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Chasing Chevening Dreams

Paraguayan Maureen Montania Ramirez, an MSc Health and Clinical Psychological Sciences student at Birkbeck, tells us about her experience applying for the Chevening scholarship.

pic of maureen montania ramirez

Maureen Montania Ramirez at Durdle Door

When I decided to apply to Chevening I was at a point in my career where the training resources in my country were no longer sufficient for the dreams and goals I had in my head. I wanted to bring something different to my country and I felt that the only way would be to study in a first world country with the best universities in psychological research, that was for me the UK.

When I took this decision, I received immediate support from my boss who is also a born dreamer who had left the country for training and knew very well the longing I felt at that moment. She offered me her unconditional support and became my sole mentor from start to finish. This was the first and only time I applied to Chevening, I didn’t have high hopes of getting the scholarship because I knew thousands of stories of people who didn’t make it until the third attempt, or never. These were people I respected a lot and considered excellent professionals, so I said “I’m going to try, to at least gain experience and make it the third time”.

My mentor helped me to reflect in my essays who I am, what I dream of, how I move in this life and what I see on the other side of the horizon as a leader and social fighter. With her help, I was able to put all this into words, thanks to which I received the first great joy: the mail of being pre-selected for the interview. It had been a long time since I had felt so much hope, I started to believe in myself, that I could make it. I could already see myself at my university, making friends, learning in a lab and gaining thousands of experiences.

I feel that being charged with so much hope was the key to performing well in the interview. It’s worth noting that in March, when I was interviewed, I was going through one of the worst times of my life. My father was hospitalised for covid with his life hanging by a thread. I barely had a head to think. However, I knew that my dad, more than anyone else, believed that I could make it. A mixture of homage and hope led me to be energised and carry on a 40-minute interview that felt like 15 minutes to me. I had so many things to say, one idea led to another and I answered the questions with words that flowed on their own. The strength that moment gave me has no name. To this day I remember how complete I felt after the interview, when everything else in my life was falling apart.

Immediately afterwards I called my dad to tell him. It was a unique moment that I treasure to this day.

pic of Maureen Ramirez and family

Maureen and family

Shortly thereafter my dad returned home. The recovery was slow and challenging, but steady. Little by little he regained the light in his face, I did not leave his side for a second. So it was that when I received the mail saying that I had finally been selected, he was by my side. We jumped with emotion, we hugged, we cried, we screamed. I felt more alive than ever. I thanked him and my mom for everything they gave me, for having raised me with wings to always fly wherever I want, because without them I am nothing.

Maureen Ramirez holding the Paraguayan flag

Maureen proudly displaying the Paraguayan flag

Months after the preparation of papers, suitcases and emotions, I had to say goodbye to my family at the airport, with a huge smile, hugging my Paraguayan flag and raising my arms high as if to take off once again, with the support of my pillars in this life. It filled me with joy to see my father’s face full of life, completely back, next to my mother and my brother. I boarded the plane with a suitcase full of dreams and hopes.

pic of Maureen Ramirez on first day in UK

Maureen’s first day in the UK

Today, almost a year after that interview, I still feel I have to pinch myself to remember where I am. What was a dream yesterday is now a constant reality. My life here is wonderful. Every day I learn something new- academically and socially, I discover new friends, new places, new lives. I am immensely happy and grateful. Chevening gave me everything and more than I expected. It transformed me.

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In their own words: Tips from our Chevening scholars (Interview – part 2)

We’ve asked Birkbeck’s 2021 Cheveners to share their experience applying for the prestigious UK government scholarship. In this second instalment of the series we hear from Chevening scholars from Africa, Europe and Latin-America.

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“It is very important to be sure of oneself, to be convinced of what one has written in the essays and to know how to defend the ideas behind them. You should not focus on memorising information but on being genuine, you know why you are applying, you just have to defend that and show that you have a good profile. It is also not essential to be too formal, sometimes that makes us act robotically, just be yourself.”- Maureen Magali Montania Ramirez, Paraguay

pic of maureen montania ramirez

Maureen Montania Ramirez

“The preparation for my Chevening interview was centred around the project I had submitted in the Chevening application. This involved working on how I would orally and convincingly showcase myself and my project as worthy of the Chevening award. Of course, I also worked on the tips which were provided on the Chevening website and social media, but my focus was on my personal story as a Chevening candidate. In other words, I put enough thought and work into how I would present my project and myself during the interview as an authentic personal story, and not as a copy of someone’s else. Hence, I think that this is vital to acing the Chevening interview.

Think about what makes you unique as a Chevening candidate and about what makes your story original. This implies having a clear vision of why you applied in the first place and of what you aspire to achieve with your master’s degree. And if this vision is not clear in your mind yet, this is where you need to start the preparation. I believe that if you can communicate this vision clearly and convincingly during your interview, you will be able to answer the other points related to it, such as your leadership skills, your ability to function in the academic and cultural environment in the UK, and your short- and long-term goals.”Rachid Meftah, Morocco

“For an interview, I would advise you to tell only about 1-2 the most successful examples of leadership and networking from the many good examples you certainly have, and describe them in more detail. It is better to use the STAR method for this. It is especially important for the commission to see exactly how you show your qualities in challenging situations, and not that you often had to face problems.

