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Andres from Colombia, LLM Public International Law

Colombian student Andres exploring Warwick Castle in the UK

Andres Felipe Gomez Ariza, from Colombia, studied for a master’s in International Public Law at the University of Leicester. We spoke to him about international friendships, what surprised him about UK culture, and his advice for getting a scholarship…

Why did you choose to study in the UK?

I have always wanted to go to the UK, so that was an easy choice for me. I studied in a bilingual school, so English wasn’t too much of an issue. It’s been a fascination since I was 10 – the plays, the music, everything! I love rock and roll, classic rock and now indie rock, but it’s all British music.

I studied law, but I was also doing history and there are loads of historical places in the UK, so that was another thing. I thought about going to London but it was quite expensive so I decided to go to Leicester, which is really nearby so I spent a lot of weekends in London!

I also wanted the opportunity to work while studying, and in the UK I could work up to 20 hours per week in a part-time job.

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What are you doing at the moment?

I’m job hunting at the moment. I want to go abroad again if I can, but in the meantime I’m looking for a job in Colombia.

Has your UK degree helped you to launch your career?

Yes, of course. Not many people have a master’s from the UK in Colombia. Usually they go to Spain and the USA, but mostly places where they can study in Spanish. Having a master’s in English is really helpful, especially when you’re looking for jobs afterwards. Employers definitely see it as a sign of quality.

I also learned a lot from travelling around the UK and Europe, meeting lots of people, and listening to music. I went to a lot of gigs in pubs; people even play music in the streets! I’ve met people from countries I didn’t know anything about before, and made friends from all over the world. You don’t have that here, not even in the USA – I don’t think the USA has the same mix of cultures and nationalities.

Andres (back row, centre) with friends at the University of Leicester

In the UK, I met a guy from Brunei and a girl from Oman... Faraway places. Leicester has lots of Chinese, Greek and Italian people. It’s really international; I think it is the 40th most international university in the world. I would never meet someone from Botswana in Colombia, for example.

I lived with Colombians most of the time, but in the last three months I lived with Italians – so that whole experience of living in a different country with people from different cultures was fantastic.

Did any UK habits or customs surprise you?

If you have ever met people from Latin America you’ll know we are really affectionate, but some British people might see it as "touchy feely". It was hard for me to speak to people and say hi, and not get the chance to give them a kiss like we do here! That was funny.

It was sometimes hard to get to know British people – most of my friends were international – but I made a lot of British friends at work. I did a part-time job in catering services to earn some money, so I used to hang out with people from work, and that was fun.

Memories from the UK: Andres with friends from his law master's course

What advice do you have for other international students?

My advice would be to make sure that you have a good English level before arriving in the UK or you will have trouble keeping up.

If you will be applying to postgraduate courses, you need to make an effort to get good grades during your undergraduate studies so that you can apply for scholarships. I applied to universities in Leicester and Newcastle; I was accepted by both and both offered me scholarships!

I was very honest in my applications and said, ‘I’m fascinated by the UK; I really want to live there and study there and learn from universities there’… When you’re honest, people can tell and they take your interest as a really good thing.

I did have to apply for both scholarships. The scholarship I got at Leicester was a Santander scholarship, and I also got a scholarship from the government in Colombia. It didn’t cover all the expenses, but most of them.

When I got to the UK, I also had the opportunity to work. I know other Colombian students in the USA can only work up to 10 hours per week, and it has to be within the university, whereas in the UK I could work 20 hours and it could be in any job that I wanted. Actually, I still have savings left!

I wouldn’t advise working more than 20 hours anyway – you need time for your studies!

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