write and I was excited about the prospect of doing research and writing my dissertation.
I spent my entire break after the fall semester, writing three module essays of 3500 words each and also my MA research proposal, another 3500 words. Basically, these assignments all had to be completed within a month and I could not begin writing before my tutorials with my professors, which were held the first week of December, the week before the break started. At least I had worked all semester on most of the research I needed in order to complete the essays.
ADVICE: Keep up with your readings and get a head start on the research, so you will then be ready to write after your tutorials with your professors are over.
When it came to writing my dissertation, it was equally as intense. I had three months to write my 20,000 word dissertation and also two 3500 word module essay assignments. So my summer of 2010, was spent at the keyboard of my computer day and night. Once again, I had completed all of my research for my dissertation and for my last two module assignments prior to my setting down to write, which proved to be extremely helpful. I was able to find time during the summer to attend two international conferences held at University of Roehampton. One of them was a United Nations Rights of the Child Convention and the other a Special Educational Needs Erasmus Mundus conference. The speakers for both of these conferences were amazing and from around the world. This was another amazing learning experience.
My classes were interactive and engaging. I looked forward to attending each and every one of them. There were around 20 people in my programme and we had students from at least 8 different countries. Since the course was Education Leadership and Management, most of us were seasoned education professionals and by sharing experiences we gained an international perspective which we have each taken back to our individual countries.
My professors challenged us and encouraged us to debate and be critical thinkers. My dissertation tutor was helpful, but also pushed me to do more than I thought was possible. Just when I would think I had perfected a chapter of my dissertation and could move onto the next she would find something that needed to be rewritten or demand more insight from me.
To those of you trying to decide if you want to study abroad or if you are just beginning your international journey of studying in the UK, I can only say I envy you. It was a challenging year, but definitely a wonderful and life changing event. Besides your academic experience, enjoy your time in the UK. Embrace the people and the new culture because you will gain so much from doing so. My daughters and I have made lifelong friends from our experience of studying and living in the UK and it has opened the doors for many opportunities we would not have had otherwise.