Today I am sitting in the waiting hall of Hamad International Airport, Doha, Qatar, awaiting my next flight to Paris. Right now, I am thinking about many things; Days I doubted the possibility of achieving this dream and many other days of anxiety and silent prayers. If we want to talk about answered prayers, we would certainly discuss the prevalence of measurable efforts. Yes, I am an Erasmus+ scholar! There is always a story to tell. This time, it is the story of success. It is that of reward for hard work and resilience. It is the tale of my successful application to the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees (EMJMD) scholarship.
Listening to what people are saying is not entirely a bad habit. You may be surprised at valuable information your ears will pick from what they are discussing. In 2017, I overheard my friend discussing with another friend how the female best graduating student of my faculty, Faculty of Arts, in Ọbáfẹ́mi Awólọ́w University, Ifẹ̀, (OAU), won a scholarship and left Nigeria to pursue a master degree immediately after writing her final examination. I knew I had limited chances of emerging as the best graduating student of my department, let alone appearing the faculty best. But I knew I also wanted a scholarship, and nothing would discourage me from pursuing this dream.
In 2018, I found out the name of the scholarship. It sounded weird. But the opportunities were enormous— A fully-funded scholarship for Joint or multiple master degrees. I could study in more than two world-class universities within two years and get more than a master’s degree. It was interesting and quite confusing at the same time. I didn’t understand the idea of studying for a single program in different countries. But later, I discovered that the Erasmus Mundus scholarship is interested in impacting its awardees with quality exposure to understand the global world better while studying to achieve their career goals. Having understood this, consulting the catalogue that contains over 140 master programmes on the EMJMD portal was the following action I took.
TAKING THE ACTION NECESSARY
It was a bit confusing at first. But I later discovered that I needed to look for programmes in line with my undergraduate degree and then click on the acronym to access the application portal of the programmes. The programmes that captured my interest were Crossways in Cultural Narratives (CWCN) and European Interdisciplinary Master in African Studies (EIMAS). These two programmes aligned with my research interest in literature and cultural studies. I went through the application portals of these programmes to check their requirements. They had similar conditions. I needed my degree certificate, transcript, proof of place of residence, references, proof of language proficiency, curriculum vitae (Europass format), and motivation letter.
Out of all the required documents for the application, I had a lot of work to do in drafting my CV and motivation letter. I approached everything from the perspective of the selection committee members. “What do they expect me to write?” I asked in soliloquy. I wanted to submit applications that are competitive enough. After so much review and editing, I submitted the applications. A few months later, I received the selection results. I was placed on the reserved list for CWCN with the hope of being upgraded to the main list. That hope eventually shattered when I didn’t receive any news announcing that I have been upgraded to the main list of awardees. For EIMAS, it was very predictable. I later discovered that my motivation letter was very mediocre. Hence, I didn’t expect so much from the selection committee.
This was 2020. Vision 2020 was no longer going to materialize.
So, what next?
I remembered one of the favourite Yorùbá proverbs I heard while growing up. My dad and mum would often say that the first attempt is not enough if you fail. Hence, when you fall at your first attempt to climb a horse, you get up on your feet to reattempt (Tí ẹṣin bá gbe’ni ṣubú àá tun gùn ni). That is how to build resilience and prove yourself worthy of the honour that comes with being the rider of a horse and courting the attention of even your worst detractors.
I wanted to win a scholarship. I had many options. But Erasmus+ scholarship was my favourite option. So, I was going to sit down, think about what was not enough when I first applied, and reapply to secure a place on the list of the 2021 cohort of awardees. I went back to the catalogue. New programs have been added, while some have been removed. One of them was CWCN. It pained me. I loved that program just the same way EIMAS won my heart. I didn’t want to put all my eggs in a basket. Therefore, I checked other programs that align with my background in foreign languages and literature. Right there, I came across Culture Littéraire Européenne (CLE). In English, it means European Literary Culture. It also has a focus on different national works of literature as well as comparative studies.
TIME TO TRY AGAIN
This time around, I wanted to be more strategic. I started preparing to submit my application very early. This afforded me enough time to edit my first draft as many times as I could. Previous scholars, current scholars, friends, and lecturers helped me review my CV and motivation letters. I requested references from my professors. They were very supportive. I did all I needed to do to a satisfactory level. I wanted to be proud of my effort even if I got an outcome similar to the previous applications. I did this with fear and anxiety. Fear of the unknown and the anxiety of how my applications would be graded griped me.
Some nights, I slept with an active mind and half-closed eyes. I hoped for the best and still prepared my mind to deal with the worst possible result. This is why I found it a bit easier to read the mail containing the selection result for master in European Literary Culture. I imagined how I would feel if it turned out to be what I didn’t want. This didn’t stop me from opening the mail. The introduction didn’t start with a “congratulation”. Instead, it began with a long sentence;
“In the framework of the ERASMUS + ERASMUS MUNDUS JOINT MASTER DEGREES student scholarships selection for the academic years 2021-2023, we are pleased to inform you that the CLE Selection Board adopted its official selection decision.”
I was already developing a feeling of disappointment. If the selection results turned out to be what I didn’t want, I consoled myself with the hope of getting a favourable outcome from the EIMAS selection committee. So, I read the second paragraph. This made a whole lot of difference. It read;
“We formally notify that you have been selected under the Partner country students Main List to participate in the CLE Erasmus Mundus Master Course with an Erasmus Mundus Scholarship.”
