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A Change in Plans…

For the last 5 months, I’ve been planning and talking about my next semester in Mexico City. I’ve talked slightly less about my 4th semester back in Groningen, mainly because I found the prospect of the thesis a bit daunting. But nevertheless, in my head I’ve had a plan that takes me up until summer 2018 and sees me graduate from my 2-year Master’s degree. There’s now been a change in plans, and my upcoming year is looking very different. It’ll still be a big adventure, but one that racks up slightly fewer air miles, as I’ll mostly be staying put here in the UK.

          I’m obviously really disappointed about missing Mexico and all the travels around Central America that I’d planned before and afterwards, and I’m gutted that I won’t be able to live my houseboat dream on one of Groningen’s canals next spring either. I loved living in the Netherlands and I was seriously looking forward to heading back there. Ultimately I am excited about my new plan as it’s something I’ve been aiming towards for several years, but it’s bittersweet, as it means I have to give up my plans for Mexico and the Netherlands, and pause my Master’s. I seriously hope I’ll have the chance to finish my Master’s at a later date and I’ve made a promise to myself to make it happen, but sadly it won’t be on schedule for summer 2018…To be honest, I’m quite heartbroken, as I love my student lifestyle and I’m loving my course, my subject matter and all the travel options the course gives me.

So why have my plans changed?

          I’ve got a job starting this October, that’s why. It’s a job I can’t refuse, as it’s taken me a long time to get it, and although I requested to defer it for a year in order to finish my Master’s, my request was denied. One of my many reasons for taking this Master’s was to move from the private sector (where I’d worked for 4 years) into the public sector, to find more purpose in my work, to seek a more tangible impact on society in my career.

          The job I’ve been offered is a position on the British Civil Service Fast Stream, which is a 4-year accelerated graduate training programme working for the UK government. It’s a full time position which rotates round various ministries and governmental departments, with the intention that it fast tracks graduates into leadership positions. If my aim was to get into the public sector, then this job is the very epitome of the public sector. I actually received an offer for the Fast Stream last summer, although it was a very different scheme (the Digital and Technology one) from the scheme I’ve succeeded in this year (the Generalist one), hence why I didn’t accept it at the time. It’s notoriously competitive to get into, with various rounds of online tests, interviews and assessment days that take place over an agonising 7 months in total. In 2015 there were over 21,000 applications and only 5% of those were successful. So you see why I can’t turn it down and simply finish my Master’s as planned…

          This will technically be my second graduate scheme, as I was on Telefonica’s European Leadership Graduate Scheme from 2012-14. For those not familiar with the term, a graduate scheme is a full-time job (mostly with permanent contracts) that also provides a lot of training, networking opportunities, rotations around different departments, mentors and other opportunities designed to help graduates quickly develop their leadership potential. I never thought I’d be starting a second one aged 28 to be honest, but apparently that’s a fairly common age for joining the Civil Service Fast Stream, so I won’t be the only one my age. At my assessment day I met others my age and even someone in their 30s who was applying, so I feel confident that it’s not a step down.

What about my Master’s?

          I’m not quitting my Master’s – no chance. Over the last year I’ve passed 60 ECTS credits (half of my Master’s) with an average grade of 8.9/10 in the Dutch grading scale, which is on track for a cum laude and very close to a summa cum laude. I’ve also completed 15 ECTS with the Honours College and 12.5 ECTS from my Dutch & Swedish language courses, which means I’ve done almost 50% more work than was required of me. I’ve worked bloody hard – so I’m not letting that go to waste! Luckily in the Netherlands the credits I’ve already passed seem to stay valid for a number of years (I’ve heard between 4 and 10 years) so it is definitely my intention to graduate from my Master’s at some point in the future.

What am I doing until October?

