From Abuja to Edinburgh: my 1st semester experience as a Mastercard Foundation Scholar at the University of Edinburgh

Scholars from Africa

This will humorously walk you through some of my experiences these past 3 months as a Scholar, from settling into Edinburgh to being blown away by heavy winds. See the end for scholarship application tips.

My first few weeks in the UK were both exciting and uneasy.

From the start

Mirabelle Morah at the University of Edinburgh

The Mastercard Foundation team at the University of Edinburgh have been incredible and helpful in everything. Once I got the scholarship, they guided me in applying to the university, gave travel guidance (before arriving) and helped me settle-in (on arrival).

Before I moved to start my postgrad, the past months were not easy. I experienced an armed robbery attack in the middle of the night (funny part in hindsight was that the first thing I hid was my passport). I went from that to being exhausted in the months that followed, to overthinking, etc. So arriving in Scotland, jumping into a new environment, new system and getting used to the pattern and methods of postgraduate lectures were not things I immediately settled into. It took two months for my beating heart to calm down. As they say, it’s not (only) the situation that makes you unhappy; your thoughts about it count.

How should you move around in Scotland?

I’ve explored several places in Scotland. We had a calming retreat at the Burn in Glenesk, Brechin. I visited St. Andrews University to watch a Rugby Match (both courtesy of Mastercard Foundation). Then I visited Glasgow to spend an evening with Gerry Higgins (Social Enterprise World Forum’s founder), his family, and Maeve Curtin.

Before Edinburgh (UK), I’d already visited circa 12/13 countries, but I’ve never been used to the transport systems of many places. So I’m slowly learning (because I walk to most of my destinations) to use Edinburgh’s public transportation, from trams to trains to buses. 

Getting a bank account and card

As a Nigerian, you know all that hassle of looking for how to convert your naira to USD and how to buy stuff on Amazon or pay for some Apple subscription etc? Nah! That stuff is hectic abeg! It was a relief to get a multi-currency card in the UK that allowed me access different currencies. I could use a Revolut card to buy groceries in the UK with GBP and use it in the Netherlands to move around in EUR. Nice stuff.

An imaginary bank card I designed for “Bank of Womandla”. This was inspired by my course on Entrepreneurial Finance as well as one of my professors, Francis Green who encouraged us to imagine borrowing from “Bank of Francis” to fund our business ideas.

Using MTN? Remember to keep your MTN line. Here’s how.

Now to the studying part (what I’ve learned)

You must find your own way of learning and dealing with course load. My postgraduate studies are on innovation and entrepreneurship, and before attending lectures and seminars, I need to read several papers. Some things that help me are to:

  • Fix daily set times to study. Slow and steady wins it for me with the power of compound effects. It’s more overwhelming to start researching closer to deadlines so I study in small bits over time.
  • Use the flow app to pace your reading if you like (it works with the pomodoro rule).
  • Ask for help. Professors are willing to clarify questions and give you more insight into a topic. Some of my colleagues have also helped answer questions and teach me things.
  • Learn how to write essays and properly reference your sources to avoid plagiarism. This resource might help.
  • Find a way to merge your skills and past knowledge to solve course-related issues. As a motion designer and communications manager, I used my AfterEffects skills to create a 3D animation/video for a business idea we had in one of my courses. I was also the first of two awesome presenters, and when the feedback came out, I was so proud of my team. Below is the feedback, and here’s the video I made.

“This presentation was led by a fantastic first speaker who really nailed the presentation of the pitch. Ably supported by the second speaker, the pitch presentation was authoritative and slick. The video was really helpful in that it showed that attention had been given to how the pitch was to be presented…”

– Part of the academic feedback we received

Community and networking

Mastercard Foundation Scholars at the Burn. Image Credit: Pete Kingsley

Naturally, the Mastercard Scholars programme is already a HUGE community and network. The Foundation’s team organises several leadership lab sessions for scholars to learn. A Chevening scholar once attended an end-of-year event I co-organised with Kish (my fellow scholar representative) and said he liked the community we had amongst us. I’ve always believed in the power of mutually connecting with people beyond my studies, learning from others, sharing knowledge and strategically showing up for things.

So far:

  • I joined the Taekwondo club
  • I’ve attended several events both at the Business School (e.g. Bloomberg events) and outside of school (like Catalysing Change) that I can’t keep count.
  • I was part of SEWF23 (Social Enterprise World Forum) in the Netherlands! I interviewed about 10 social enterprise leaders for the event’s official 2023/closing video.
  • I was invited to a meeting with the Ambassador of Côte d’Ivoire to the UK ⏤ thanks to Grace Akinyi!
  • Met and learned a lot from Africans who work in aeronautics and space divisions in Africa.
  • We had two business school trips to local businesses in Edinburgh (missed the second trip due to an obligation to be part of an interesting fireside chat with Reeta Roy, Mastercard Foundation’s President/CEO)
  • Gave a speech at the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program Celebration Cèilidh
  • Completed my Creative Strategy Diploma from Miami Ad School Europe / OMR Education
  • Got voted in as a Mastercard Scholars representative
  • We gave each other many gifts during the holiday season
  • And I have currently found time to play my electric lead guitar!

So far so good

I’ve been in the UK for 3 months. I haven’t seen snow in my part of Edinburgh (yet). The wind has tried to blow me away several times. I don’t know how to use a vending machine yet. I make better illustrations now. I’m better at making business valuations. And one of my favourite actions remains to keep asking more questions.

Word of caution (actually rest) 

I am a huge advocate for rest. I budget heavy doses of rest and sleep in between all of my hard work. I believe in “less is more.” I believe in prayers and mindfulness. I believe in play, and in disconnecting to recharge.

5 more resources

P.S. for the title, no I didn’t live in Abuja. I flew out of Nigeria, from Abuja to Edinburgh.


Join my monthly newsletter