How to study abroad
Ameera Fouad, , Tuesday 5 Nov 2019
This is the time of year when many young Egyptians dream of being awarded scholarships to study abroad, writes Ameera Fouad

There are many myths regarding scholarships and fellowships to study abroad, with some people thinking it is next to impossible to gain one if one is not academically excellent, while others assume that scholarships are for a restricted age group only and for certain nationalities.

Others still may underestimate their capabilities and be reluctant even to apply. Nevertheless, studies have found that there are scholarships out there for Egyptian students who are really eligible.

Indeed, many foreign scholarships have opened their doors to Egyptian students at this time of the year in particular. Ranging from undergraduate and postgraduate to doctoral and post-doctoral degrees, many funding opportunities are available in the scholarship season, which is typically during the autumn and winter for the following academic year.

Since 1983, doors have been opening for exceptional scholars and professionals to apply to top universities in the UK through the Chevening Scholarships, for example. The Chevening is an international Masters degree scholarship supported by the UK foreign office and partner organisations in the UK. It is one of the most prestigious scholarships and brings future leaders from 160 countries to the country, creating friendships and networks with a shared mission.

As the application cycle for 2019/2020 is now open, Egyptian applicants are encouraged to apply for Chevening Scholarships, which are open to anyone at any age who wishes to pursue their Masters degree in any field they feel they can embark upon.

As the selection process has become tougher in recent years, Nevine Sharaf, the Chevening programme manager in Egypt, was happy to share some tips with Al-Ahram Weekly.

“In 2019/2020, we had 4,000 applicants, and around 50 were selected. So, the applicant must know that it is a highly competitive programme and thus challenging as well,” she said. Sharaf also stressed that the Chevening Scholarships were not only looking for academic excellence, as they are also concerned with strong interpersonal skills like leadership and networking and full career plans.

What makes the Chevening special is the fact that people in mid-careers can shift their focus to study what they wish and accordingly can achieve their short and longer-term career goals. However, Sharaf added that an application must be linked together in order to succeed. “Your application should be a thread of storytelling, how this adds to this, and why this goal is really important and how the course will help you achieve it,” she said.

While rumours may spread about the selection process in the Chevening Scholarships, claiming that they are getting more difficult every year, Sharaf said that the process was the same and the criteria were the same. It was just getting more competitive.

“Scholars have to be focused and not generalise. You can be the first in your class, but you may not have interpersonal skills. The applications are the first step to show your skills. You should give a strong and clear example of your leadership skills. Why do you regard yourself as a leader? What have you done and what are the outcomes? The same applies to other interpersonal skills,” she said.

All applicants should beware of plagiarism. The scholarship reading committee has discovered in recent years a large amount of plagiarism and scam applications, and as a result it “rejects all applications which have been discovered to be plagiarised, scammed, or taken from online forums or social-media groups,” Sharaf added.

Sharaf’s last tip is to apply as early as possible, both to the university in question and the Chevening Scholarship. She encourages people with disabilities to apply. “Sometimes, they can underestimate their potential, but they have an equal opportunity in winning a Chevening award,” she added.

TESTIMONIES: Walid Kandil is a Chevening scholar of the class of 2019 who returned to Egypt some days ago after submitting his dissertation at Cardiff University in the UK.

Kandil is visually impaired. However, this did not prevent him from either applying to the Chevening or from studying broadcast journalism at one of the top universities in the UK.

Kandil also chose to carry out a practise-based dissertation, which entails shooting, editing, producing and directing a long documentary. He did almost the impossible by examining the accessibility and the challenges of visually impaired people in Egypt and the UK.

“He is not the first scholar with a disability to be on a Chevening. We had four in the past few years, and they are now holding elite positions,” Sharaf added.

“Applying for the Chevening was not an easy task. I worked on my English-language skills to get the necessary IETLS score [a measure of English-language competence] and to get an offer from the university. Getting there was a dream for me... but the year I spent there was a life experience for me by every means,” Kandil said.

Although UK universities provide assistance to scholars who are facing difficulties, Kandil had to cope with everyday challenges not only in his daily life but also in the module he applied to, which involved a lot of production materials.

