From St. Lucia to the UK: What’s Next? – by Bianca Gittens

My postgraduate experience began when I first arrived in the United Kingdom at London Gatwick in September 2019, travelling four hours by train from London to Pontypridd, Wales, to undertake a master’s degree in Wildlife and Conservation Management at the University of South Wales. My admiration for wildlife stemmed from my love for cats as I had several of them as pets throughout my childhood. Being born and raised in the Caribbean has also contributed to my love for nature and preserving the natural environment as I was constantly surrounded by fresh fruit trees, mountainous views and sun-soaked beaches. I first decided to develop my skills in wildlife conservation by completing an undergraduate degree in Animal Biology in Jamaica in which I had the opportunity to carry out a final year research project on the conservation of the endangered Jamaican iguana.

Coming to the UK to achieve my master’s degree was one of my goals due to its prestigious education system and to get a chance to immerse in a different culture and experience a different climate. This CIEEM-accredited degree program appealed to me due to its practical nature, giving students numerous opportunities to have hands-on experience in the field with survey techniques and UK wildlife identification rather than solely being theory-based. I even had the opportunity to undertake a European field expedition module in Slovakia to track various large carnivores in the Tatras mountains, alongside the Slovak Wildlife Society. This was actually the first time I saw and felt snow in real life! I was most interested in the optional work-based learning module where I got a chance to gain insight and some work experience in a consultancy environment (Arbtech Consulting Limited). Unfortunately, this was cut short just before the start of the ecology season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures. Luckily, our face-to-face classes ended just before the commencement of lockdown.

Although I was not able to take full advantage of what Wales has to offer due to COVID-19 striking, I found ways to develop myself personally and professionally. During lockdown, I did manage to achieve certification in project management from WildTeam UK, even though the course was virtual this year. Throughout the academic year, I have tried to seek ways to enhance my knowledge and network in order to grow within the environmental sector by joining membership organisations such as CIEEM. As a student member of CIEEM, I have been well informed about environmental policy updates, other UK biodiversity news as well as jobs and training opportunities in the field. I have also benefitted from CIEEM’s mentorship scheme where I have become more confident in job applications and networking through the advice, experience and guidance of my incredible mentor. I do intend to pursue professional accreditation from CIEEM as I progress in my career.

Outside of academia, I have made some wonderful memories and friendships with people of a variety of cultures, who have grown to become some of my closest friends. I will always remember my solo trips to Barcelona and Paris earlier this year, which I am extremely delighted about since I got a chance to accomplish these bucket list wishes before the current global chaos. I was particularly impressed with the ease of getting around and the efficient transport systems which existed in Europe, although I got a chance to rent a car and drive around Cardiff for a bit. I lived quite close to campus during term time, so I simply took a short walk to and from lectures on a morning. Although the cost of living is more costly in the UK than it is in St. Lucia, there is a wider variety of shopping and food outlets.

I have recently completed my MSc degree program at the University of South Wales, currently awaiting declaration of my degree. I have begun job hunting, which has unfortunately been difficult due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic negatively affecting the economy. It has also been challenging due to strict work visa requirements, as being an international student, I do have to seek employment only from organisations or institutions that have a license to sponsor visas. I do plan on pursuing a PhD in the near future but would prefer to obtain adequate work experience beforehand. In the meanwhile, I have decided to participate in the annual Uprising Leadership Programme to develop vital leadership and personal branding skills, media training for ethical business, build additional professional networks and even get the chance to develop a social/environmental action campaign. I also plan to travel and experience other parts of the UK when I can.

While 2020 has been an incredibly tough year for the world, not only because of COVID-19, but also because of an increase in police brutality and systematic racism which has especially had a mental impact on individuals like myself who identify as part of the BAME community, it is important that we stay motivated and committed to achieving our goals. The upcoming graduation or a role in that dream organisation should be our focus, and taking advantage of all opportunities is critical.

My name is Bianca Gittens, reminding you that great things never come from staying in your comfort zone.


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