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Tim Cole

Former British Ambassador to Cuba

Part of Chevening Conversations

2nd November 2015 Havana, Cuba

Starting from Scratch

osmel_barreto1This excellent blog was written by Chevening scholar Osmel Barreto who arrived in London just one month ago to study for an MSc in IT and Strategic Innovation. Osmel tells us about his experience of cultural change and having to learn how to do so many new things all at the same time. Thanks for sharing this Osmel!

Starting from Scratch

Yes, that is exactly how I felt when I arrived in the United Kingdom. The day I left Cuba, I seemed to leave behind my ability to know how to get around, how to behave, and what to expect. After so many years of learning to be an adult, the inexperience of my teenage years seemed to have returned to centre stage!

What it means to be a ‘fresher’

I never thought that after so long, I would almost need to be taken by the hand and led to the classroom on the campus for my first lecture, to the student halls of residence, to the right bus stop (and not the one where I got on a bus and spent nearly half an hour going round in circles until Kingston did not seem to be ‘upon Thames’ any more). I would never have imagined that the university library would be automated; you put your books on a metal plate and, as if by magic, the device knows exactly which books you want to take out, irrespective of the number or whether they are piled in an untidy stack. This, even for an ‘IT guy’ like me, was difficult to comprehend. And I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for the students behind me in the queue to understand why it took me 10 minutes to complete a process designed to take 30 seconds at the most.

I won’t lie to you – it’s not easy facing so many changes. It was the first time I had left my country, the first time I had been on a plane, the first time I had taken ‘the Tube’, and after a month the list of ‘first times’ seemed to go on and on. So many new things, whilst living at a pace at least 20 times faster than the one Cubans are accustomed to. Respecting other people’s time sometimes becomes a top priority, even to the point of standing on the right hand side of the escalators in the Tube to allow people who are in a hurry to keep moving. ‘Time management’ is always crucial, even when performing the simplest tasks.

Step by step

osmel_barreto2It felt as if life had presented me with the greatest of all challenges until suddenly things began to change without me even noticing. After a month, I now greet the same bus driver each morning (driving the right bus!), I know where to buy the black beans that I like so much, and I am even one of the people hurrying down the left hand side of the escalators in Waterloo station. I have admired the architecture in one of the most modern cities in the world that has buildings full of technology such as The Shard, but also protects its national heritage such as Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. I have been able to meet up with the other scholars from Cuba, and we are now an inseparable group, sharing experiences with each other and supporting each other in everything – even when what we need is to chat about how much we are missing our families.

Subconsciously, my former abilities are returning – some even improved – and I am gradually regaining the independence which I am used to. I am learning how to fit into a completely new world despite stumbling a few times along the way.

The key to success? Simple. I just need to remember how lucky I am to be able to study and live in a country that has such an exceptional culture and one of the most prestigious social and educational systems in the world. I just need to go to class every day where I have access to an incredible database of knowledge, delivered by internationally recognised professionals. I just need to look back and realise how many friends I have already made, and how many I will make in the future. I just need to understand what it is really means to be a Chevening Scholar and the endless opportunities that are open to me if I work hard and push myself every day.

It’s true that you have to start again from scratch, but if that is the price to pay for having such a unique opportunity, believe me guys, it’s worth it!

19 comments on “Starting from Scratch

  1. Thanks dear Osmel, Its a wonderful and good inspiration story for me and other ongoing scholars to the Cheveving scholarship.
    First I was afraid to be one of the final winner of this scholarship, but now your inspirayion gave me a good trust and willingness..
    This opportunity is unique to this World. I believe that I can start from scratch and get the good success that you have attained…Thanks agaim dear Osmel..

  2. Wow.i can relate most of the things right there..this is a lufe changing experience.You will surely come back a better person with brighter ideas to change the cuba techno community

  3. Thrill and excitement run through my veins while I read your letters. The world you describe is nothing but wonderful and full of promise. An experience I am sure you will treasure until the end of times. Actually, your perspective is so contagious you are making me want to start from scratch…

  4. Dear all,

    Keep your dream alive and go for it, always! I am from Brazil and I applied 2 years in a row to be chosen for chevening. Here I am, really proud of being a Chevening Scholar and sharing the same feeling our friend Osmel Barreto described in this brilliant text.

  5. This is very inspiring and encouraging for any new student to the uk. I did applied for this years scholarship and I am pretty sure that I will do exactly what our have shared. Thank you brother!!!

  6. Awesome! Your honesty makes it better to believe and I am looking forward to having my own experiences. *Keeping my fingers and toes crossed*

  7. Wow, what a great insight into what it’s like for someone coming here for the first time, when we all just take it for granted. I’m so pleased that you are settling in ok, though you must be missing the family and friends back home. It will all be worth it in the end and will open up a whole world to you. Very proud of you.

  8. The blog is wondeful. these words touched me so much as I have been to the U K before and lived the unibersity life there. But I am bit nervous as I didn’t revise my application well before submitting. I made a minor mistake as i didn’t count my work experience although it exeedes the maximim demand that needed in the online application. I hope from my chevning colleague to reconsider my application

  9. Your story is really an inspiration, I applied for the chevening Scholarship and I pray I get in. I keep on reading of success stories from chevening scholars, and I believe soon my own chevening story will be a source of motivation to others.

  10. Hi
    Reading the blog and feel awesome and getting very excited to be a part of the chevening community.I have also applied for a scholarship.its true that once u left ye home,family buddies then we have to faced all things at every turns of life.God bless u..

  11. This blog made me cry. I am always like that too!.. too afraid to take the first time and too hesitant to experience new things, but this blog inspires me to do better than who I am today. Applying to chevening scholarships is already an achievement no matter what the result may bring…..thanks!

  12. Wow.. So inspiring… I applied for a chevening scholarship this year and I know I will be one of the scholars next year… So I can achieve my goals and be part of this unique experience.

  13. Hi! The Blog was incredible and inspirational to us who just applied for the next session of Chevening Scholarship. I hope that i will be proud member of such prestigious Chevening family soon.

  14. Amazing blog. You must be having a time of your life in the UK! Good to know that being a Chevening Scholar is more than, well School. It is also getting to learn about other cultures, living in a different country and even learning how to grow up!
    I do hope I one day get to experience the same. Like you, I have also never travelled outside my own country.

  15. Thank you Osmel for being so honest. I would also love to experience that shift that takes from the scratch again to a better top.

  16. Hi!reading you is just awesome. I applyed for these scholarship this year and, as you say, we need to start from scratch. That’s what I do with this opportunity. I am not speaking english fluently and I am afraid of speaking but I do speak and I do efforts to. Everyday I am afraid of failing but reading you gives me strong to go through my fear. Thank you so much for your sharing. And hope I will be a part of Chevening community soon! 😉

Comments are closed.

About Tim Cole

Hi! I’m Tim Cole, the British Ambassador to Cuba. I arrived in Havana in August 2012 and presented my credentials as British Ambassador the following month. I’ve been a diplomat…

Hi! I’m Tim Cole, the British Ambassador to Cuba. I arrived in Havana in August 2012 and presented my credentials as British Ambassador the following month. I’ve been a diplomat since 2001; before Cuba, I spent 5 years in London where I worked on Pan-African policy and global economic issues and 6 years in southern Africa as Deputy Head of Mission in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Most of my career has been in Africa as before joining the FCO I ran humanitarian aid programmes in Central Africa for the British NGOs Christian Aid and Save the Children. I’m married to Clare and we have 2 children – Jonathan and Zea.

The idea of this blog is to tell you what the British government is doing in Cuba and why. If you enjoy the blog and want to read more, please follow me on Twitter.