“I learned to be independent. The care assistant there taught me how to use a white cane to manoeuvre in public spaces. In two months, I was able to reach anywhere with no assistance at all,” he said. “I also discovered friends and tutors who helped me in every possible way they could. The Chevening provided me with a global network of friends and colleagues I would not have thought of before,” he added.

Kandil also had the opportunity to work for the BBC as a freelance journalist, where he took a training course. Many organisations in the UK help people with disabilities. “What I care about is accessibility for people with disabilities and providing equal opportunities for them. I would like to see this in my own country,” Kandil added.

The Chevening is not the only scholarship that offers great opportunities for scholars to travel, explore, and excel abroad. Several other scholarships cover tuition fees, travel expenses, and a stipend on a monthly basis. The Eiffel Scholarship Programme of Excellence is one of them.

The Eiffel Scholarship Programme is a Masters degree and doctoral degree scholarship programme that enables students to study in France on their desired programmes. It attracts the best international students to French higher education institutions supported by the ministry of foreign affairs in France.

Kariman Labib topped her class this year at the Faculty of Political Science and Economics in the French Section of Cairo University. She was able to gain an Eiffel Excellence Scholarship offered by Cairo University in partnership with the Sorbonne University in France.

She was able to study for one semester at the prestigious Sorbonne last year when she applied to continue in France via the EU Erasmus Programme. “I am happy I earned it and was awarded the scholarship that granted me a full stipend, tuition fee waiver, and flight transportation,” she said.

Labib was able to explore herself and her capabilities as a result. “The first time I went to France I was timid, inexperienced and afraid. I was focused on my study, and as a result I missed out on exploring France. But this time is different: I am now full of enthusiasm and hope to explore Paris, France, and Europe more,” she said.

“Living alone means managing your budget well, caring more about your well-being, and keeping your positive energy high,” Labib added.

OTHER PROGRAMMES: Though Masters degree programmes are more common than for PhDs, there are a few programmes that offer higher scholarships for Egyptian students.

XCELING is a programme co-funded by the Erasmus Programme of the European Union. It aims at contributing to the modernisation of foreign-language teaching in Egypt at different levels.

The programme offers pre-and post-doctoral students the chance to conduct research in teaching in order to excel and innovate in second-language education in Egypt. Yomna Al-Hossari, a lecturer assistant at the Applied Languages Programme at Alexandria University, has just returned from Dublin after participating in a three-week training programme at Trinity College in Dublin in Ireland.

“I benefited greatly from the scholarship. It widened my horizons and made me understand matters I never thought of before,” Al-Hossari said.

The programme provided her with an excellent research environment that enabled her to engage with other scholars in order to exchange knowledge and research expertise. Al-Hossari, who conducted her MA in computational linguistics, was surprised that many people in Ireland lacked knowledge about Muslim women conducting research in difficult disciplines.

“I also had my own stereotypes about the Irish, believing they are red-headed, for example. But of course when I reached Ireland I never saw a red-headed person,” she said, laughing.

Applying for a scholarship or a fellowship is never an easy task, however. “Sometimes, people think that we were just given it without any problem. But I applied more than 10 times to many programmes throughout the years for Masters and pre-doctoral programmes. When I got my MA degree here, I focused on the pre-doctoral programmes, and I am happy I got selected for this one,” Al-Hossari added.

Scholarships have many bright sides, such as participating in student unions, joining sports and cultural clubs, and engaging in many activities. “I hiked trails where I managed to explore the beauty of Ireland I have always read about in novels and plays,” Al-Hossari said.

The doors of various scholarships are open at this time of year to Egyptian students. The bright side is you need to express your potential and your skills, in addition to well-articulated extra-curricular activities. The bad side is that scholarships are never guaranteed. Therefore, a second plan is always a good option, so that you are not left waiting for something that might not happen.

What can be learned from the many scholars that have benefitted from them is that foreign scholarships are not impossible. However, one can be an achiever with or without a scholarship. A scholarship sometimes gives you the boost you need, however, even if it is really a return for all your good efforts.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 November, 2019 edition ofAl-Ahram Weekly.