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Column: Jumping off cliffs

Column: Jumping off cliffs

When our columnist MZ Akil got an invitation to do a postgraduate studies at the University of Hull, she took the opportunity to break personal barriers and finally pursue a lifelong dream.

I came to the UK on a spouse visa, with two suitcases, diploma, transcript of records, and writing samples. As an immigrant from a developing country, I was conscious of proving myself, and hopefully breaking barriers. I wanted to be more than the designated category in my immigration papers. However, I was taught by one rude awakening after another, that reinventing myself was not a walk in the park.

It wasn’t required, but I nonetheless took an IELTS exam for proof of proficiency in the English language. My overall band score was 8, with 9 being the highest in the scale. Eyeing a UK educational qualification, I requested a statement of comparability from UK ENIC (formerly National Academic Recognition Information Centre or NARIC). My degree from the Philippines was comparable to a Certificate of Higher Education. Essentially, it was recognized in the UK as only equivalent to the first year of university study.

We’ve heard it before: it’s just a piece of paper. But the weight it placed on the notion of being undervalued dragged on for years.

Just when I was prepared to use the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) en route to a qualification, a course advisor reached out to me via LinkedIn advocating that I may be eligible for postgraduate studies. It turns out that my life, work, and writing experiences have more gravitas than my baccalaureate degree. This month, I start pursuing Master of Arts in Creative Writing. 

I would like to share with you my personal statement which was part of the application process:

A few years back, a friend has responded to her calling as an astrologer and has since been negotiating her way through a long list of readings. My astrological chart had revelations occasionally darker than my shades of grey and more colourful than my curated social media persona. The one thing prominent in my life path is that I am a storyteller.

I cannot recall the first time I fell in love with words and its creative forms, but the love for reading and writing has been a consistent theme in my life that when I had to abandon print publishing as circumstances forced me to, I would always weigh the pros and cons of a job based on how much time will be left to devote to what I am most passionate about.

15 years into settling in the UK, I have carved a career in the luxury fashion industry where my degree in communication management has been useful in the client relations side of the business. My writing has taken a place on the back burner while I tend to the practical matters of starting a new life in another country. But I would always find myself searching for opportunities to reveal myself through words.

I have started, ended, and revived a blog over the years, occasionally written for online publications, and finished two short writing courses at University of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education while on full-time employment. The course work and interaction with fellow writers honed my editing and literary assessment skills. Being in the presence of kindred minds—albeit online—boosted my creative inclinations further. Just a few days ago, my first column piece for an EU-based online and print magazine dedicated to challenging the stereotypes of Filipino immigrants was published.

I have not been professionally mentored in writing, therefore when I was messaged via LinkedIn by the University of Hull to put forward my interest in MA in Creative Writing (online), I took it as an invitation to prepare myself for an opportunity. The University of Hull’s programme is one of the most competitive and flexible amongst universities offering the same category. It is inspiring to be approached and considered as a possible suitable candidate.

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As an immigrant, I would like to share how I, a Filipino-British, have navigated and found my place in this country which I now call home. In secondary school, I read and studied via Philippine Literature in English the works of Filipino-American writers who tackled the intricacies of being what the US then dubbed as ‘little brown brothers’ who were struggling to integrate into the fabric of American society. Online, there’s no dearth of contemporary Filipino American authors as recommended readings. In the UK, I have encountered a Filipino-British author only once. I aspire to be another voice whose narrative will be about melding cultural heritage with my adopted national identity.

In the most recent short writing course that I took just before the lock down in March 2020, my tutor left our class with a thought from Kurt Vonnegut: writing is continually jumping off cliffs and developing wings on the way down. 

‘Happy winging’, he signed.

And with that, I am ready to start flapping mine.

This article was previously published in TFEM Autumn/Winter Issue 2021.
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