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Oana Borhan

Oana Borhan2I come from a north-east city in Romania, Iasi. I originally chose to study Economics and Business Administration at a university in Romania. I didn’t consider going abroad because my family could barely afford my expenses at home. After over a year on the course I decided it wasn’t for me, I don’t consider it wasted time, but I started looking for other opportunities. Even though I knew it would be difficult I decided to study in the UK.

At Northumbria, I have chosen Web Design and Development because I always thought it’s a job I could carry around the world, a job which would offer me opportunities to to build something  useful, to explore my creativity, to travel and to make new connections.

I arrived in Newcastle in September 2011 and have applied for university in July 2012, in the second round of applications. If I am completely honest, I had no idea what to study when I started browsing for courses. All I knew was that I have already been into a course which I did not like and gave up after a year and a half. One of my friends from Newcastle was already studying at Northumbria when I met her and she recommended it dearly. She highlighted how different is the educational system from here in comparison to the one back home. My boyfriend was at the time studying at Newcastle University and wanted me to apply for a course there. I was anxious to start studying something interesting, therefore I took my time looking through all the courses offered by both universities. I had no calling for a certain course, so I made my way through all the pages, quickly reading all the details. I chose Web Design and all my excitement started when I made up my mind that this was what I wanted to do for a living. Next morning, I was calling the university to arrange an appointment.

Having been in Newcastle for half a year already, I mentally prepared myself for how I would manage once the university would start. I was already working and was underpaid, so I really needed to plan the next year carefully. I knew I had to continue working full time, otherwise I wouldn't be able to pay for rent. At that moment, I was living with some friends, but I was supposed to move in August and I wanted to find something close to university and work, as I considered the possibility of going from work straight to university or from university straight to work.

I have been working in the same place since I arrived in the UK. It was easy enough to find a job as I was fluent in English, was very flexible and willing to do any type of shifts. I started as a mix of receptionist, waitress and housekeeper.

There was not a single chance in the world to afford paying the tuition fees by myself since the year I enrolled, the fees changed from £3,000 to £8,000. I have applied for a student loan and I have tried to save enough money for maintenance expenses before the course started, however not everything turned out the way I planned it. I had exactly €200 when I arrived in the UK and only a few items of clothing. My parents have divorced years ago, which unfortunately means I do not keep in touch   with my dad and that my mom struggles with other expenses, so I had no financial help from any of them. Living in and studying in the UK has been and is my responsibility and my chance for a better future.

When I started the course, I missed the induction week, which basically meant I knew nobody. I felt as if I’ve fallen from the sky and I was trying to find my way through. For the first 2 weeks, I felt lost and alone. I wish I had a map of the university buildings and a list of all my classmates. It wasn't easy to meet people as it was never easy for me to make new friends and no one seemed particularly interested in making friends. My friends outside university would always say it’s easier to make friends with foreigners. Later on I found out there was another Romanian girl on the course, in the second group.

I have never lived in the halls, as from my research, it seemed too expensive and I needed to carefully plan my budget. I preferred renting private accommodation to avoid agency fees and also because they are much more flexible with regarding payment and what’s included in the rent. I have not lived in the same place since I started university for various reasons. Although I could have kept the same room, I always tried to get a better value for my money, therefore I looked for cheaper rent, closer to university/work, better conditions in the house. Whenever I moved out though, it affected my whole budget planning, because I had be ready to give a deposit which meant a month’s rent.

Usually, I spend between £500 - £550/month. This includes £350 for rent and accommodation bills, £60 food, £30 health insurance, £20 phone contract, £15 online membership needed for my course, going out to the cinema or to eat. Obviously this is not a rule very months as sometimes I've got  bigger expenses, for example when I want to go home for the holidays or if I need to  repair/replace/buy something. I also try to help my mom with a loan which she has in Romania, which adds another £50 to my monthly expenses.

I knew it will not be easy to joggle with both university workload and job, but I hoped I will somehow manage. Which I did, but it was more difficult that I anticipated. In the first year, I had to literally run from university to work and from work to university. I have not even met my classmates properly, as I was always on the run. Second year got better, as I somehow managed to alternate part time shifts in one week with full time shifts the following week. I actually got to meet people and learn their names. I knew if I took time off from my job it meant no pay, which means no money for rent and other expenses, and with a minimum wage pay, I would always have to work at least 25h per week (that was the agreement with my employer) during term time and 30-40h during holidays. However, some days at work were shorter, but more exhausting; some days, I had to stay overtime; some days, I couldn't take off. I often found myself lacking the energy to complete my pending work.

At the end of second year, we were asked to find ourselves placements. When I started the course, I had the intention of undertaking a placement year, but every employer wanted to see a portfolio. The companies which I wanted to work for expected a professional portfolio and skills which I never had the time to perfect. It is very difficult to create a portfolio when you can barely complete your daily workload. I have never been fully satisfied with my work because I never have time for final touches, for last minute additions or changes.

The course didn't entirely match my expectations, but that’s not a bad thing necessarily. I had no background in computing when I enrolled and I have evolved so much. I learned things that I needed, things that I became passionate about and things that I never thought I will ever understand. Over the first 2 years, it seemed that the modules don't relate, we rarely used something which we were taught in one module in a different module. Although it all links in the third year, it would have been better to get have the practice earlier on the course.

Along with the 16-20h a week for lectures and seminars, I tried to spend at 4-5h studying every day, planning out everything that I needed to do during a week, trying to recover if my daily tasks were not achieved. Now, I’ve got only 10h in university between lectures and seminars, but the individual workload has doubled at least and between work and social life, it sometimes becomes difficult to keep up. Nonetheless, I try to do as many diverse activities as time and money allow it and spend time with my friends as I have learned it’s easy to lose connection with someone over a busy schedule.

I may not finish this degree with upper merit, but what matters is what I do with it. I will try to find a position which will allow me to further develop and to give me the confidence to go on my own after some time. I think everyone dreams of being their own boss, take their own projects, but I want to do this once I have the experience of working within a larger company and get a taste of what means. I hope to work with people from different backgrounds and to take full advantage of this freedom that web design field offers. I want to do something great.

It may not have been the smoothest of rides, but it has been and it still is a lifetime opportunity for me and knowing all that I know now, I would still choose the same, only this time I would invest in a good organiser. It may be a tiny little possibility and it may be scary to dive in, but it is definitely doable and it will change your life in so many ways. Dream big, some things are impossible only until you actually do them.

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