One of my close friends has a quotation at the bottom of his e-mail which reads, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” The line is by famous author Paulo Coelho, from his book The Alchemist. Ironically, it’s a variation of one of my favorite authors Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”
Both quotations suggest that you are not alone in the pursuit of what you aspire to; once you set your mind to doing something, others around you play a vital role in your quest.
My universe is composed not just of spiritual beliefs, but the strength and support of the people around me. This includes my parents, my friends and the UCF mentors who saw potential and unselfishly gave of themselves. These mentors helped carve out a path that led me to study writing at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
Last fall, I visited Ireland as part of a tour in support of UCF’s football team. They were to play their first game of the season in Dublin. I always wanted to go to Ireland, and UCF’s game gave me a chance not just to support my alma mater, but to reward myself for obtaining a Bachelor’s degree.
The tour’s final destination, after watching the football game, was to visit Galway: a small city on the west coast. After spending a day sightseeing and learning about its history, I fell in love with the city’s vibrancy and creative culture. When I returned home, I decided to apply for the MA in writing program offered at the university.
My application to NUI Galway consisted of a personal statement, a letter of recommendation, two short stories, a ten-page excerpt from a novella, and seven poems, all of which I’d written as undergraduate workshop assignments, and/or were part of my undergraduate honors in the major thesis.
A few months after I applied, I had the shock of my life when I was accepted as one of the final fifteen for the program. To my UCF mentors, it wasn’t a surprise at all. They had prepared me, as they do all UCF students, to undertake an MFA or MA program.
What did UCF’s creative writing teachers do to facilitate my acceptance abroad?
- First, they helped me to believe in my abilities. Even when I doubted myself, they stood by repeating, “Keep going, you can do this!” UCF teachers motivate their students to realize their full potential and have diplomatic ways of reaching out to students in need of support.
Whether the postgraduate degree is an MFA or and MA, writing programs are very competitive. You have to challenge yourself, think differently, and practice. You have to put your best writing forward using all the tools afforded you. Everything UCF’s teachers ask you to do has a purpose. These accomplished writers, have experienced the trials and pitfalls of writing.
To have their know-how right in front of you is a gift. As a student abroad, it’s important to be able to encourage yourself. You have to rely on what you have learned, and believe that you can achieve your ambitions.
No matter which program, undergraduate or postgraduate, believing in your own skills and listening to the recommendations from those who have done the work you aspire to do is a must.
- UCF creative writing instructors helped me to develop by immersing me in new forms of writing. Abroad, this is also very important. Creativity and being able to adapt are essential. For example, in my MA I am encouraged to try courses like Discovering the Archives, Contemporary Publishing, Poetry, Playwriting and Fiction, among others. The diversity in UCF’s writing program which ranges from poetry, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Screenwriting, to World and English Literature, prepared me for this experience.
- UCF’s teachers also helped me create a writing-based career plan. By developing clear goals, I was able to follow my own directives, aiding me in the selection of a postgraduate program suitable for my needs.
- Furthermore, by encouraging me to undertake an undergraduate thesis, my creative writing instructors gave me an insight of what an MA in writing would be like in terms of meeting deadlines, conducting research, and the editing process.
While pursuing my undergraduate degree, not once did I think I was going to continue on so soon with a postgraduate degree, let alone in Ireland. I think about how far I’ve come, and how much support from my teachers I received along the way. Sometimes, as undergraduate students, we become so focused on homework and graduating that we overlook the talent that surrounds us.
UCF’s creative writing teachers are accomplished writers with years of experience. They have published multiple books; their work can be found in prestigious literary magazines and newspapers such as The New York Times and The Guardian. Some have novels that have or will be made into movies. Their work is recognized worldwide. UCF’s teachers’ writing talent is unsurpassed. They are an integral part of why I am here; their instruction has made me a better writer.
If you are considering a postgraduate degree abroad, here are a few tips to facilitate your journey:
- Set goals/Evaluate – Compare the pros and cons of MFA vs MA programs.
- Diversify – Some MA programs prefer writers with diverse portfolios. Send in a mixture of your best poetry, non-fiction, fiction, travel writing, plays, screenwriting etc.
- Take chances – Vary your curriculum choices while working on your Bachelor’s. Accomplishing an honors in the major, or partaking in UCF’s literary magazine internships can be a bonus on your postgraduate application.
- Prepare – Read books including bestsellers from the country you plan on applying to. This gives you an insight of what publishers are looking for in that market. What is publishable in the US may not be in another country and vice versa.
- Create a presence and stay connected – Blogs, social media and personal websites are highly encouraged. Twitter and LinkedIn are well regarded here in Europe; and one of the most important parts of being a writer is to make connections with future readers and within the writing community.
Other things to consider:
- Work on a budget and count on adding at least another half to it. Studying abroad is much more expensive than you think. Apart from housing, food, transportation and tuition fees, there are fluctuating currency exchange rates, health insurance costs, internet costs, garbage collection and utility deposits, copy/print fees, weather gear or additional clothing costs, immigration registration fees, entertainment, and travel costs – if you plan on touring the country or flying home for the holidays, just to name a few.
- Housing can be very expensive. Find out housing rental rates before you apply. If there is a shortage like here in Galway, be ready to lease something months in advance.
- Learn about the local history, customs and language prior to your arrival. This will be helpful with making new discoveries, meeting new friends and avoiding embarrassing mishaps.
- Don’t be afraid to write about your new experiences and location. Some of my best work so far this year has been about my experiences around Ireland and Galway.
4. Be ready to work full-time in half the time. One thing to keep in mind about postgraduate writing programs in the UK and Ireland is that most are one year MA’s. A portfolio at the end of the program, full of pre-prepared, publishable material, is required for your defense.
Iris M Mora is a UCF graduate attending the MA in writing program at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Her poetry can be found in The Cypress Dome Society 2015 Edition and in The Galway Review. She is to graduate in the fall of 2016.