Albert Francis E. Domingo, MD

my flight of ideas

My Chevening Journey to Edinburgh

Posted on | October 6, 2014 | 1 Comment

IT WAS DURING one light moment at work that a question popped into my head: what should be the next step in my career path? Almost five years after I graduated from medical school, I found myself neither practicing in a hospital nor running my own clinic. My doctor classmates were already finishing their specialisations one by one. I am thankful for my very fulfilling and fruitful engagements with the Philippine Department of Health as a consultant in USAID’s Health Policy Development Project, but I could no longer put the “next step” questions off.

Would it be worth the time and effort to study another degree? I thought, yes – because health policy is not exactly part of the medical curriculum. Where shall I study? I have always been a student of the national university – the University of the Philippines. But maybe it is time to go global. And then the most crucial of all items on the checklist: will I be able to leave family and friends for a prolonged period? It will definitely not be easy, but for any change to occur some unsettling will have to happen.

I was looking for opportunities to study abroad that are both economical and prestigious. I hoped for a scholarship that would cover most (if not all) expenses – tuition, travel, and costs of living. I would not be able to work while in full time study, and I also had my old parents to help support. Many scholarships would often disqualify me because of income status; but I definitely did not belong to a socioeconomic class who could pay for their own international studies. I also wanted to be recognised on the basis of hard-earned merit, a good reputation, and most importantly, my slightly jaded but still standing dreams of fixing the mess that my country is in.

I found a great package offered by the British; I chose to become a Filipino Chevening Scholar. I applied around the fourth quarter of 2013. By June of this year, I got in.

This is Edinburgh

This is Edinburgh, where you can learn how to shape the world’s future while staying in buildings preserved from the past, with an occasional outdoorsy open space to boot! Photo shows one of many typical views from classrooms at The University of Edinburgh. (Photo by the author.)

This is Edinburgh, where you can learn how to shape the world’s future while staying in buildings preserved from the past, with an occasional outdoorsy open space to boot! Photo shows one of many typical views from classrooms at The University of Edinburgh. (Photo by the author.)

The physical part of my Chevening journey was driven by my choice of the right university that has a programme dealing with health policy. I was choosing on the bases of (1) overall international rank, (2) programme offering and tutor prominence, (3) attendant costs of living, (4) campus and environment (including climate), and (5) a special factor that would make me unique, and not cut from the common mold, so to speak. The University of Edinburgh (it’s pronounced as eh-din-brah or eh-din-buh-rah) satisfied all of my set criteria. It was recently ranked 17th in the world by the 2014-15 QS world university rankings, with a very active Global Public Health Unit. Costs of living were projected to be much less than London, but the campus and environment still offered the comforts of a suitably sized modern European city. Finally, it had that unexplainable charm that ultimately sealed the deal for me.

Being the workaholic that I am, I did my transition to the UK student life in a sudden, “cold turkey” fashion as they would say. In fact, by pure happenstance, one of my bosses from work was on the same flight out from Manila – and we even talked shop for a while.

More than Braveheart, Bagpipes, and Kilts

When I landed in Edinburgh, I immediately realised that I had made the right choice, that there would be no regrets. On the way from the airport to my hall of residence, every glance at the roadside would yield a view that seemed to have sprung right out of a postcard. The weather was chilly by tropical Philippine standards, but the people were very warm – my university was very helpful in settling me in. The city was easily navigable, and we were even treated to a personal welcome by the British Embassy Manila’s 2nd Secretary, Colin Glen – who was in Scotland on leave from his post.

The Scottish Parliament was reconvened after almost 300 years of dormancy, by the Scotland Act of 1998. It is a devolved legislature that takes care of specific matters other than foreign affairs, defence, immigration, and social security. Photo shows the author at the gallery of the Scottish Parliament’s Debating Chamber. (Photo by Zara Trafford.)

The Scottish Parliament was reconvened after almost 300 years of dormancy, by the Scotland Act of 1998. It is a devolved legislature that takes care of specific matters other than foreign affairs, defence, immigration, and social security. Photo shows the author at the gallery of the Scottish Parliament’s Debating Chamber. (Photo by Zara Trafford.)

We arrived just less than two weeks before Scots answered at a referendum the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

The situation easily fed Hollywood-stereotyped scenes of Braveheart’s William Wallace, bagpipes, and kilts – but only because I just arrived and was practically a tourist at that point. Over the next few days, I found out that it was far more substantial than that. Whether it was a “yes” or “no” answer to the question, there were pithy arguments, witty ads, and snappy campaigns. It culminated on the 18th of September, when I excitedly knew that I would be witness to either the birth of a new state, or the strengthening of an established union. Ultimately, the Scots chose to stay with the UK, and life went on – but I was honoured to have been at the frontlines of a mature democratic exercise.

Influencing the World Since 1583

Last 27 September, the City of Edinburgh had its Open Doors Day, where many otherwise inaccessible spots were opened to visitors. Photo shows the author imitating a scene from the days of John Knox (at his house), a Scottish leader of the Protestant Reformation.  (Photo by Vangie Co.)

Last 27 September, the City of Edinburgh had its Open Doors Day, where many otherwise inaccessible spots were opened to visitors. Photo shows the author imitating a scene from the days of John Knox (at his house), a Scottish leader of the Protestant Reformation. (Photo by Vangie Co.)

Edinburgh University’s motto is “Influencing the world since 1583”. Among its alumni are the likes of Charles Darwin, Joseph Lister, James Clerk Maxwell, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and even Alexander Graham Bell. I see this tendency to be global everyday, because I have classmates from all continents. The diversity of nationalities, backgrounds, and intellectual pursuits is just awesome, and I hope to add to the university’s global reach and influence one day.

Meanwhile, it is no hidden fact that an international student like me who is on his first time away from home for an extended period will be looking for familiar influences. Cooking has been my way of adapting to local customs. By procuring local ingredients and using these to recreate Filipino dishes as well as to try out British recipes, I have been successfully coping with culture shock. I also thank the Philippines’ high literacy when it comes to the English language, which allowed me to hit the ground running as regards coursework. Also, it has been fantastic for my adjustment that my university has its own well-appointed but affordable sports centre/gym – even my favorite indoor spinning/cycling class back home has its fair equivalent here! After all, health workers like me must practice what we seek to preach.

All Journeys Begin with a First Step

The cliché “time flies fast when you’re having fun” is true. At the time of this writing, close to one month has already passed since I first set foot in Great Britain. There are still eleven months more to my Chevening journey, but as it may be seen, several opportunities have already presented themselves in just a short span of time. I am very thankful to the United Kingdom and its people as well as the other scholarship partners for the generous grant, which has opened these doors before me now – and I’m very sure will be opening more in the future.

It is already application season for the next batch of Chevening Scholars. There is still more than one month left to answer and act on those personal, life-changing career questions that are surely on the mind of most young professionals like me. Do not be daunted by the high expectations. The requirements can easily be managed. So long as your heart and mind are set on the right career goals that are aligned with the development of your country, it will not hurt to take this first step onto a remarkable journey.

Borrowing from a viral meme, I would say: “Keep calm, and file that Chevening application.”

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Comments

One Response to “My Chevening Journey to Edinburgh”

  1. Aleli Kraft
    October 9th, 2014 @ 9:10 am

    Dear Albert,

    I am so happy that you are enjoying your Chevening journey. As I mentioned earlier, it is not just about the academics but the other life lessons you learn when you are in a foreign land. Hope to hear more of your experiences. Have fun!

    Ohayo from Kobe, Japan!

    Cheers,
    Aleli

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