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How a WSE student from Syria landed a scholarship for university

Back in April 2017, we wrote an article for FruitFame about WSE’s work with RefuAid. We told the stories of 4 refugee students and their experiences of moving to the UK and studying at Wimbledon School of English. You’ll be glad to know that these students have gone onto great things in the UK and are all now working or studying. One even became the cover star of WSE’s new brochure!

Today we’re going to tell you the story of Rawan from Syria, who studied with us this spring and has just won a £50,000 scholarship (yes FIFTY THOUSAND POUNDS!!) to study Medicine at Queen Mary University here in London. Our Marketing Manager, Kieran, had an informal chat with Rawan one hot afternoon in July to learn more about her journey from Syria to receiving one of the most sought after scholarships in the UK.

 IELTS 8.0

Kieran: Tell me a bit about you
Rawan: I’m from Syria originally and I came to the UK last year. I’ve been working as a simultaneous interpreter helping Arabic speakers in different types of situations such as hospitals, immigration issues and things like that.

Kieran: You must have had quite a good level of English before you came?
Rawan: Yes, I had studied for a number of years in Syria and I was doing a medicine degree which had a few modules in English

Kieran: How far into your degree were you when you had to leave Syria?
Rawan: I was 3 years into a 6 year programme 

Kieran: And how were you doing in terms of your grades? 
Rawan: (laughs) I probably shouldn’t say this but I was a good student. I just really love studying! I’m not the kind of person to do things by halves.

Kieran: Why did you want to study medicine? 
Rawan: I kind of just ended up studying medicine but as soon as I started I knew this was the career for me. I fell in love with it. I couldn’t imagine myself studying anything else.

Kieran: Was the ultimate goal to go on and become a doctor? 
Rawan: Yes. Well more than anything, it was to help people. To help with whatever small things that you can. Living in a war zone you really come to appreciate how important it is to have a doctor you can rely on. I never really trusted doctors, even when I had a medical problem I didn’t go to a doctor because I didn’t trust them so I wanted to become a doctor that people could trust.

Kieran: Tell us about when you came to the UK, did you come alone? 
Rawan: I came with my mother but my dad and brother were already here

Kieran: Aww, so you’re all back together again. That’s so nice! 
Rawan: Yeah, I live with my parents now

Kieran: What were your impressions when you first came to the UK?
Rawan: Well my brother had been living in the UK for 5 years and we used to speak on the phone a lot and he told me everything. What people are like, the culture, the accent, literally every small detail you can imagine. So when I arrived I was very familiar with everything which was so good because I didn’t really experience culture shock.

Kieran: When you first arrived, did you think that it was going to be possible to continue with your studies in Medicine? 
Rawan: To be completely honest, no. It seemed impossible at the time. You have to jump through so many hoops, the UKCAT exam, the IELTS exam, UCAS, personal statement, interviews. It all seemed so difficult so I just decided to take it step by step. Each time I finished one thing I would move onto the next.

Kieran: When did you decide to start applying? 
Rawan: Straight away, as soon as I got here. I knew what I wanted to do. First of all I sat for IELTS but I didn’t get the score that I needed. I needed a 7 in every subsection of the exam and I got a 6 in one of them.

Kieran: Which unis did you apply for? 
Rawan: Glasgow, Manchester, Queen Mary London, and Queens Belfast

Kieran: And which was your first choice? 
Rawan: Queen Mary. It has a great ranking and I wanted to stay in London. I actually got offer for all four universities and Glasgow was my second choice.

Kieran: How did Wimbledon School of English figure in all of this? 
Rawan: I came to the school 2 months ago because I wanted to improve my IELTS score. If I didn’t get the IELTS score I needed, all of this work would have been wasted. I needed 7 in all sections of the exam but I really wanted a 7.5… I ended up getting an 8!

Kieran: WOW!!! That’s amazing. Did you get an 8 in every area? 
Rawan: I got 8.5 in listening and reading, 8 in speaking and 7.5 in writing. 
Kieran: That’s incredible. I think that’s better than some native speakers do…

Kieran: So, tell us about this scholarship you have just received. 
Rawan: To be honest I didn’t think I’d ever actually get one but I thought I should try so I was really surprised to be invited to interview

Kieran: What was the application process like? 
Rawan: It was an application form talking a bit about yourself, your university offers and why you need the scholarship. All pretty basic stuff. So when it came to interview I was really surprised to see a panel of 4 people. They were all such respected people!

Kieran: And what exactly is the scholarship? 
Rawan: It’s to cover my tuition fees for the next 5 years. I am treated as a home student so it’s £9,250 per year.

Kieran: Wow! So you just got a scholarship for almost £50,000.
Rawan: Exactly that, they give you an additional £750 stipend so it’s £50,000 in total.

[Lots of wow, omgs and that’s incredible from Kieran and modest laughter from Rawan]

Kieran: Well done, you must be so proud! How did that feel when you got the news?
Rawan: When I read the email I just couldn’t believe it. I broke down in tears, I couldn’t even stand up. I sat on the floor crying.

Kieran: How would you have funded yourself otherwise? Some kind of loan? 
Rawan: I did apply to Student Finance England but I was rejected so I had no choice. I would have had to work full time. But working and studying would have been so hard for someone like me because I study so much. And even if I worked to pay for my studies, how would I pay food and travel? Before I knew about the scholarship I thought to myself: “Well that’s it. This is the end of the journey.” I am just so grateful.

Kieran: So it’s a 5 year course. Any idea what you’d like your specialisation to be? 
Rawan: I had an idea today. I want to go into something to do with Cardiology. My uncle has heart problems and he told me to study this so I could treat him. You need an incentive and motivation to drive you and this will really help me succeed and help him too.

Kieran: So where do you see yourself after university? Would you like to go back to Syria if the situation improves? 
Rawan: That’s such a hard question because it depends so much on how you define an improved situation. Unfortunately I don’t see it getting better to the point of having a bright future so for now the plan is to stay in the UK.

Kieran: That’s such a heart breaking thing to hear
Rawan: it is, it’s a heart breaking situation but you have to adapt and move on, otherwise it’s easy to spend the whole time feeling sad about everything.


Thank you Rawan for telling us your story. So many of our students hope to go onto further education in the UK and the application process can be daunting so these are some really useful tips. I think the moral of the story here is to stay focussed on what you want and not to give up. We need to be patient, resilient and work hard to get where we want to be.

From all the staff at WSE we wish you the very best for your future studies. This has definitely got to be one of our must successful alumni stories.  


WSE Team