I would also advise you to be sincere in the interview and remember your highest goal, for which you apply for Chevening. Remember what you want to achieve thanks to the scholarship, and dedicate your entire story to this general idea.

Try to follow a clear structure of the story and not go into unnecessary details. Do not go away from your thoughts to the side and do not engage in third-party reasoning and explanation of the context. At the same time, try to describe your own contribution and your motivation in as much detail as possible.”Emma Terchenko, Russia

pic of Emma Terchenko

Emma Terchenko

“I read all the blogs written by Chevening and also by other Chevening alumni. I prepared an answer for every possible question trying to always convey my passion for making a change in my country and my leadership and networking skills. After, I asked my family and friends to listen to my answers and to give me feedback. Finally, I practiced as if I was in a real interview with other candidates from different countries.
My advice would be to prepare and practice to the point where the answers come to you in a natural way. You will be nervous on the day of the interview but knowing that you have rehearsed your answers will make you feel comfortable even if they ask you something you were not prepared for.”- Virginia Nuñez, Guatemala

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In their own words: Tips from our Cheveners (references)

We’ve asked our 2020 Cheveners to share their experience applying for the prestigious UK government scholarship. In this blog, we highlight their tips and advice about obtaining references as part of the selection process.

“My advice to the Chevening future applicants is to be realistic and genuine to select referees that (you) know very well and have engaged with on professional levels, be it in academia, at work, or people you have collaborated with on certain projects. Select people who know your capabilities and believe that you have the potential. People who inspire you to inspire others, encourage and motivate you to be successful, and make a difference in your community.”
Menessia Diergaardt, Namibia

“I would advise future applicants to choose people with whom they have a strong professional and/or academic relationship. Someone whom you can trust to speak on your behalf confidently and with objectivity.”
Bongani Njalo, South Africa

“Since I have been working for 10 years and my work was related to the course of my studies, I chose two of my supervisors as referees. They were an important influence in my career, and they watched me grow from a young inexperienced student to a confident young professional and I appreciate their evaluation of my journey. I would advise applicants to choose people that really know them and have worked with them closely so they can give you a thoughtful opinion of your character rather than a general note. And it’s also a nice letter to read while you apply for the scholarship that you may be anxious about.”
Eva Shimaj, Albania

“My mentor and my MSc dissertation supervisor were my referees. Both knew of my aspiration at the early stages of the Chevening application and supported the application idea. I approached my mentor because they were aware of my personal strengths and career aspirations and my supervisor because they knew of my academic strengths and zeal to learn.

My advice for applicants is to be strategic in their referee selection. Pick people who have seen your strengths and have had experience with you professionally and academically, preferably also someone in a senior role.”
Nozipho Nomzana Mziyako, Eswatini

“I knew my referees in a professional capacity however, we had engaged in several academic activities before as part of our professional relationship. I selected them because I maintained a close relationship with them at the moment, also they are both entrepreneurs developing their businesses in a non-ideal environment, so they are driven, motivated and capable people whose opinions and experience I respect and value. Also, I had the chance to work closely with them while they were making significant progress in their businesses, so they know my abilities and qualities as a collaborator and employee.

Future applicants can make better use of their references if they choose people that are close to them and somehow share their interests or vision in life. I considered my references as a guide for what I wanted to achieve in the future because of their attitudes, capabilities and motivations.”
Yoandra Rodriguez Betancourt, Cuba

“You may want to include a brief description of your motivation to apply, what you wish to achieve with the degree and how it relates to your common interests, and most importantly why you think she/he would be a great fit to comment on your suitability. It is about engaging your referee.

You may want to get in touch with more than one referee to make sure that by February you can at least get the formal approval of two referees.”
Zina Diari, Tunisia

You have submitted your Chevening application, what’s next?
“I stayed in touch with the referees, still through our networking, email, phone calls and sometimes meeting up over a cup of coffee to update them about my Chevening journey and asking them advice on different aspects, professional, personal, and self-development. My referees have been very supportive and encouraging, hence we are still in contact, they check up on me and my academic progression.”
Menessia Diergaardt, Namibia

“Keep in contact after submitting the application. As soon as required, I let them know, when I had received the email from Chevening and let them know that they needed to send the reference. Later on, I would call from time to time to ensure that they send it on time.”
Randolphe Severin N’Guessan, Cote d’Ivoire

“When I got selected for an interview, I followed up with a detailed email where I listed the responsibilities I carried out under (my referee’s) supervision, that she could draw upon to develop my reference letter. Keep in mind that referees are generally academics or managers who come across several similar requests to act as a referee. It is important to highlight the period of time in which you have collaborated.

I also shared the Chevening guidelines for writing a reference letter and kept on active communication with my referee during the process.”
Zina Diari, Tunisia

“I stayed in touch with my referees through social media and phone calls. Since they formed part of my network of professionals, it was easier to reach out to them.

Future applicants should create a network of professionals who understand their ambitions, character, and ethics. This ensures that you are easily referenced and supported objectively.” Freemen Pasurai, Zimbabwe.

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Blog post by Catherine Charpentier, International Marketing and Recruitment Officer (Africa)

 

 

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