THE GOOD NEWS CHANGED EVERYTHING
“Wow!” was the expression. It was unbelievable. I had prayed for it. Staring at the mail, it looked unbelievable. I wanted to be certain that it was rightly addressed. But with time, I understood that I had gotten a lifetime opportunity to be part of the 2021 Erasmus+ awardees. EIMAS’s selection result didn’t augur any hope. I was placed on the reserved list and encouraged to consider the option of self-funding. Their result didn’t have any effect on me. For me, it was not just winning the scholarship. It was being rated as one of the top 10 best among many bests around the world. It meant that dreams don’t just stop in mind. They transcend the border of imagination to register their presence in reality. Dreams are livable. They don’t come into existence by wishes. Rather, their fruition is a product of hard work with a lustre of anxiety and a sprinkle of resilience to keep pushing. Dreams come to reality because hard work pays.
Today, I am sitting at the section of Qatari airport labelled Bottega Veneta. It is a section where bags are being sold. I have not approached the seller to inquire about the price. I don’t even intend to do that. But I have bought a small plastic bottle of Fanta for a price I still don’t understand. But I know it is more than $8. If this were Nigeria, I would have requested that I get the bottle with a Dorime Song in the background. My flight will be in 4 hours. I will be heading to France for my first and second semesters, after which I will move to Senegal for my third semester and then spend my last semester at the world’s oldest university located in Italy. At the end of the programme, I would be bagging three master degrees. While I await my departure time for France, I am inclined to think about what made my dream come through.
How I was able to achieve the goal of securing a fully-funded scholarship
You need to understand that being intentional will earn you a lot of things. Being awarded an EU-sponsored scholarship was nearly impossible. But now, I am used to the news already, and time has killed the euphoria that came with the word about the scholarship award. I am now concerned about my studies in Europe and my post-study plan. So, below are what I believe will help you secure a scholarship.
Important Tips to Win Scholarships Abroad
Know the information you need
If you know what you want, you will spend less time thinking about what you can do. The knowledge of what you want will guide your steps. Go through the catalogue of available programs. Choose a maximum of three programs that align with your career goal. Understand what the programmes entail, know the requirements, and find out about individuals who have been awarded Erasmus+ scholarship for the programmes. They may be of help during your application. You can follow this Erasmus Mundus Nigeria on Facebook. You will find tons of valuable information on that page.
Master networking skills
It is challenging to win a scholarship by doing everything on your own. It is crucial to identify people who can motivate you during your application process. They may be friends who share the same interests with you, lecturers, mentors, or people you get in touch with online. At this age, you may not find anybody around you that is interested in what you want. If you see anyone, the person may not have enough information and experience to put you through. But with social media, you can get in touch with people and seek their help.
To do this effectively, you need to master the use of words. Avoid the use of “endearing” to address people you don’t know in person. Learn how to be polite and grab people’s attention. Learn how to make a request. You need to understand that how you write paints an impression of you online. So, you can’t say knowing the difference between “I am” and “am” or “being” and “been” is less critical. You want to apply for a scholarship. You should be able to write well. In my case, I got in touch with a Ukrainian who helped me proofread my letter of motivation. I had seen her name on the application portal for European Literary Culture. She was an alumnus.
The first thing I did was to type her name on Google and other social media platforms. I located her on LinkedIn. I structured a message with a very formal tone, telling her about how I got to know about her, my interests, and how I feel she is the best person to guide me. Additionally, I formally begged her to give me an audience. She responded and promised to help. The next thing I did was to write another short epistle requesting a Zoom session. I didn’t ask for her phone number because of the destructive social image of Nigerians already linked to cybercrime. From this point, I asked her to review my essay. She gladly accepted. Do you know what difference her review made out of other reviews I got? She gave me a piece of insider information. She read my research interest and advised me to go to a particular university. She gave me the name of a professor in the university whose research centres around black literature. She also suggested that I include my work experience and many other things I considered less important. This is what social media networking skills earned me.
Be friendly with your lecturers.
Sometimes, I feel like Nigerian lecturers are unnecessarily demonized. One of my lecturers just messaged me that I should make them proud. Don’t fight your lecturers. If you have fought those, who may offer to write reference letters for you to apply for the scholarship, find a subtle way for reconciliation without them knowing what you have in plan. You need them. The selection committee wants to know who you are beyond the credentials and motivation letter you have submitted. It would be best to let them know and understand that you have a good relationship with your lecturers and you are someone they can vouch for. Be emotionally intelligent to relate well with your lecturers without unnecessary emotional drama.
You may not think that your application is very competitive. But look at it from this perspective: if you don’t apply, you can’t win a scholarship. If you apply, you may win it. So, you are going to apply because then you have a chance of winning the award. Don’t submit to anxiety. If you are anxious, talk to someone that understands the feeling of looking forward to something and still doubting whether one will ever earn it.
Required Documents for scholarship applications
While requirements may be programme-specific, some of the documents required for the Erasmus+ scholarship application are:
- Undergraduate Degree
- Transcript of Records
- Curriculum Vitae (Europass format)
- Letter of Motivation
- Reference Letters
- Academic Publications
- Language Certificates
- Proof of Place of Residence
I would recommend that you check the requirement of your prospects for proper guidance. If you intend to apply for the Erasmus Mundus scholarship, there is an A-Z Guide on how to make yourself competitive here.
I hope my story inspires you. I will be glad to see you achieve your dreams and become the next scholar. Let me know what you think in the comment section.
- Isreal Winlade is a content creator and creative writer with awards and recognition. A graduate of French and winner of Erasmus+ scholarship. He is currently an M.A student in European Literary Culture at the University of Strasbourg, France. Outside class, he is committed to freelance writing, translation from French to English and vice versa, nature photography, debating, and pressing his phone.