View of London skyline with The Shard

An architect abroad: a Greek postgrad’s experiences in the UK

Betty is a Greek student currently studying architecture in the UK. She loves the experimental culture and freedom of her study and here she shares her experience and advice…

As an architecture graduate fresh out of a training school in Greece, I should have felt alive with ambition and the excitement of a budding career. Instead, I felt stifled. My training in Athens was conservative and technical, and I was left disoriented and disillusioned about my future in architecture. Coming to study in Britain saved me. It has been a life-changing experience and I now feel renewed and enriched, ready to embark on the rest of my career.

Stimulating and innovative

Britain’s reputation for innovation and forward thinking attitudes always appealed to me, and the course I chose at the University of East London exceeded all my expectations. I discovered an intellectually stimulating theoretical approach, but also a very rich and experimental design culture. Although I originally came to London to study a one-year Master’s in History and Theory of Architecture, I’m now staying longer to complete my doctoral research.

What I appreciate most about studying in the UK is the freedom to explore my research interests and develop my own ideas. Here tutors follow and supervise your project all year, and are always readily available to help with any subject.

Sharing ideas and experiences

At postgraduate level, there is usually a small group of students, so you can also get peer feedback at a professional level. British universities are friendly and multicultural, so you always have someone to share any difficulties with. This made it easier to cope with my initial frustrations with language, cultural differences and the high cost of living.

Organisations within universities, such as international student societies and sports clubs, enable you to share ideas and experiences with a diverse crowd of people, as do organised events such as film and theatre nights, discussion groups, excursions and trips. Most cities in the UK also offer an exciting environment to explore outside of university.

British universities are friendly and multicultural, so you always have someone to share any difficulties with

Getting ahead

The professional experience I have gained has also been invaluable. UK universities have a ‘just-do-it’ approach and maintain strong links with industry, enabling postgraduate students to meet other professionals, explore career opportunities and work on real projects. After finishing my master’s course, I had the opportunity to work in architectural practices in the UK and Greece, taking on various responsibilities and gaining extensive experience. For the last two years, I have been teaching my own architectural history and theory seminar, which has provided me with a great opportunity to pass my experience on to other students.

Finding funding

For those who are interested solely in academia, there is a variety of funding opportunities that will help you carry on with your studies in the UK. A number of institutions (such as ESPCR) and many universities offer research studentships each year.

Most importantly, there is a really challenging and motivating academic environment in Britain, which allows for exchange, experimentation and expansion. I have two publications coming out from my research work so far, and numerous papers that I have presented in international conferences. I have further expanded my interests and creative activities by pursuing successfully filmmaking, entering and being short-listed in competitions.

Living in such a rich, international environment in terms of people and culture has been especially inspiring for me

How to choose?

My advice to students considering a postgraduate course in Britain would be first of all to apply for a course that addresses their interests rather than for reasons of employability. There are so many universities to choose from and you need to look carefully to find the one that best suits your personality and aspirations. I would also say make sure you sort out your finances before coming to study in the UK.

Keep your credit card balance down, find out what sort of fees your bank will charge you for using your card abroad, and budget for your transport costs. It is always useful to save your receipts, as you may find that you are eligible for a refund on any taxes you have paid.

I warn that students should be prepared to deal with a different lifestyle and some cultural barriers, particularly if they plan to live outside London. However, the diversity of experiences and the exciting career opportunities will make it up for them.

Living in such a rich, international environment in terms of people and culture has been especially inspiring for me. Do not also forget that the UK is always a good base for visiting the rest of Europe. I would definitely recommend postgraduate studies in Britain. It will be a life-changing experience. Take it from me; I came here for a year and have stayed ever since.

Image credit: William Perugini