Not mere luck – How I got my Chevening Scholarship

My Instagram is full of my traveling pictures around United Kingdom. Since I got here last September, I’ve been traveling to more than 15 cities and attending more than 8 musicals/concerts/festivals, and the best part is, they are all sponsored by Chevening Scholarship.

(Clarification: the scholarship covers monthly living allowance, not specifically for traveling or other hedonistic activities, but if you are careful with your expense and eat only potato for two weeks like I do, you definitely can save lots of money to enjoy UK!)

I received many comments about how lucky I was. I am indeed lucky, but it’s more than mere luck – it’s hard work. This is my journey to pursue a scholarship to study abroad:

Quick background

I’ve been dreaming to study in the UK since I was 7, because I read Enid Blyton books about girl boarding schools. When I finished high school, I had to watch all my close friends going abroad to study, but my parents just couldn’t afford it. I knew that my only chance was by getting a scholarship, but I also realised that it’s incredibly hard.

First attempt

At the end of my undergrad year, I applied for a scholarship to study for 8 weeks in the US. It was my first time applying for scholarship, and I found out that the preparing the documents was a lot of hassle. One of them was university transcript, and it had to be a legalised copy. My uni administration staffs were jerks so I couldn’t complete it on time.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: “Sir, I want to legalise my transcript.”

Him: (munching gum annoyingly) “No can’t do. The guy responsible for it is taking a leave.”

Me: “When will he come back, Sir?”

Him: “I don’t know.”

Me: “But, Sir, I need this document badly.”

Him: “Do I look like I care?”

 

So I submitted my documents without being legalised, and my application was rejected right away.

It upset me – what’s the point of preparing thousands of documents when in the end, my application just got thrown to a bin? The effort is not worth it!

Years went by,

but the dream hadn’t gone away. One day I have this imaginary conversation with my future kids:

Me: Yeah, Honey, I’d always been dreaming to study abroad too.

Her: Then why didn’t you go?

Me: Because I didn’t want to take an expensive TOEFL test, I was scared I would be rejected after putting lots of efforts.

I decided that if I was about to kill my dream, it would be after I had worked my ass off and tried everything I could. So I took the leap – I took the ridiculously expensive TOEFL test which would expire in 2 years, and that’s the same timeframe I gave myself. If in 2 years I didn’t succeed, I would just focus on my career in Indonesia.

Second & third attempt

I applied to Chevening 2013 and LPDP 2013. (I only applied to government-sponsored scholarships, because I was aiming for full scholarship + living allowance.)

Both were rejected. On retrospect I learned that in both times, I wasn’t clear about my vision, about what I was doing in my life, about the purpose of my study and why was it important for my career and for the society.

When you are overweight…

How to make yourself looks more attractive? You can learn Adobe Photoshop to edit your pictures. Or you can eat more healthily and exercise. Perfecting your essays and personal statements will make you look better temporarily, but what you really need to do is developing yourself.

So I took steps to develop myself. I challenged myself to take a leadership position. Started with managing 3 people, until in the end I had 11 people in my team, many of them are older than me. Being a leader was a humbling and crushing experience, but also brought most satisfaction.

Fourth attempt

was Australia Leadership Award 2014. I knew I was much more qualified than ever. I prepared everything perfectly… and I got another rejection.

I was really down. I did my best, I gave all I could – why wasn’t it enough?

So I decided that I would give myself another chance. If this time I failed… I would stop trying for the next 2-3 years. (Yeah, even then I didn’t give up completely.)

Fifth attempt

Chevening 2014. After the interview, one of my interviewers pulled me aside and said, “I think you are the best person I’ve interviewed so far. I like it when I’m not the smartest person in the room, and it didn’t happen very often.”

My jaw dropped. Yes, I got in. And I couldn’t be happier. Not only because I finally got the chance to study in my dream country, but mostly because this scholarship was an acknowledgment of my zealous adventure. I wasn’t insane believing in my dreams – it paid off in the end.

I learned many things on my scholarship applications journey, but if I had to summarise it into one sentence, I would say:

You have to want it more than anything else in the world.

2 thoughts on “Not mere luck – How I got my Chevening Scholarship

  1. Fathyah says:

    Hi Mba Debbie, I really like your post about this one. I am aiming for Chevening too and currently doing some research and preparation for the application. So if you don’t mind maybe I could use your help? And would you mind giving me your email?

    I thank you in advance,
    Fathyah

    Like

    • Debbie Widjaja says:

      Hi Fathyah, thanks for your kind comment. Sure, would love to help, but please make sure you’ve done your “homework” before asking me. (e.g. don’t ask “what are the criteria of Chevening scholarship” or similar questions that are researchable online!). You can connect with me on LinkedIn (the link is provided in the About Me section). Thanks!

      Like

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