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Paula from Colombia, BSc in Politics

Colombian student Paula in front of King's College in Cambridge

Paula Camila Pachon Mendieta, from Colombia, studied for a foundation degree at Middlesex University and is now working toward a BSc in International Politics at Brunel University in London.

Here, she reveals her top piece of advice for new international students – and which UK accents made her laugh…

Why did you choose to study in the UK?

I wanted to study in English. I actually grew up in Chile for a while; I did my primary school there and went to a British school, the Bradford School, so everything was very British. We studied the history of the Royal family and that kind of thing, and we had lots of exchanges with schools in England. So since I was 10, I knew that I wanted to come to the UK.

Paula and family visiting Stonehenge, the famous prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England

What attracted you to International Politics?

My mum is a social worker so I’ve always been involved in charities and volunteering. I wanted something similar but I didn’t want to be a social worker. I enjoy thinking about international issues, and I like languages.

I also do Model UN (an academic competition where students simulate United Nations conferences). I’ve been to a few conferences – one in Cambridge, and I wanted to go to one in Harvard but I’m too busy with my dissertation. My dissertation is about the social repercussions of free trade agreements between Colombia and the United States.

How do you think studying in the UK will help your career?

I think British education has great academic recognition all over the world, and in Colombia especially, people think it’s amazing. Speaking English might not necessarily be a plus, but having a great education definitely is.

Paula, left, with a friend and one of the mascots during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

The experience of studying here and opening your mind is really important. My best friend is from the Czech Republic, I live with people from Slovakia, but in my first year I lived near the university with a Sri Lankan family. I’ve also shared flats with Italians, Mexicans and Colombians when I first came here for my foundation course at Middlesex University.

My foundation year was very helpful. I don’t know how people can go for a degree without having a foundation first because the academic systems are quite different; the writing styles are totally different. I got my high school degree in Colombia and Spanish writing styles are a bit more flowery, whereas in English you have to be straightforward when presenting your ideas. My tutors used to tell me, ‘You don’t need to say the same thing in different ways.’

Paula stands on the edge of Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland (Click here to see more of the region!)

What was your best experience in the UK?

All the conferences with Model United Nations (MUN) have been great. You dress up as a diplomat and meet people from amazing UK universities.

You can tell people are passionate. MUN is debates between universities: students are divided into committees and we have two topics to discuss, the final aim being to write a resolution. I was in a committee dealing with global carbon emissions, and we had to deal with China and America on the panel, so it was really tough.

I’m also in my university's politics society, which is mostly about British politics. For example, they invite Members of Parliament to come in and talk to students.

What are some cultural differences that made you laugh?

I found it funny travelling to other cities like Manchester and trying to understand the accents. Scottish accents were the hardest. I had an English boyfriend from Sheffield for a while, and sometimes he would say things that I found really funny – weird expressions. The Sheffield accent is really difficult to understand. His friends found it funny I was learning English from him – they said even they didn’t understand him!

Paula at Wembley Stadium in London, where she works part-time

How did you make your dream of studying in the UK a reality?

My advice is to do a foundation degree, a pre-sessional course, or something similar. You need an academic foundation; I think a good level of English and IELTS score isn’t enough. When you’re writing essays and doing presentations, referencing and all of that, you really need to have a good structure.

I worked summers and saved some money, and I work part-time here as a hostess at Wembley and Arsenal stadiums as well, and my parents help me too – we both contribute equally.

Read more:

   •   Working alongside your studies: A guide to visas and job hunting
   •   Martín, Andres and Natalia: More Colombian students’ stories
   •   ‘Mint’, ‘skint’ and ‘mosh-pit’? UK slang for international students

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