Interview with Crystal Ahiable: 2020 Commonwealth Shared Scholar
program in Geographical and Information Management at Cranfield University.
At what point in your life did you consider studying abroad?
Studying abroad has always been a priority for me because I grew up in an
environment where Western education was highly valued. As such, after High
School, I made an attempt with writing the SATs, but along the line, I decided to
back out after securing an offer of admission at the University of Ghana. My
interest in studying abroad peaked during my undergraduate education, and
although I didn’t know how, when or where, I always had it in mind to further my
You did mention the SATs, so I would assume you had previously looked into US institutions. Why did you choose to study in the UK?
Prior to undergrad, I didn’t know much about the study abroad process aside from the fact that one had to take the SATs, so the US and Canadian schools were initially on my mind. However, after my undergrad, I extensively did research and explored funding opportunities for graduate school and came across countries like Germany and Norway, which were tuition free. I also came across funding opportunities in the UK, which I found to be more comprehensive because they covered not only tuition, but as well as miscellaneous costs. With regards to the US, I did not seem to find enough funding opportunities and I was also not keen on taking the GREs. Personally, the UK education seemed more appealing to me and the fact that their Masters program is only a year was the real deal breaker for me.
How did you hear about the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship?
I had heard about it in passing a couple of years ago, but it was not until 2019 that I decided to explore it further.
Was the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship the only scholarship you applied for?
Actually, the Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University was where I was fixated on, but unfortunately, my application was unsuccessful. I also applied to the Commonwealth Masters Scholarship and Chevening Scholarship and got rejected.
Why did you choose to study at Cranfield University?
I’m particularly interested in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which I studied during my third year in undergrad and was looking for graduate schools which offered that program with the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship. Cranfield University was one of the schools that matched my search and awarded me a scholarship.
Was Cranfield the only university you applied to?
I applied to the University of Dundee and got a partial scholarship. Again, I had a tuition free offer at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. I also gained admission to Leeds, Hull, Nottingham Trent, Southampton and Aberdeen.
What was the process of being awarded a Commonwealth Shared Scholarship?
I believe every university has their own way of going about the Scholarship process. With Cranfield, I had to submit an essay on the Scholarship in addition to the essays required for the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship. The university nominates students to be considered for the Scholarship and the list of nominees is then sent to the Commonwealth Secretariat for approval.
Did you encounter any challenges with the application process?
The application is straight - forward and self - explanatory, but the essays involve a lot of writing and thorough thinking. The essays are grouped in 4 parts which are further divided into ~11 sub - parts. I was fortunate to be acquainted with past scholars, mentors from Chevening, and friends who reviewed my essays.
Did you have to interview for the Scholarship?
I didn’t interview. I believe the selection is purely based on the candidates eligibility, academic qualification, essays and meeting the specifics of the Scholarship criteria.
Do you need to have an offer of admission before applying to the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship?
No, you don’t! However, you must have at least begun an application to a school(s) once you decide on applying for the Scholarship.
Was the IELTS or any English Proficiency test required?
Luckily, my school didn’t require me to take any English Proficiency test and the
Commonwealth Shared Scholarship programme also does not require it.
Had you been to the UK prior to studying at Cranfield?
No, I hadn’t. This is actually my first time outside of Ghana!
Nice! What expectations, if any, did you have about the UK prior to arriving?
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect because of the uncertainties arising from Covid - 19.
Since this is your first time out of Ghana, especially by yourself, how did you adjust in the UK upon arrival?
It wasn’t easy in the beginning (lol)! I had to quarantine when I arrived and during that time I was mainly dependent on food the university provided, which was a bit of a challenge for me. I had to transition from eating spicy food all my life to suddenly eating bland food (lol). Once my quarantine was over, I had an uncle visit with food which lasted for about 2 weeks before I managed to get around shopping. I’ll say the experience gets better with time!
Did you choose to live on campus or off - campus?
I chose to live on - campus because I found it very convenient although the accommodation is a little more pricey than off - campus housing. There’s also a bus that arrives on campus every 30 minutes during the weekdays and every hour on weekends which provides a regular service to surrounding areas outside of the school. Thankfully, the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship provides stipends which I have been able to use to take care of the cost of accommodation.
What are some of the differences/similarities between the educational system in Ghana and the UK you have observed?
