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Martin from Colombia, MA in International Education

Colombian student Martin Guarín

Martin Felipe Suárez Guarín from Colombia is a student at Bath Spa University, currently undertaking an MA in International Education. It’s been an exciting experience, but it was also a learning curve – find out what surprised him about UK culture, and what habits he’ll be taking back home…

What attracted you to the UK as a study destination?

‘The UK is such a multicultural place with a rich history; studying here has always been a dream of mine and I’m so glad that it’s become a reality! I’ve always been inspired British culture, in particular the UK’s great literary tradition which includes some of my idols: Shakespeare, Jane Austen and JRR Tolkien.

‘As a history lover I’m also really interested in the history of the monarchy in Britain, and find the spread of English language across the globe fascinating. This is even evidenced in the fact that English is my second language, and studying here has definitely enabled me to improve my language skills.’

© Martin Felipe Suárez Guarín
Martin's new flatmates welcome him to the UK! 

What was the application process like for you? Did you receive support from your UK university or associations in Colombia?

‘I knew I wanted to study for a master’s degree in education in the UK, and found that the MA International Education at Bath Spa University is the most in line with what I want to learn.

‘In terms of applying for the course, three institutions supported me through the process: firstly the education consultant EduPlanet Colombia helped me to find my course and assisted me through the actual the application process, providing me with step-by-step guidance and support.

‘Secondly I applied for financial assistance via Colfuturo, a Colombian not-for-profit organisation that aims to provide financial support and increase access for Colombian students to high-quality postgraduate study programmes abroad. They provided me with financial support on the condition that I will return to work in Colombia once I’ve graduated.

‘I also received a £3,000 scholarship from Bath Spa University themselves to go towards the cost of studying in the UK. Finally I received a lot of support and guidance from the university’s international team. They were on hand to provide answers and solutions to any questions or worries I had throughout the application process, and afterwards as I made my move to the UK.’

How do you think studying in the UK will improve your career prospects in future?

‘I ultimately want to become a researcher and an expert in comparative education, in order to work in international organisations like the UNESCO or the British Council. The MA International Education is the next educational step towards achieving this goal.

‘Living in a multicultural country like Britain is also helping me identify and develop skills that will assist me in my future career, starting back home in Colombia. I think that the UK is a place where I can observe cultural similarities and differences in the people around me, and where many experts in research and comparative education have developed their work.’   

What advice would you give a student from Colombia wanting to study in the UK?

‘I think that the best advice I can give you is that in life, nothing is impossible. The more challenging something looks, the more fruitful it will be once it is achieved! Like the lyric in the Coldplay song The Scientist, “nobody said it was easy” – but if you work hard, get good grades and exercise discipline you absolutely will be able to achieve your goals.’

What is living in the UK really like? How does it differ from home?

‘The UK really is a great place to live in; perhaps a little expensive but there’s always plenty of things to do and see. The scenery in the British countryside is beautiful, and the public transport system is very well-organised so getting around to see everything is easy. Security in the UK is excellent so you feel very safe, and the people are very kind and respectful.

‘Of course there are some aspects of living in the UK that are very different from home too, such as the food. The avocados are very small over here and fruit tastes different! I also found the tube system in London to be very busy and people don’t seem to smile as much as back home, but I think it’s important to experience all aspects of living abroad as they help you recognise what you like (and dislike) in both your home country and the new country you’re living in.

‘One of the best things about living in the UK has been meeting people from all over the world. I now have some really good friends that I can visit in Europe, Africa and Asia!’

© Martin Felipe Suárez Guarín
Martin Guarín and international friends at the Roman baths in Bath, UK.

Do you think living in a multicultural place has been beneficial to you?

‘Living in a multicultural place like the UK and meeting people from a wide range of nationalities has helped me to understand that despite different histories, customs and religions, we are all human beings and actually have a lot in common! I’ve really enjoyed sharing my culture and learning from others – I think this is beneficial to the global community. The experience has been really positive and has helped me to shape my opinions on world issues such as education, poverty and conflict.’

What has been your best experience while living in the UK?

‘It’s so hard just to pick one! the best memories so far have included: the first time I saw falling snow and felt it against my skin! The first time I watched the Colombian national football team play against the USA at Fulham Football Club’s stadium, and visiting the prehistoric monument Stonehenge in Wiltshire. I love history, so being so close to such an iconic site was incredible!

‘Probably the best place I’ve visited so far, however, has been London. I loved visiting London’s museums such as the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Being able to see and experience such a wealth of history was just incredible. I would love to come back to the museums in London many more times, and to contemplate more deeply some of the greatest historical treasures that humanity has collected and preserved.’   

What cultural differences have you noticed? What’s the funniest/strangest UK custom?

‘One thing I miss about home is the energetic spirit of the Colombian people, especially  in dancing to Latin rhythms! In the UK, dancing salsa is definitely not as popular as back home, but I think that it could definitely be one of the areas of cultural interchange I can introduce to the UK.

‘Physical contact when greeting people such as hugging or kissing is something that’s the norm in Colombia, but definitely doesn’t happen as much in the UK. Whilst it’s sometimes easy to forget that, I also think that it has also been a good opportunity for me to adapt and learn local customs, and be respectful of those who prefer to greet friends verbally or with a handshake.

‘I’ve also found it funny how much people from the UK say the phrase "cheers mate" and "sorry" – it seems like hundreds of times in a day! Every time I get off the bus, or bump into someone by accident, it’s always "cheers mate" or "sorry"!

‘Another thing that struck me is the difference in the way people dress and adapt to weather and seasons over here. Winter in the UK is extremely cold, especially for a Colombian student like me who is used to 8°C being the very coldest that Colombia gets! It’s incomprehensible to me how some people from the UK can cope outside in just a few layers of clothes!’        

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‘Studying in the UK has meant that I can share the values, traditions and  the joyful spirit that defines my native country, and in turn to learn from people in the UK – I’ve learned things that will help my career in future, like punctuality, discipline and planning. I have had the most wonderful experience in this region of England so far, and it has definitely been more than I expected!’

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