Did you ask me- Why I chose London for my Masters?

Dedicated to the soft drizzle I met with everyday.

This is the first impression I have of my London when I came out of Heathrow T3. I was 24 years old, had 4 bags with me, 400 fears and 4 Million checklists to fill in.

It has been almost two and a half years since I came back from London. So it took me that amount of time to finally pen this down. So many memories, so many ups and downs, those 13 months feels more than a lifetime. Although I have visited London twice after that, nothing beats living and working there. I will try and keep this as formal as possible but frankly it is hard not to feel emotional right now. And quite unapologetically you would feel the same if I tell you to write about your love.

I have gone hungry for days, had dinners in 7-star hotels, worked as a waiter, a chef, a designer, done voluntary work, organized fashion shows, slept in the trains, been bullied; well you get the idea. I have done quite a bit and I absolutely LOVED IT. I have never had that smile since. I went there to study, learn and get a certificate but I came back as a different person with a different set of perspectives towards life. I went there to pursue my MA in Graphic Design and returned a confident designer.

So why London?

Well, for me it was simple. I fell in love with England from the day my mom gave me the first copy of Famous Five by Enid Blyton. I wanted to see what meadows actually look like. I know it is weird, but then I’m not here to tell you an un-love story. How I wish the British government allowed me to stay there.

The education standard is amazing in the UK. The education there is a flag bearer of this motto: Do-it-yourself rather than the usual handholding culture we have in India. It doesn’t start from the Master’s level but right from high school. Students are expected to earn their way into higher education. Something I found pretty interesting.

The UK is also extremely multicultural. If you walk on the streets you would hear all kinds of languages, accents, linguals, something that makes you feel at home and at the same time lost. I found a restaurant selling biryani faster (without even trying) than one selling fish and chips. Also how can I ignore the beautiful pub culture there but then I rather not spoil it. It is for you to find out for yourself.

London is extremely fashionable and pretty. You would be forced to dream of fashion and date tones of black, grey and white if you start living there. I was initially confused at people who were begging in the streets in a ZARA jacket but then it was after that that I found the existence of charity shops where people sold their Ferraris (not literally) because there has been a tiny scratch on the side. So yes you can live quite cheap if you want. A coffee is for £2 and you would learn to live on coffee soon. Don’t let the rupee in the ventilator discourage you in any way.

Applying for colleges in London

Please do it yourself. Do not depend on agents to do this for you. It is your responsibility to make sure you choose the right college. Every college has their website and of course, we cannot forget that we have learnt modern marketing techniques from them, so everybody says that they are the best. Please look at external journals, blogs, student testimonials along with the organizations that publish university ratings yearly. Colleges are quick in replying to your queries. So be precise and on point and ask your questions and you would get a reply. Colleges would even courier you their brochure free of cost from the UK to a small town on the outskirts of Kolkata.

Some colleges would even ask you to meet their India representatives and they are a bunch of really warm people. They are trained to convince you. Before saying ‘I do’ please research well and look up at their course content. You can try to meet and interact with your professor-to-be as well.

Remember LORs and SOPs are important. Plan that well in advance.

My-not-so-good portfolio

Well honestly I didn’t know how to create a portfolio when all this started. I tried to show every single work I liked. Which was wrong. Without going into too many details the portfolio requirements are:

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Focus on the process rather than the outcome. Your doodles, mood boards, primary and secondary research are very important.
  3. Choose the best works, don’t go overboard by trying to show 100 works. We are Indians and overdoing is in our DNA, they know that. Restrain yourself.
  4. Keep a variety. The same kind of work gets boring for them.
  5. Please state that you are willing to learn more. Universities do not need a know-it-all.

My story with Part-time jobs

I can’t lie, I came from a society where working in a restaurant wasn’t looked at with the highest pride. So just like my society I wanted to feel important and so I took up a job as a graphic designer. Also because (with a heavy heart) I was rejected by McDonald’s after working there for a day. Who knew serving french fries to toddlers can be so tough?

