A journey of diversity: From Romania to UCAS via the University of Worcester

Thursday 16 November 2023, International

by Teona Droc, Customer Experience Manager, UCAS

A journey of diversity: From Romania to UCAS via the University of Worcester

In 2011, I embarked on a life-changing adventure: I was going to leave Romania to become an international student in the United Kingdom.
Teona Droc, Customer Experience Manager, UCAS

I had dreamed of this since I was around six, when one of our family friends sent us a postcard from Oxford, the City of Dreaming Spires! My destination: the University of Worcester in the beautiful county of Worcestershire, to study marketing, advertising & PR. How fun it was trying to pronounce Worcester when I arrived at Heathrow! Little did I know that this journey would not only transform my life but also lead me to become an advocate for diversity, mobility and international education. In this blog post, I'll take you through my journey from an international student to an International Graduate Ambassador, and to my current role at UCAS. 

Arriving at the University of Worcester in 2011 filled me with excitement and nervousness at the same time. I extensively researched my choices, and Worcester seemed the right place for me. I liked the programme and teaching styles, and from speaking to other students already there, it sounded like Worcester was a vibrant and welcoming student city. The university's warm and inclusive environment quickly made me feel at home, and I soon started to make friends, including some lovely international teachers. It was a diverse community where students from around the globe gathered to pursue their dreams and academic aspirations. This diversity in nationalities and thoughts enriched my learning experience, broadened my horizons, and reshaped my worldview, teaching me the importance of cultural exchange and understanding. I'm lucky to still have some of my University of Worcester friends closely in my life!  

Fast forward to 2014, it was time to graduate, and I proudly donned my graduation cap and gown. My incredible journey as an international student had challenges, personal growth, and fantastic memories. Graduating was a moment of immense pride, not only for myself but also my family and my international student community, which had become a second family. I then realised I wanted to stay in the UK to continue forming these strong social and cultural connections and embrace the diverse British lifestyle and rich history. Moreover, as a food enthusiast, the UK's diverse and thriving food scene also appealed to me, and I was lucky to try some of my friends' international family dishes.

As life often works out in mysterious ways, after graduation, an exciting opportunity came up: the University of Worcester was recruiting for several Graduate Ambassadors who could talk authentically about making friends, settling in and campus life, answering questions of what university life is really like and demystifying areas like student finance and the application process. Little did I know one of the roles was in the International Marketing and Recruitment team and that I would become an International Graduate Ambassador.

This role turned into my first full-time job, as part of which I travelled to recruitment fairs and managed a team of International Student Ambassadors in our efforts to assist new international students, sharing our own experiences and helping them adjust to their new lives in the UK. This role reinforced my belief in the significance of diversity in the higher education sector, and I wanted to inspire other international students with my own story. It's not just about numbers; it's about fostering an environment where students from all backgrounds can thrive, learn, and make lasting connections. 

My journey didn't stop there. I went on to work for Ecctis, an organisation dedicated to the recognition and evaluation of international qualifications and skills. In this role, I had the privilege of supporting other international students and people as they navigated the complex world of educational equivalency and credential assessment in their journey to higher education or employment. Later, I managed the Membership Enquiries Service, supporting higher education institutions and other sector bodies globally to evaluate and understand thousands of qualifications from around the world. It became apparent that diversity in knowledge, thought, experiences, and educational backgrounds was an essential asset for the UK, and even the world's, higher education and employability sectors. 

My professional journey eventually led me to my current role at UCAS, Customer Experience Manager (International). UCAS plays a pivotal role in the application and admission process for universities across the UK. Each year, UCAS supports approximately 1.5 million students to explore entry to UK higher education, employment and apprenticeships. In 2022, UCAS managed three million applications from over 750,000 people for full-time undergraduate courses at over 380 universities and colleges across the UK. This number includes approximately 600,000 applications from over 140,000 international applicants.  

Every day, I witness the importance of diversity in the higher education sector: it's a cornerstone of innovation and progress, ensuring that students from around the world bring their unique perspectives and talents to the table. The diversity of nationalities and thought within the UK's higher education sector is invaluable. It promotes cultural exchange, enhances academic discourse, and prepares students for a globalised world. Exposure to different viewpoints challenges preconceived notions, fosters critical thinking, and encourages problem-solving from multiple angles. 

This is why the #WeAreInternational campaign is so important. My journey as an international student has been a testament to the transformative power of diversity in nationalities and thought. It has taught me the importance of inclusivity and the necessity of creating environments where students from all backgrounds can flourish.

Moreover, my experience in the UK higher education system has not only enriched my personal and academic growth but also allowed me to give back economically, socially, and culturally. As an international student, I had the opportunity to participate in academic projects and community initiatives, contributing not only to the academic discourse but also to the local communities where I lived. This engagement has translated into meaningful economic contributions, whether through my part-time work during my studies or post-graduation employment within the UK, thus reinforcing the nation's economy. 

Furthermore, my interactions with fellow students from diverse backgrounds have allowed me to become a cultural ambassador, bridging gaps and fostering understanding between different cultures. By sharing my own heritage and learning from others, I've actively contributed to the social fabric of the UK, making the local communities more vibrant and diverse.

To conclude, the UK higher education system has been instrumental in shaping me into a well-rounded individual who not only benefits from the opportunities it provides but also actively contributes to the nation's economy and cultural tapestry, underlining the significance of international education and its role in nurturing global citizens and leaders.