Natalia from Colombia, insurance services director
Natalia Tapiero from Colombia was already working in marketing when she decided to move to the UK to study for a master’s degree. It wasn’t easy – but in the end, it was one of the best experiences of her life.
Find out what inspired her decision, how she coped with culture shock, and what studying for an MA in Marketing at the University of Leicester was really like…
Why did you choose to study in the UK?
'I grew up with this idea of studying in the UK – I actually didn’t even consider any other country. I had some family connections to the UK: people in my family, like my uncles and aunts, had travelled to the UK to study English when I was younger.
'My dream was to study and to do a Master’s degree there. I didn’t want to go and just study English – if I was going to invest a year of my life, I wanted it to work out for my professional life.
'It was also because in the UK, getting a Master’s degree takes just one year, unlike other countries. Also, when I watched TV shows and movies it was always related to Britain! For example, I love Sherlock Holmes and I listened to the BBC.'
How did you make the dream a reality?
'The University of Leicester was really good at preparing to receive international students. I’m actually still friends with a lady there, Caroline, who helped me with my application and visa process. Every time she comes to Colombia for work, I say, "Let’s go have lunch"! The visa application process was actually very easy for me. All the information is there; you just need to follow the steps. Before studying in the UK I had been there to visit my ex-boyfriend and so I already knew the process – but like I said, it was easy.'
How has your degree improved your career?
'Really knowing English makes a big difference here. I mean, everybody needs to know English but for people looking for jobs at my age, the level of English makes a difference. Also, having a Master’s from the UK is really recognised here. A Master’s, whatever you do it in, will really give you status.'
Natalia (left) and friends from her course – proudly showing their finished dissertations! (Photo ©N. Tapiero)
'I am an economist, so I didn’t know about marketing, but my first job in Colombia was in marketing. I then decided to do an MA in Marketing at Leicester University, to go deeper into the subject and know about studies that have been done. It was tough to quit my job to do the MA, but when I got back it was easier for me to find a new job. I applied and one month later I was working – so the Master’s in the UK has definitely helped.
'I’m working for an insurance company, and I’m developing long-term services for our customers so that we can maintain long-term relationships. So it’s not promotional marketing, but it’s about how to maintain the company in the future and maintain a good reputation.'
What was your best experience while living and studying in the UK?
'I had lots of them! One of the good things was that I was really, really shy, but it helped me grow in confidence.
'The best thing was the people I met and the friends that I have, who I’m still in touch with today. They were like my family – whatever you need they are there for you, like if you need to go to the doctor. The experience of living together was the best experience ever.'
Just a typical student night out: Natalia, second from right, with friends (Photo ©N. Tapiero)
'It was the first time I was living abroad. I’ve been to Argentina and the US, but just for holidays. Living abroad for the first time was like, "Oh ok, I have to do this on my own now." I think that’s what people want though – to grow up! I travelled a lot too; I went to Scotland, Manchester, Bristol and I spent lots of weekends in London! I also visited Norway, which is really beautiful.'
What is it really like to study abroad? Were there cultural differences that made you laugh?
'You know, you think you can speak English and then you get to the UK and realise, "Wait, I don’t understand anything – what are people saying to me?" Even things like grocery shopping are different, so it takes some getting used to and you end up in a lot of funny situations. I remember standing on the street with 20 bags and not knowing how to hail a cab.
'The first month is really tough. In Colombia we are quite friendly and warm with strangers; in the UK, for example, people are quiet in the lift. I had to get used to the fact that not only is it a different culture, but there are actually lots of different cultures in the UK. There are Chinese people, Indian people, British people… it’s a big mix.'
Natalia, centre, and friends in a student house in Leicester (Photo ©N. Tapiero)
'I think one of the funniest things was the food – nobody eats the same thing, there are so many different types of food!
'What I really liked, though, was the justice and equality you experience. It really doesn’t matter what your background is, everyone is equal.'