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

July 15, 2020

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

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

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

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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