What does it mean to graduate a Master’s degree at a British university, as an adult migrant student?
Studying for 3 years as a part time student, facing difficulties and financial struggle, but enjoying great academic teaching and environment, I revelled in my recent graduation. Achieving the MA in Online Journalism with Paul Bradshaw equals reaching the summit after a strenuous, challenging climb.
The journalist cannot stop taking photos and videos even on their celebration day!
On Tuesday, July 24th, I attended our Birmingham City University graduation ceremony at Symphony Hall. About 500 of us (according to one of the speakers) celebrated the results of our efforts, of not giving up. To me, it felt like one of the happiest occasions since living in the UK. I can only compare my experience of the day to when I got accepted on the course. The location of the ceremony and the diversity of Birmingham also enhanced the emotional charge. Walking around the building through such a sea of humanity, people of all colours, backgrounds and ages, put sparkles in my eyes and tears in my throat.
What academic success in later life looks like
To have amazing people around helps during strenuous years of study.
My partner Adrian and his son Dominic accompanied me to the big event. Particularly, I appreciated Dominic’s effort to face the crowds and a long day in the city, at 14. As for Adrian, I owe him having staying focused and driven on my last steps towards the degree. With his support, I managed to dedicate couple of months to running the practical side of my final project within the third sector. Meanwhile, very little earnings covered financial matters on my side. As an adult learner, and especially a migrant, to have the right people around you proves crucial.
The 3 years I spent as a Birmingham City University postgraduate student differed so much to my 4 years as an undergrad in Romania. From 1996 to 2000, I studied towards my BA degree in Christian Orthodox Theology and English Language and Literature. Living in the family flat back then, earning a scholarship, tutoring pupils in English – I can name a few factors which made it much easier.
We didn’t have much money, but then we didn’t need to. My parents rewarded me for my efforts, when they could. I travelled around Romania, partly staying with family friends, one summer which was my best holiday during those years. When you live in a different country though, being an adult student can get much more complicated.
Walking proudly after the ceremony – a grain in a sea of humanity
Adult learners in higher education – supporting one another
Challenges still lay ahead of a fresh graduate, especially when you need to convert all that freelancing at 41. But whatever struggles one faces to turn freelance creative work into a paid career, they can only take pride in achieving a Master’s degree. I particularly think of us, adult learners, who balanced a job with studying, earning enough money to carry on with producing creative work of a high standard. I had a few such colleagues and with them I bonded best. We understood each other, and also we supported each other with generosity.
At this point, I want to name Mike Smith, my journo mate so passionate about technology and VR/AR. I also collaborated with my colleague Gareth Reed, Stafford based photographer. I always appreciated his warm nature, and his artistic interest in photography.
Another colleague from Liverpool did not come back after the first year. I am not sure they will have the opportunity to return, as this course ceased to be offered part time now.
Course leader Paul Bradshaw: top professional, very generous and dedicated
Before concluding, I want to leave a more detailed record of the best of my experience at Birmingham City University. I cannot start in any other way than by talking about our course leader, a top professional in his field – Paul Bradshaw. He was best of the best we could have had.
Watch the interview I took of Paul last year, about his path towards academic life.
Very professional, but also very generous, Paul renounced pay for participating at an international journalism conference in Helsinki in exchange for a student’s expenses there being covered. His dedication and professionalism contribute to the worldwide appreciation he gets in his field. At some point, I contacted an American academic and media specialist for one of my assignments. He saw where I studied and said: “You’re one of Paul’s people”.
Again, thanks to Paul Bradshaw, we visited The Guardian offices in London and met the head of the data and of the visuals departments. As a fan of the media outlet, I appreciated the opportunity to learn directly from the best.
Also, I had the opportunity to participate in a 2 days major media conference in London, together with a colleague, during my first year of study. The event covered media&marketing, a step towards my interest now in focusing my skills on the later. Participants would normally pay around £500-700/person/day. However, as chairman of one of the panels, Paul obtained free entrance for us, two of his students.
The platform for students, the collaborative project, the facilities
The team of teaching staff organise great creative projects for students. Birmingham Eastside, the School of Media run news website, gave all of us a platform for publishing high standard content.
I can also name the collaborative practice project between 3 schools, which I supported as a media consultant. Working together with colleagues from different departments, the undergrads put together art installations presented at Birmingham Cathedral. The results they achieved showed how such projects stimulate creativity and also develop organising skills.
Abigail Skidmore stepped on stage as one of the graduate speakers at BCU graduation 2018.
As I learnt at the ceremony, the university buildings at Curzon Street, near Millennium Point, had been opened in 2005, just the year when I started my studies. The financial investment shows: great facilities, an impressive library, and the biggest TV news studio in Birmingham.
I could probably go on, but I will conclude this here and invite you to watch my vlog too, for more insight.