After a couple of months of struggling in an office job I found something I cherish till today. On a bright sunny morning I was walking by some restaurants and found a sign showing ‘WE ARE HIRING’ (which is a common sight there). It turned out to be a local Japanese restaurant hiring sushi chefs. The owner looked at my hands and hired me temporarily. By the end of my first shift, when I managed to drop soya sauce on a customer he told me that I had what it took to be a chef and he hired me, somebody who never cooked at home. Trust me I am indebted to Jay, my manager at that time, I had the best time cooking and serving sushi. That was the best job I have had till date and will perhaps remain so all my life. It was such a happy environment and I miss it very much.

Getting a job is not difficult. It is your attitude that matters. You need to have a can-do attitude. Please don’t carry your Indian outlooks, even aristocracy with you when you go there. Say yes and experiment as much as possible.

The new form of education

Yes! Finally, you could ask questions in class. If you said, ‘Hey! I feel that is wrong and here is my reasoning’ instead of being reprimanded the faculty members appreciated me.

I was given a chance to experiment with anything and everything. To understand the level of experimentation during the production of the annual magazine of MA Graphic Design we had to come up with a logo. So we shed the regular forms and process of logo creation and started experimenting. In the end I made a logo with the hands of all the students in the class. And guess what, my faculty loved it. That helped me get over my fears of experimenting. Breaking the barrier should be a norm and not an exception and you should develop that attitude too.

I was expected to know everything

Oh yes! A Masters in Graphic Design in the UK will not teach you things like Photoshop. You are expected to know these things already. You are expected to research more, practice user testing and understand what works the best in the said circumstances. Also some of the assignment briefs are rather simple and it depends on you whether you would want to do a good job or a great job. I still remember my first assignment where we were taken to the London Design Festival and told to present the festival as a designer. With such a brief we could literally do anything. In my excitement, I got lost as I could do so many things and yet I did not know what to do. Beautiful clarity comes out of these confusions. I ended up creating a debate session on how Shoreditch represents the Design Culture of London and was highly appreciated.

Be open to briefs. Don’t think of them as a bad relationship but a fearful competitor. Somebody you would have to defeat with the best version of you.

Exactly how multicultural is the UK

Well let me just say we would enjoy an India Pakistan cricket match, which to my utter despair India lost, sitting with my Russian and French friends in a restaurant run by an Afghan couple. If there are 500 counties and 1 million languages in the world you would find at least 1 person (and a whole lot of Indians) from each one of them. This makes you humble and believe it or not more experimental, especially when you are being led to an Iranian restaurant for the first time in your life!

Beware of being too Indian

Have you washed and cleaned bathrooms? Have you deweeded gardens? If you have then you  are safe but like me if you have never even thought of doing these things be ready for a rude awakening . You would have to do all these things once you start living abroad. I did not get very friendly housemates so life soon became hell for me when they started accusing me of everything from stealing to keeping the garden dirty. From being scared and afraid I learnt to stand up for myself. Me and my housemates were never on christmas card-exchange terms but I could live peacefully after that.

Also yes we Indians run on our own invented clocks. A practice that you would need to shed when you go there. This will be the time, pun intended, of being a good Indian. So please be on time for everything and don’t drown the already floundering reputation India has acquired when it comes to time management.

How I wish I was the lawmaker

Well, truth be told, the chances of you going there as a student and staying there forever is extremely slim. I have applied in more than 300 jobs. I was selected by 15 design agencies but none had the licence to hire a non-EU worker. Yes the laws have changed but getting a job as a designer is difficult because for the simple reason, 60% people you would meet there are designers with degrees.

Overall though, if you do decide to study in the UK, it shall change your life. From the high end stores like Selfridges in Oxford Street to lush green meadows and countryside, from the posh to the street, the royal to the regular, the typical English to the bustling global cultural cauldron, the UK has everything. Make the best use of your time here and while you are at it, enjoy every moment of it!

Cheers Maaite!

Abhrojit Boral, Assistant Professor, Visual Communication, Unitedworld Institute of Design (UID)

Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.

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