Around January last year I told myself that no matter what it takes, I will study abroad again. I’ve already been working for almost three years then. Since I have enough in my savings account to take a leap of faith without going entirely broke, I decided I will make it happen for myself, this time with zero financial help from my parents.

And so I flew to London in September last year and made it happen.

There’s just something about studying abroad

It all started when I was in highschool. I took Nihonggo classes every Wednesday after school and made sure I was getting good grades so I could go to a two-week study tour in Tokyo for free. To my luck, the hardwork paid off and I made it to Tokyo. It was my first flight ever, and my first trip abroad. Don’t ask me if I can still speak or understand Japanese, though. Despite learning it since grade school, it barely stuck with me. I just recognize random Hiragana characters now, and know random (basic) words.

And then came college. During our freshman orientation day at the Ateneo, we were briefed about a program called Junior Term Abroad. I was with my parents then. Having learned about the program, I expressed to them right then and there that I will aim to study abroad. Almost three years later (and after having to go through a semester of making sure my grades would make the cut), I flew to France and had the privilege (thanks to my supportive parents!) to be an exchange student and travel around Europe.

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With my fellow JTA-ers in Louvre, circa 2013

I don’t remember a lot about my classes then (except that they were all programming classes, are apparently Master classes, and that C++ was a bitch), but I remember everything else like it was yesterday. I think there’s this certain kind of growth you only get once you uproot yourself that way. As I learned more about the places I’ve been to, learned about traveling smart, and learned what it’s like to be independent thousands of miles away from home, I learned more about myself.

I told myself that I should have that kind of experience a couple more times in my life.

Planning the leap of faith

I had to do a couple of things just to make sure that everything will push through:

– I had to warm my parents and my manager up to the idea of going away for a bit for art school. I did this over the course of 6 months, bringing it up every time I could,

– I had to make sure my absence won’t be a problem at work, which meant I had to find a one-down and onboard her prior to leaving, make sure all my deliverables are done before I go, and develop a plan for when I’m away (which included checking deliverables and attending some meetings every now and then while I’m abroad), and

– I had to research on a few options for art school, figure out my budget and how I can best utilize it to achieve what I want. I then had to make sure my finances were healthy so I can actually leave and make it happen for myself.

I had three options then: continuing education courses in Parsons or SVA in New York, a summer intensive program in Paris, and a short course in London. The best option for me then was taking a short course in University of the Arts London: Central Saint Martins. With the budget I have, going to CSM would also enable me to roam around Europe afterwards (compared to going to New York or Paris where most, if not all my money would probably be spent on school).

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Sketching thumbnails for a 6-panel illustration series!

Plus, things aligned for me and some of my closest friends last year: I found out that Erika will be back in London for an internship, and Nikki will be back in Austria around the same time I was planning to go. The stars aligned so well for me last year that even Roxi would be in Switzerland the same time I was planning to go. It all made sense. All these not only meant that the Eurotrip after art school would be awesome, but also that my expenses will be less because I won’t have to worry about accommodation in some of the places I wanted to go to.

Making it happen for myself

I applied for visas a little too late, around late July to early August. I was leaving first week of September!

Some tips for your visa application:

– As much as possible, apply for a visa at least three months before your planned trip. Flights are obviously cheaper the earlier you book, and since it’s not recommended to book a flight before getting your visa (unless you’re a seasoned traveler I guess, or are confident you’ll get approved, or have a high risk appetite), it’ll be best for you to fix your papers as early as you can. UK and Schengen visa applications are done online, and then you have to set an appointment with VFS Global for biometrics, a quick interview, and of course, submission of requirements.

– What’s important aside from showing you have the financial capacity to travel is proof that you are coming home. Booking a flight before getting your visa is not required or recommended, so you have to find another way of proving you’re coming home. In my case, aside from the usual certificate of employment, I also presented all the booked trips I have after my supposed Eurotrip. I had flights to Saigon and Osaka coming from Manila then–I guess that’s enough proof that I was coming home.

– Write a cover letter for your Schengen visa application. Express why you want to visit the country you’re applying a visa from, and indicate a rough itinerary for your trip. I applied for a visa from the Austrian Embassy because I thought I would be staying in Austria the longest, plus I have a friend who can back up my application. I wrote in my cover letter that I’m a fan of Before Sunrise and would like to retrace Jesse and Celine’s steps in Vienna (which I totally did!). I also listed down the other countries I planned to visit.

– Prepare your hotel “reservations” with Booking.com! You’d have to back your Schengen itinerary up with flight and accommodation bookings. At first, what I passed with my application were screenshots of the final summary of flight and hotel bookings. You know the page you see just before you have to pay? Yup, that.

The embassy followed up on me via e-mail days after, looking for hotel reservations stating my name. I’m not sure why they didn’t question my “flight reservations” though. Maybe they don’t really require flight reservations prior to getting your visa? Anyway, with Booking.com you can make a reservation, receive a booking confirmation with your name on it via e-mail, and then immediately cancel the reservation without having to pay a single cent. That’s what I did, and so I was able to pass legit reservations with my name on it.

Preparing all the paperwork in such a short amount of time was, obviously, quite stressful. I was lucky my mom enjoyed paperwork–she helped me organize everything in clear books!

I applied for a UK tourist visa first, got a plane ticket and applied for the course I wanted immediately after getting the UK visa (I was pretty sure I’d get the Schengen visa because I already got one before, plus the prices will shoot up even more if I waited any longer! And yes, you can take short courses in London with a tourist visa), and then applied for a Schengen visa. I still bought a plane ticket a bit later than I would’ve wanted, and so it costed me around $1200 for a MNL-LHR, CDG-MNL flight when I could’ve gotten it cheaper.

And just like that, I was off to London.

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