Interview – Taapsi Kohli, Associate Research Analyst
Tell us more about your background & schooling.
I did my high school at Pathways School Noida which followed the International Baccalaureate system and as for my bachelor’s degree, I have recently graduated from the University of Nottingham, the United Kingdom in Politics, International Relations, and Quantitative Methods.
- Tell us what motivated you to study abroad and what preparation you did for the same?
There were two aspects informing my decision of going abroad to study. One of them was the limitations in India in terms of recognition for IB (International Baccalaureate) by universities, especially DU (Delhi University). Secondly, the course I wanted to pursue was a mix of politics and international relations, something that I could not find in India.
The kind of preparations I did involve researching extensively about the universities and courses. There were some universities that were better ranked than Nottingham but that should not be the only aspect influencing your university choice. The kind of opportunities the universities provide, employment opportunities, extracurricular activities are also as crucial as the rankings.
- How was your experience studying abroad, how challenging it was to settle there?
My experience of studying in Nottingham was wonderful. I had experiences that I had never thought of, especially in regards to employment opportunities, my education, the relations I built with my professors and students, and a lot more.
There were various challenges I faced during my university journey. Leaving home for the first time, the drastically different weather conditions, doing everything by myself while focusing on academics, getting good grades, and participating in several extracurricular activities. Moreover, I was competing in every aspect with everyone around me. It’s not high school anymore, it’s the real world where you are competing for a well-paid job, leadership positions, and internships.
- Tell us about your typical days there like weather, studies, your accommodation, food and other day to day activities.
My typical day would be similar to any other student. The weather condition in Nottingham was rather cold, it would rain often but the snow in the winters was beautiful and the spring was just wonderful. The fresh breeze and sunny days were really nice during springtime.
In regard to my studies, as mentioned before, I did Politics, International Relations, and Quantitative Methods. I would have about 6-7 seminars or lectures per week. In addition to that, I would have to do my own research, write academic papers, give presentations, etc. Moreover, I had a part-time job at the university and I was volunteering to prepare and distribute food to the homeless population in the city center as well.
I lived in student accommodation with 3 other students, where we shared the kitchen and the living room but had our own en-suite rooms. I usually ate Indian food, which either my friend or I would cook and sometimes we just ordered takeaways from Uber eats or Deliveroo (of course not during COVID).
- Share a few incidents or experiences or learnings which you will keep through-out your life during your stay abroad.
One thing that I learned was to not limit myself. When I left India there were these stereotypes that I had essentially fed myself. These included the kind of jobs that would be available to me as a student and as an Indian. But all my presumptions were challenged when I went there as people were friendly, I got a very nice job and it all turned out to be a good experience.
One thing that I would never forget even when I go abroad again for my education is to not limit myself, not create boundaries and walls for myself, and moreover try over and over to get better opportunities.
- Would you advise Indian students to study abroad? Tell us the reasons for your answers as well.
I would definitely advise Indian students to go abroad for education. If not a complete degree maybe a summer program or a student exchange program, simply because you are going to enjoy immersing yourself in a completely different culture or perhaps will learn to appreciate your own culture even more. You are going to appreciate your efforts and get the opportunities that you thought you may never get. It’s just a completely different experience. Either it is going to allow you to appreciate global diversity and different work cultures or it’s going to heighten your appreciation for your own country or both!
- What were your key achievements there in Nottingham as a student?
I would like to highlight three achievements. First, being recognized and awarded for my work as a volunteer and then as a leader of the Nottingham Souprunners, a student-led society that serves meals to the homeless population in the Nottingham city center. The second, was to get interviewed by the BBC to outline my experience as a student living through the pandemic. Third, was my job as a Student Engagement Associate, a great opportunity to work for my university and give back to the institute and student community.
- What was the key skill that you acquired while landing the jobs/internships abroad? How difficult was it to get those jobs?
I either polished, developed, or acquired a few essential skills through my journey as a part-time employee or an intern. I had the opportunity to develop project management skills and polish my communication and leadership skills. I had the freedom to explore new tasks and develop skills like public speaking.
I would not say that it is very easy to get part-time jobs. What is essential is that your network and build connections. These connections will help you understand what kind of opportunities there are and what are you best suited for. I would also recommend polishing your CV and interview skills, as they will come in handy when you apply for internships and part-time/full-time jobs. It is not necessary for Indian or foreign students to work in retail jobs. While such jobs are great and may reflect your passion, please know there are more diverse opportunities that we should all recognize.
- What inspires you in life and keeps you going?
My family has always been my source of inspiration. My dream of providing a comfortable future for my family is what inspires me and keeps me going every day.
- What is your idea of success or your mantra in life?
Everyone’s idea of success is very different. My idea of success is reaching a point where my parents and my brother have everything they want, emotionally and monetarily.
Secondly, it’s very important that I give back to society as the hard work of a lot of people has helped me become who I am today and if I can’t give back to my own country, I won’t be successful in my own eyes.
- What’s your message to encourage students to do internships and live projects?
Internships, live projects, part-time jobs, and online courses are all things that will help you build a set of skills that will be very useful in the future. Internships and part-time jobs will give you an opportunity to engage with people in that particular field, build connections, and help you understand the mechanics of various work cultures. You might end up in love with a new career path or the journey may help you decide against a career path early on.
I would highly recommend getting different work experiences as it allows you to experience and appreciate different jobs and roles. Just give it a shot and see what happens.
- What key skills do you think are most important for any student anywhere and how they should learn them?
Communication, verbal and written, is one of the key skills that we all should develop. Communication is not just limited to the language you speak but also includes how to talk to others, use of body language, your mannerism and all of these can affect your ability to network.
You can have a pen pal, join groups or society or just converse with people from different cultures to develop your communication skills. As an Indian, I wanted to have Indian friends with whom I could share cultural activities and celebrate our values, but I also hoped to have friends from different backgrounds to understand their cultures and celebrate their festivals as well.
- What are the top 3 tips or advice you would give to any other student to reach their dreams?
The first would be to challenge the norms and stereotypes enforced by society and see what actually works for you before you say ‘no’.
The second, would be to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. The quantitative analysis course I did alongside Politics and International Relations was definitely a challenge for me since I was really bad at maths and ran away from computers all my life but it turned out to be something that I am considering as a career option now.
Third, don’t be hesitant to build relations with not only students but with professors as well since they have a lot of knowledge to share. So go ahead, build those relations, appreciate their knowledge and experiences as well as the effort they put into teaching.
- Your favorite quote? Favorite book and movie?
My favorite quote is ‘slowly but surely’ since I believe that things take time to happen and if you keep working towards your goals, you will get there. Just make sure when you reach the height of your success, look back, thank everyone who helped you and make sure you pass a helping hand to others to let them reach their goals.