Students in Ghana are spoon fed a lot, which you would realize more once you get into the educational system in the UK. I really wasn’t informed about the educational system in the UK so it was a bit of a shocker having to figure most things on my own, especially with a plethora of resources available at my disposal. However, in my opinion, the educational system in Ghana is not bad at all because that is their way of offering knowledge to students, moreso, because of the limited resources available. For example, my course is very technical which requires the use of a couple of software products, but because of limited resources in Ghana, we do not have the option to explore our desired choice. I find that education in the UK encourages critical thinking, provides critical feedback, and has a plethora of resources available, all of which allow for innovation. At Legon, students tend to be restricted with a particular way of doing things and going out of the norm most times doesn't sit well with the lecturers. It was very rare for students to challenge lecturers with questions and for lecturers to provide critical feedback on assignments. Then again, every society has its way of providing
education to its people, but if I have to choose my preference, I’ll definitely opt for the UK although their education system is by no means easy.
How has Covid - 19 interrupted your education and experience?
I’ve really missed the classroom experience. If not for Covid - 19, I believe I would have met more people than I have now. Almost everything now, including social activities are all online. I’m a very jovial person, but I find it a bit difficult connecting personally with people virtually. At the beginning, it was a challenge having to look at my screen all day, but as time goes on, it’s beginning to look like the new normal so I’ve managed to adjust. Most of my MSc experience has been online, but it was only recently things moved to a different phase where in - person classes can resume although I am done with my modules.
Are there any conditions of the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship?
The contract states that you must return to your country of origin immediately after completing your studies. However, if you do get accepted into a doctoral program or another masters program in the UK with proof of full funding, they would be willing to give you a no objection letter for you to remain in the UK, but that is only on the grounds of further studies.
What have been some of the fun parts of your experience in the UK, if any at all ?
Hmm, it’s hard to say because the novelty of the Covid - 19 has been difficult not only for students, but also for management, who haven’t seemed to crack the code on how to effectively engage students socially. However, I do meet up with my flat mates from time to time for social activities since meeting within the household is allowed. Before the restrictions became intense, I managed to visit Oxford with my coursemates and had a couple of fun meetings with the African society in our school. I plan to explore more and visit London if things do get better with the Covid - 19 situation.
How has the scholarship helped you achieve your goals?
My background is in Geography and I’m particularly interested in Geospatial Technology and its application in the environmental sector. As it is in most places including Ghana, I was not able to enter my field of interest upon graduation so I found myself in the Telecommunications industry, where I did my National Service. During that period, I did a lot of data analytics work, and I’ve recently found a way to connect the field of data analytics and geography. Granted, I’ve not had any working experience in the field of GIS, but with the additional and new knowledge obtained from my Masters program, I believe I have acquired new skills and expertise to give me an upper hand in the field.
Why should anyone consider applying to Cranfield University?
Cranfield is a purely postgraduate institution which is very research intensive. The courses here are specialized and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) oriented. Personally, I love Cranfield because of the serenity, perfect location, and minimal distractions. Also, the School of Management is one of the highly ranked institutions in the UK. Additionally, the professors here are very responsive to emails and easy to relate with. They are always ready to assist students and respond to queries to the best of their abilities. It is quite warm knowing your lecturers have your back and are ready to support you.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in applying for the Commonwealth Shared Scholarships?
Have a clear objective and know what you really really want! If what you are applying for i.e. the course, is not something you are really invested in, you will realize you struggle greatly with responding to the essays. The Scholarship essays tend to play a huge role in the selection process and focus on questions on your developmental impact, your post-study plan having acquired the knowledge, amongst others. Also, if you are looking into an international scholarship, you should be aware of the rejections that may come your way. There may be many disappointments, but that should even be a motivating factor
to propel you forward. Be resilient, know what you want, and connect with people
who have been through the process to review your application.
Commonwealth Shared Scholarships are for candidates from least developed and lower middle income Commonwealth countries, for full-time Master’s study on selected courses, jointly supported by UK universities. Funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Commonwealth Shared Scholarships enable talented and motivated individuals to gain the knowledge and skills required for sustainable development, and are aimed at those who could not otherwise afford to study in the UK. All applications must be submitted by 16.00 (GMT) on 9th April, 2021. Apply here.