Why Distance?

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By Hamish Dick, A Kiwi in Edinburgh, Scotland

“So you’re student, eh?”
“What do you study?”
“I’m in my third year of full-time study towards a BA majoring in both English and Politics. Not a natural combination, but one which I enjoy!”
“Neat [insert comment about Trump]. So where do you study? Edinburgh Uni?”
“I’m a student at Massey University.”
“Huh? Where’s that?”
“New Zealand. I’m from New Zealand [if the accent wasn’t a dead giveaway].”
“I’m confused [insert puzzled expression]. So you’re taking a year or two off study while living in Edinburgh?”
“No, thankfully. My uni allows me to study a normal course, but via a distance programme while I’m living abroad. This way, I get the experience of an OE without sacrificing my studies. It’s tough, but well worth it!”
[Puzzled expression remains]

“Let me explain…”

This conversation is all too familiar to myself, and to most distance students. Every single time, when asked what I “do”, the above confusion ensues. I am so sick of it. Perhaps putting my explanation into words will somehow prevent the next roundabout conversation — I hope that I have. One day when, upon being asked the above, I wish to simply refer the interrogator to this blog post: “That’ll explain it all.” Is this a false hope? Perhaps, but I feel like such a cracked record, anything, no matter how radical, is worth a shot.

So, why distance?

As a Kiwi who lives in Edinburgh, I see two options: The first is to study at a UK-based institution, paying exorbitant international student fees (I regret to say that I do not have a money tree growing at home); the second is to study through Massey. I gave no consideration to a “third” alternative of living in New Zealand whilst studying, such was my Kiwi desire to travel and move abroad. Being an ambitious, academic individual, nor did I ever see ‘taking time off from study’ as the right option for me. I had, and still have, a very strong desire to make progress academically, and not to forsake this ambition for a few years’ adventure. With the opportunity provided by Massey, I haven’t had to.

I admit freely, that this mode of learning is not for every one. It comes with many, many challenges. The first is the financial challenge: Living abroad means (for me) living away from home. Uh oh, no free rent… With the right motivation to work, this challenge is in no way insurmountable, however it leads to the second: The time shortage.

Working full-time to pay the rent, the bills, and the costs associated with distance study (not to forget to fund the travel, also), means that studying according to a “full-time” schedule (40 hours per week) can leave little time for recreation and socialisation — but only sometimes. My friends and colleagues will be the first to admit that I become hard to reach during exam and assignment periods. But isn’t this normal? During regular weeks of the semester, it is possible to manage my time in such a way that allows for the opportunity to help lead a pipe band, socialise (Edinburgh has the best pubs and bars in the world, plus it doesn’t help when you live directly above one….), and travel. I will admit to anyone considering the possibility of distance study that this is never always easy, but it is possible.

What it comes down to, I say, is this: I have not made academic or notable financial sacrifices to study while living in Edinburgh. Instead, what I have gained is a world of experience. This experience has furthered my independence and allowed me to gain valuable work experience and skills associated with living overseas.

So, what am I banking on? I’m banking on the fact, that at some point in time, when applying for a position or job, the recruiter or potential employer will look at two candidates: One has a run-of-the-mill degree and limited work experience. The other, he has a degree which not only proves himself academically capable, but adventurous, ambitious, aspiring, and enterprising as an individual. I know perfectly well which candidate I would employ.

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