Interview #2: Why I decided not to apply for Graduate visa
Join us as we delve into Monica's journey, exploring how she juggled job search and visa options at the same time, and how she landed on her final decision to leave the UK.
Monica Leung is an American of Hong Kongese descent from San Francisco. She came to the U.K. as a student of the M.A. Migration and Diaspora Studies course at SOAS.
Student life in London
How did you decide to study in the U.K. instead of the U.S. or another country?
Well, university tuition fees in the U.K. are a lot more affordable than those in the U.S. by a fraction. For my one-year master's course at SOAS, I paid less than half of a single year of tuition at a university in the States.
In terms of another country, I've never considered going anywhere other than London. After a family trip to London in 2016, my gut feeling told me I would like to live here. Since then, my motivation has been to move to London and stay in the U.K. after my studies.
Any reason why you chose to study in SOAS?
I didn't really enjoy my undergrad in the States, and I wanted to do something that was more inclined towards my interests later in life. My decision to choose SOAS was based on my interest towards migration, the range of language courses they offered, and their Food Studies Centre, as I'm interested in food studies. Aside from that, I've been considering a PhD for a while, so a master's degree would help, especially in my focus areas.
How did you find the student life here, and what was your plan after finishing the study?
I loved my student life! It was very social; I made amazing groups of friends and really enjoyed my studies. On top of that, I had the opportunity to explore new interests that my university could offer, like food studies and different language courses. I was able to learn Hindi and also tried to learn Amharic. These languages are not so easy to find, but they exist at SOAS.
Studying in London as the first step in moving here was important because once you start working, making friends can be difficult, but it is very easy to do so in an academic setting. At the same time, I knew that my SOAS life wouldn't carry on once I finished the course; one year was enough for me.
After finishing the course, I pictured myself working and pursuing other interests that London offers. For example, I wanted to learn Farsi after work or during the weekend or to volunteer at charities that touched on my interests, like Migrateful, which offers cooking classes taught by migrant and refugee chefs...There were a lot of things I wanted to do. I didn't expect how difficult it was to find a job. I gave myself six months to find one; it carried on for over eight months.
It sounds like the job search was hell! Could you tell me a bit about your experience applying for jobs as an international student?
I started searching in July while writing my dissertation, in hopes that something would line up right after my course finishes in September. It started small and specific, then I ended up applying for everything in any industry, I even tried to apply for admin assistant jobs, but it didn't work out. The search was going quite well in the beginning until I wasn't really hearing anything. I would get some interviews, and then they would lose interest in me. The entire process was just challenging and very dejecting. By November, I began thinking about leaving the U.K. to return home, especially after nobody replied for weeks.
How would you explain London's current job search landscape for international students about to enter the battlefield?
Everybody comes to London to find jobs because there are fewer jobs elsewhere. Even people from the North would come down to London, but that doesn't necessarily mean they enjoy the city. Maybe it's because there aren't many jobs where they are from or other places they would like to be. For that reason, the competition is a lot bigger. It necessarily doesn't help anybody, so to speak, in terms of people that want to stay and people that have no choice but to stay in London because the highest concentration of available jobs across various sectors is right here. I suppose that was probably why that experience was more difficult than expected.
I can see how that must have taken a psychological toll as well… It affects your mental state and your life in general.
Yeah… (nodded in agreement)
What were your reasons for going back to the U.S.? Did you set yourself a deadline for finding a job?
Whether or not I found a full-time job became my deciding factor because my savings were running out. By the time my student visa was reaching its deadline, I had enough money saved for the visa, but once I had paid that, I wouldn't even have money for the next month, so that's why I decided to stop applying. My deadline was the 30th of January, and honestly, I was still interviewing for two jobs until the very last day of my visa. I reached the final stages for both, but neither of them chose me. I heard back from the last one on the 27th of January, and my visa expired on the 30th, so that was really last minute.
Have you thought about applying for Graduate visa to extend your luck?
I did, but in the end, I decided not to apply for Graduate visa unless I found a full-time job before my student visa expired (primarily due to financial reasons, as stated above). It made more sense to come back to the country where I'm from because London is expensive, and I did not see the point in paying £2,000 to stay if I could not support myself. It was a difficult decision; it felt like I was giving up my life, my friends and everything else I had wanted for a long time.
Is there anything you would have done differently after you graduated?
I'm not sure; maybe get a recruiter. Perhaps something to do with machine learning, although that isn't really my interest.
Maybe starting to look for jobs earlier. I'm not sure. Overall, I don't regret anything; I really enjoyed living in London and did the best with what I had.
So what's your next step, work or PhD?
I'll probably stay in the States to find a job out of practicality. If not, I might pursue a PhD within the next year or two because they are automatically fully funded in the U.S., whereas, for example, in the U.K. and many other countries, you have to look for outside funding or fund it yourself. Having said that, I don't think I would even apply for funding because, as an international student since it's very difficult to do so.
Would you move back to London again?
I would love to return to London if I could do so again, but it probably won't be in the next year or two. Even if I were to go back in the future, many of my friends might not be there anymore. Not to say this would be a dealbreaker, I'm just scared to find myself pining for the life I had before. Maybe I wouldn't be as happy if I no longer found that same life there, but this is to speak hypothetically. Who can say if I will still want to return to London in two years or so?
What do you miss about the U.K.?
Right now, I just really miss my life here. I had an amazing group of friends, and I often went to parks when the weather permitted. There are so many different communities there, and I felt very comfortable in that. For example, there are so many Turkish communities and South Asian communities… that were really lacking in the part of the U.S. where I grew up. It was something that I really wanted in my life, to be around these diverse communities. I really enjoyed eating out in restaurants and trying out sweets and everything. I miss the BFI where you can get film tickets for £3 if you're under 25...
For something I don't miss as much - TfL!
(this interview was conducted in late February 2023)