From teacher to student: returning to higher education to study my dream course

The heart of the UCL campus.

Nasrin* from Bangladesh completed her master’s in Education, Gender and International Development (EGID) at the Institute of Education (IOE), University College London (UCL), in September 2022. She shares her reflections on her studies, her love for multicultural London and what she’s been up to since graduating.

*The author’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

‘I came to the UK to resume my education after a long teaching career’

When I decided to resume my education after a study break, I had been working as a teacher for many years in Bangladesh. I knew that if I were to return to university, it would be difficult to start again unless my subject was really interesting. Thankfully, I found my dream course.

I wanted to study education with a focus on gender and development. The Institute of Education at UCL had many subject combinations on offer. I managed to find a unique course where I could holistically bring together my professional, academic and personal interests. The course I followed was the only one in the UK that offered the opportunity to study education, gender and international development together.

'Do your research so you can choose the right course for you'.

‘Always check the university website for specific module descriptions’

When you’re thinking about what to study, it’s worth researching the courses you are interested in, so you can choose the right one for you. Sometimes, students choose a course without knowing much about the details. It can be easy to get excited by the titles and overlook the module descriptions, which give important and detailed course descriptions.

Always check the university website for specific module descriptions to help you decide if this course suits you. That way, you will be much better mentally prepared when you begin your university course.

‘I had to begin my course remotely after my family’s visa process was delayed’

During the pandemic, my family’s visa process was delayed for more than two months, making booking accommodation and finding school places for my children challenging. We couldn't actually move to London until late October, which was a month after the term had started at UCL. I had to begin my course remotely and missed month-long in-person classes and all the welcoming events, including campus and library tours and social events for the new students.

'Always reach out to the university support services whenever you need'

‘Universities have so much support available to you that you may not even be aware of, unless you ask’

At UCL, there were all sorts of facilities to support students which also included dedicated mental health and wellbeing teams. These teams were very proactive in reaching out to me when times were tough to make sure that I was ok. It’s important to keep in contact with the university and to realise that they have so much support available to you that you might not even be aware of, unless you ask for it. So, always reach out to the university support services whenever you need.

Master's students hanging out in a park near UCL in Bloomsbury.

‘UCL has very good support system for student parents’

UCL has a very active and supportive student-parent community. If you need anything, you will find people who will be there for you. It can be difficult to juggle between studying and parenting, especially when your kids are young. However, being part of a group with others in similar situations who could understand and share similar challenges can be helpful. We had a WhatsApp group where we would ask each other questions, give each other advice or make plans to meet up for lunch. Some societies are also child friendly, and I particularly enjoyed the social and cultural events like origami, arts and crafts.

‘When I moved to London, I wanted to make new friends, explore new places and have new experiences’

I love to travel and explore new places. When I moved to London, I wanted to explore as much as possible. During my master’s, I kept a planner to know where I would be going, exactly when and how, and what was my study time or time to spend with my kids. There was rarely a day when I didn’t have something going on - every day was completely packed with many activities, from studies to exciting events at the university campus.

'Try different things and explore the places where you are living'.

‘I learned more by doing all sorts of activities across London than I would have if I had only focused on my studies’

Studying at a graduate level should be taken seriously and enough time commitment is needed on an everyday basis to complete the daily tasks and assignments. Meeting all the deadlines can be really challenging sometimes but it is possible if you plan ahead.

I would suggest taking some time out of your strict study routine to try out different things and explore the places where you are living. That way, you’ll have no regrets about living in the best place and never seeing it. By going out and actively participating in many sociocultural events, I was able to have new ideas and grow as a person. The pressure of graduate study is tremendous but don’t forget to have some fun as well. There are also many volunteering opportunities available on campus which can be a great way to learn by doing.

'Happy Ramadan' lights decorating Oxford Street, London.

Sunset capture of Tower Bridge and The Shard skyline across the Thames.

Tower Bridge and The Shard at sunset.

‘During Ramadan last year, I attended a multicultural iftar dinner in London’

During Ramadan last year, I attended a multicultural iftar dinner organised by the Mayor of London at Tower Bridge. It was a celebration of interfaith dialogues where representatives from all the major religious beliefs were present. At Tower Bridge, there was this glass floor from where we could look down and directly see the River Thames below, which was pretty amazing and scary at the same time. Looking down at the river and out to see the cityscape of London during the sunset was really lovely.

Notting Hill Carnival - 'you need to be there to understand the fun and frolic of the maddening crowd'

‘Notting Hill Carnival was a highlight of my master’s year’

Notting Hill Carnival in August was another highlight for me during my master’s year. People were colourfully decked up for the parties everywhere on the street and dancing to loud music. And there was a grand parade - the glitter, the makeup, the hats, the costumes, and the sequins - you need to be there to understand the fun and frolic of the maddening crowd.

The Institute of Education campus at University College London.

‘Continuing further on my academic journey’

Since finishing my master’s at IOE, I have been applying to different PhD programmes in the UK and gaining some voluntary and work experiences. Throughout the whole process, my supervisors have been extremely supportive and encouraging. I’m happy to say that I have been accepted into most of the PhD programmes I applied to, including at my home institution - IOE at UCL, the University of Cambridge, the University of Warwick and the University of Manchester.

My master’s degree prepared me to continue my academic journey and made me confident enough to pursue my future endeavours. I feel great to be a GREAT scholar and encourage anyone who has the chance to be one, to apply now.

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