This time around last year I had the privilege to be chosen out of all 100+ Westminster scholars to speak at the GOATS alumni reunion. This was also where I would speak for those who reviewed the 2000+ applicants from all over the world for a place in the most diverse city in the world-London! When Peter Anwyl, the CEO of the International Student House, a great believer in traveling and seeing the world and a love for old cars asked me to speak I was excited. I also knew that most of the people who will be present included those of influence,position and a giving heart. There were previous students who, like me received a scholarship after the establishment of International Student's House ISH right up to the present. This was also a group of people who directly contributed generously to the ISH scholarship fund to enable students like me from unknown places to study in London.
As I stood there in a ballroom full of people, dressed for an audience with the queen I thought of my Samoa. I thought of my grandfather who fasted and prayed so that I can get this scholarship, my father who smiled when I told him I was chosen and my mother who dislikes long flights to be at a great place. I thought of my sister, Joanne who sacrifices much of her life to help my parents so that her other siblings can do well in university. I thought of my 5 siblings who were still at university and making a way for themselves. I thought of how my speech will be received and then I squeezed my nerves, said a small prayer in my head and watched as the room slowly silenced. I present my unaltered speech .
Good evening everyone. When I was asked to speak tonight, I thought perhaps it's because I have probably traveled the furthest out of all the scholars or maybe because I come from a tropical island in the South Pacific and London needed some sunshine!
Well, before I came to London all I heard about was the depressing weather, the Queen, brilliant shopping and tea sessions. Since coming to UK, I have been here-every week has had some sun, rain and wind. It has been a great experience.
I come from Samoa (formerly known as Western Samoa) the first independent island of the South Pacific. It is mostly known for its smallness (dot on the map) and our big rugby players. To go there from the UK, I have to take 3 flights and about a total of 29-32 hours excluding transit times. It costs around $1,200 to $2,000 pounds!! (there was a gasp from the audience) I came to the UK last September on a “FULL International Students Scholarship” for small islands to study the Masters of Science in Air Transport Planning and Management at the University of Westminster.
Before that I studied in New Zealand flying planes hoping to be a commercial pilot and graduated with an “aviation management degree”. Aviation is still very much a male dominated industry and I figured ‘Why would I want to be another driver when I can be the boss of the drivers”!(Numerous people laughed at this one) As far as I know, I am the only person from my country with this degree. After completing that in 2008, I was offered a job to stay on in New Zealand but I refused because I really wanted to work for my people and to really learn about aviation. Sure the salaries are low but the reward is great!
At the time I didn’t even know if we had an aviation department apart from the airport and airlines. I worked at the International Airport as their first Research & Training Officer providing training advice and research for over 200 employees. Then I shifted to the Civil Aviation Authority working as the Aviation licensing and Certification officer. I worked there for about 3 months when I won a full scholarship for postgrad studies at the Singapore Aviation Academy, considered one of the top aviation schools in Asia. A program which usually takes one year but with hard work, faith and perseverance I completed it within 3 months, receiving the Distinction award. When I returned home, I was instantly promoted to become the youngest head of the licensing Unit overlooking all certification and licenses in aviation operations.
Most of you might wonder that Samoa probably has 2 flights a month and therefore doesn’t have much going on. We should be basking in the sunshine, on the beach in our grass skirts and leave development to the bigger countries. This is a popular perception but as a small island with a population of only 180,000 people receiving more than 100,000 visitors a year that is quite an achievement considering our remoteness and our economic status. Tourism is one of our leading industries but it cannot grow in the absence of air services. This is why I am here, to learn more about aviation and how to develop it. Although our operations are nothing compared to the numbers in UK, we are a member to the International Civil Aviation Organisation and therefore have exactly the same governing regulations and compliances as the rest of the world. Our resources are few, our people are not qualified, the education systems are flawed but that is why we seek greater opportunities like these scholarships because without them I would not be here. The UK qualifications are regarded as having the highest standards in the Pacific, before NZ and Australian as well as US degrees. I can count on one hand the number of people I know from my country who have studied in the UK.
I am thankful that I was not overlooked because of where I am from but rather it is the smallness of my island that has allowed me to be selected. Even within Samoa there is corruption, a lot of politics and I am so grateful that the selection process is solely in the hands of UK University boards and communities such as you: International Students house. I can guarantee, if it was left up to my government, the people who really deserve these scholarships will be overlooked and they will go to people with political connections or those affiliated in similar groups. So Thank you.
This scholarship has been a stepping-stone to greater things as I aim to be instrumental in the development of the aviation industry in Samoa. We are allowed to dream, to overcome great challenges in life and ultimately to help each other . I hope there will be more scholarships for more people to study in the UK especially for very specialized studies like mine. Together, we may be ordinary individuals but cooperation between ordinary people can achieve extraordinary feats. As you go home this evening and wonder about the nice night we’ve had, please remember those like me..who will never be able to further our accomplishments without your support. As I end my studies next month, I leave knowing that UK does have something great to offer, apart from cultures and sights, the people who I have connected to here make the experience memorable. So thank you.
When I said the last words, a large applause went around the room. I did not expect that at all. I expected a few nods and perhaps one of the Lords/Earls nodding off. Afterwards they commended me on my speech and some of the alumni family came up and said they were inspired to donate more to the scholarship funds. There were moments in that speech where I was emotional and my voice fluctuated but my hands were steady. As I re-read this speech, I am happy to say that I set out what I promised to do. I promised to study hard and came home with honours, to enjoy London with several trips to Belgium and Paris. I also vowed to make friends and to return home upon completion of the scholarship and above all to be instrumental in the aviation industry. I am currently the Oceania/Pacific GOATS ambassador and will be happy to provide information about how to study in London.