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Studying for a degree at one of the UK's top universities

21 Mar, 2016
Studying for a degree at one of the UK's top universities

We recently caught up with former Kings Oxford Foundation student Serra Ileri, who is now studying for a degree at Durham University, currently ranked 5th in the UK.

Hi Serra. What course are you doing here at Durham?
I’m studying Business and Management although I’ll switch to marketing next year.

So you’re over at the Stockton campus?
Yes, the people studying Business and Management, Psychology, Accounting and Finance, Pharmacy and Medicine are located in two other colleges – in Stockton – John Snow and Stevenson. The rest of the colleges are located nearer to Durham city.

Overall are you enjoying being here?
It’s actually really nice, and I met some really nice people – that’s what makes it great. The lectures are great too, aside from Accounting and Finance – that’s probably my least favourite! I’m not good at Maths!

I had 5 lectures a week, and most are two hours. Then we have seminar sign ups – we have one seminar for each module, and they are every other week. We have one week of lectures then a week of lectures and seminars.

There’s also an elective module that you choose at the beginning of your course, and this year I chose Economics and Psychology of Decision-making. The first term you study basic economics theory and then the second term it’s more focused on psychology.

You were a January starter on the Foundation course at Kings Oxford, weren’t you?
Yes, I was. I had friends who started in September, and comparing our work to theirs we seemed to have the same amount but a more limited time. Looking back it has prepared us well for university though as we have a lot of work and not much time! We don’t have exams throughout the year but we have a lot of assignments.

What modules did you do as part of the Foundation?
I did CSS and Data and I had Business, Economics and Politics. I wasn’t sure whether I’d study International Relations, or Politics, or Business at university.

Was there one that you enjoyed most?
I really enjoyed Politics and Business – they were my favourites, I think mostly because of my teachers, Tina Banyard and Mark Schoffield – they were amazing. I’m still in touch with Tina actually and whenever I have questions she’s more than happy to help me out…which is quite amazing.

How many of there were you in your classes at Kings?
I think for Politics we had about 5? Not many! I think a lot of people were intimidated by politics as everyone said how difficult the Politics exams were.

Have you found CSS and Data really useful?
My English was already quite good when I came to Kings but it’s completely different from the education system I was used to and I had no idea how to write essays or how to do an academic presentation. At the time I thought it was important but now I realise how essential it is. I have a lot of friends who did A-levels and they don’t know how to write an academic essay, how to do presentations, how to reference, and I know all of that thanks to CSS and honestly it saved my life!

I’m the only international student who got a First in the ‘Changing the World of Business’ assignment and I think it’s only because I’m good at referencing – that was a point that my lecturer, who is also the course leader, made - he said the only reason I did far better was that I was good at referencing! If it wasn’t for CSS I wouldn’t have known how to do it.

We do have one academic writing skills lecture but it’s not as comprehensive as CSS, because we had a while term last year when we focused on just referring. People are struggling a lot.

Talk me through the process again that you went through in deciding on your university…
Initially I wanted to go to university in New Zealand or Australia, and I did apply to universities there and got accepted to Melbourne — but my dad didn’t really want me to go that far away for my undergraduate degree. I looked at universities all over the world, but finally decided on England. I’ve been living away from my parents since I was 13, but I know my parents, my dad especially, wants to see me sometimes. He wouldn’t be able to come to Australia that often!

To be fair, England has many good universities, so that’s why I came to Kings before university. I went to the university fair that Kings arranged and the Durham representative told me that since I had the French Baccalaureate I maybe didn’t need A-levels etc, but I’m pleased I did the Foundation as I think I would have failed my university course if I hadn’t gone to Kings before.

She helped me quite a lot and we stayed in contact — she remembered me and my grades from high school, and in the end I was given an unconditional offer from Durham.

Overall, how was your experience at Kings?
I thought it was amazing. When I look back I can’t think about the times when we suffered with assignments, I can only think of the good times because there were so many! Most of my good friends now are from Kings and even though one is going to university in Australia, one is in Loughborough and one is in Belgium, we are still in touch and I think that’s going to last. I thought it was just great – we were together 24-7, we studied together, ate together, we did everything together. It was very international with me from Turkey, Margaux from Belgium, Edgar from Korea and Ryan from China! From all around the world.

At first I was a bit worried as I didn’t realise there would be so many Asian students – it was a bit weird for me as in Turkey I wasn’t used to seeing that many Asian people. But because I became such good friends with them now I have a much better understanding of Asian culture and how it differs, and I can empathise with people from that part of the world better than before. I do want to work in an international environment in the future so it will be important I think.

Being at Kings was one of the best times of my life, definitely!