In my personal experience - when I arrived in the UK over a year ago, I was an asylum seeker. I really did not have a lot of opportunities. I didn’t have a lot of options, because when you come to this country as an asylum seeker, you will be considered as an international student. At that time, you’ll be having a lot of hurdles. But once you’ve been granted the refugee status - I’ve been granted refugee status, so this opened the door for me a lot of opportunities when it comes to finance, funding. And I was considered a home student, so it was great. When I came to the UK last year, I thought at first to apply for university.
And if I have granted as a refugee, that’s more good to apply for financial support and funding and eligible for everything, like home students. For me, personally, I wanted to go, for example - in order to fund my studies in the UK, I went to the government website to apply for funding. But a friend of mine told me that there are a lot of opportunities for you. There are scholarships here in the UK available for refugees and asylum seekers. And I started researching. I found a whole lot of opportunities, and even universities giving grants and scholarships. I applied for one of the universities, and they granted me the tuition fees.
But, again, I had to cover my living expenses, because living in London was really expensive. And that’s where the role of other NGOs and foundations came. And I’ve applied, and I was able to secure more funding. So today I’m fully funded and I’m doing my masters. Having accommodation in the UK, it’s not easy. And I think if you are a refugee, it’s more difficult. To have a suitable accommodation, you should be at first cultural different and different systems. And I think the universities have a big role to help their students about accommodation and transportation. I think studying in the UK is really, really expensive.
I could say it’s extremely expensive, because it costs a lot of money, especially if you are an overseas student or an international student. But even if you’re considered a home student, you will be paying up to 10,000 pounds a year for only the tuition fees, which is a lot of money. I consider it very expensive. Yes, I have accommodation. This is from the government. But now I am in the college. The college is a private college, yes. It was very challenging finding accommodation - especially in a place like London is really challenging. Other places might be easier. If you go up north in the country, it might be easier, but London is very, very busy.
It’s very challenging and it’s very expensive. You know. I had to look for a property. I found a property. Again, it was challenging, because a lot of landlords, it’s not easy for them to rent out to a refugee because we do not have a financial history in this country. We do not have a financial credit history in this country. But I found a very gentle landlord. He gave me the property, so I rented it for two years. And I’m paying for it through the money that I got from the scholarship. It’s a bit expensive. And I’m living in the Greater London, so the transportation is easy for me.
I get on a train from my place to Central London, then I walk for about 15 minutes to get to my university. Yes, I have a travel pass for three years covers all of England. And I can take the bus from my house to the college - about 40 minutes go and back, yes. I applied for the IELTS exam. I mean, I took this online course. I’ve met a lot of people who supported me with books and other resources. I took the exam, because in order for me to get to the education system, most of the UK universities, if you want to go in a master’s, they will ask for 6.5 on the IELTS score.
I had to improve my listening, speaking, reading, and writing - so all the skills - the four skills. It took me some time - about one month to prepare for my IELTS exam. Then I took the exam, and I passed. And that’s why I was able to get an education. Yes, I do GCSE English now. And this helps me a lot to improve my English. And at first, I thought to apply for IELTS. I sent my transcripts to a lot of universities, and they advised me to apply for GCSE English.
At first, some people and one of my teachers, she gave me advice how to improve my English - at first to speak with native English speakers and read book and newspaper and speak English at home all of the time.
Yes, that’s all. I mean, for me, the way I improved my English - I was living with an English family for about five months, so this was a golden opportunity for me to improve my English. And again, I used to read a lot of newspapers - printed and online newspapers. I watched a lot of movies, listened to a lot of English music, and interact - I went to a lot of events, met a lot of people, made friends. So it was a great way of improving - I mean, this interaction helped me a lot.
I think here in this country recently - I can say since I came to this country that there’s been a huge explosion - if I may say - of people who want to come and help. Today you’ve got dozens of websites, dozens of charities working on education on how to support refugees and asylum seekers. Even the government is supportive. The host community is supportive. Even universities, for example. If you want to learn more, they have open days where you can go, learn about what they have and how they can help and support you. Yes. Actually, for my experience, I am so sorry to say that I don’t get any kind of help.
And I saw a lot of refugees, most of them changed their plan. Yes. Because they faced a lot of problems and they didn’t get any help about that. I think what surprised me a lot about studying in the UK is the way that I try to compare the education system here in the UK to Syria. In my country, back in Syria in the Middle East, we used to be negative - passive recipients - unlike the situation here in this country, because you need to be active, you need to take the lead in it. And they focus a lot on the critical thinking. And here you are independent.
You got the scope, the space to do and create and develop your own stuff, what you’re interested in. This was really, really important for me. And I think one thing that really was a bit challenging for me was this idea - I mean, especially in the UK - when it comes to essay writing and stuff like citations, referencing, and the notion and this idea of plagiarism is really - they are very, very tough. So I had to learn it from scratch. Yes, the best thing here - I am shocked also and I am not expected - when I was in Syria, I studied three years economics.
When I came to here and when I sent my transcripts to a lot of universities, they say to me I should repeat to the beginning. Yes, this the bigger problem. Before I left my country, I brought my transcripts from my university and from the Ministry of Education. And it takes a long time and suffering to take them from the Ministry of Education. It was very difficult for me to get my qualifications from Syria because at that time - I studied in Aleppo. In Aleppo, there’s no communication. There’s no transportation in or out of Aleppo from that place, especially if you came from Eastern Aleppo. So it was very difficult.
It took me about three years to get my qualification - the transcripts out of the university. And then I managed to apply here. And they accepted the qualification.