          So as I’m no longer moving to Mexico City and my job doesn’t start until October, I have the whole of August and September to play with! Flights to Mexico are extortionate at this time of year and the weather isn’t the best, so I’ve struck that option off the list for now. Instead I’ll be spending August backpacking through Eastern Europe, starting in Albania and hopefully ending up in Estonia. The current plan is a tad ambitious time-wise but could see me visit 8 new countries, as my previous experience east of the Czech Republic is woeful – which gives me lots to explore! At the beginning of September I head back to the UK for my friend Emma’s wedding and then the plan is to road trip around Sicily for a couple of weeks in September. I’m also dying to go sailing somewhere, somehow…

And post-October?

          I’m hoping my first posting will be in London, but it could technically be elsewhere in the UK. I don’t even know yet in which ministry my first rotation will be. I first and foremost applied for the European Stream, however this year it has been merged into the Generalist Stream, which is the largest stream of all. So I’ve been offered a position in the Generalist scheme rather than the European scheme I’d hoped for, but they do plan to place me in EU-facing roles. I’d been hoping for a bit more concrete information before I published this blog post, but obviously I also wanted to explain why Mexico’s no longer in my plans.

Overall: disappointed but excited

          It’s bittersweet. I’m hugely disappointed to miss out on Mexico City and to pause my Master’s, but also excited to enter the public sector and experience the civil service for myself. I first set my sights on the Fast Stream a whole 9 years ago when I was on my gap year, aged 19, and I’ve applied for it in a total of 5 separate years… Literally, I’ve been working towards this my entire adult life. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that persistence is key!

So in the short-term I’ll be back in the UK and back in the working world and Mexico will have to wait for now. But thank you to everyone who gave me tips or contacts in Mexico City – it really is kind of you and I look forward to using them some time in the future when I do eventually make it to Mexico!

13 Comments »

  1. Congratulations on being offered a place on the Civil Service Fast Stream! I remember applying for it in my final year, and being told how competitive it was, though I hadn’t been able to put a number to it. It’s also interesting to hear that the scheme attracts those with a few years’ experience – I imagine a few years’ experience must bolster an application, when compared to a fresh graduate with less experience of the working world. Hopefully Mexico City will still be an option when you return to complete your Master’s 🙂

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    • Thanks Rosie! And yes I do think every subsequent application helped me learn how to do the exercises and prepare for the assessment day, etc. So persistence pays off in this case! Fingers crossed Mexico remains open to me at some point in the future!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great stuff! 🙂 You can tell them you’ve been to a Prime Minister’s Questions Time in the House of Commons!! 🙂 Maybe I’ll come and watch you in there when you’re a member of the cabinet 😉

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    • Thanks Biggsy! And thanks again for taking me along to PM Question Time – it was such a fascinating and inspiring thing to witness! Although I’m not going into politics or Parliament myself – the Civil Service is strictly neutral on political matters! But I like the encouragement 🙂

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  3. Wow – congratulations! It does sound like an amazing opportunity and I’m sure, with your persistence, you will definitely get that Masters finished too one day! Looking forward to seeing your backpacking trip photos – that’s my dream!

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  4. Wow congratulations Virginia! I can imagine it’s bittersweet, having to pause your Masters, but what an achievement to make it into the Civil Service Fast Stream. I remember hearing the representatives from the Foreign Office speak to our IR class about the Civil Service when I was at university, and it sounded fantastic. Congrats again, and enjoy your summer of travel before work begins! x

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  5. I guess the thing to say here is that whilst life doesn’t always go as planned, there is no reason why it cannot be equally or more exciting than what you had hoped for. It just means you need to do things differently and go on different paths. Seeing your photos and hearing about your adventures always make me smile, Virginia. I hope you are healthy and happy wherever you are these days. 🙂

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    • Thank you Jaime! You’re very right that a different path isn’t necessarily a bad one, and I’m glad you’re enjoying my blogs about my travels – I hope you too are very well!

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  6. Congratulations on your exciting new role! Sounds very competitive and that you must have worked very hard to get it! I know what it’s like to apply for something super competitive multiple times – I have just got a place on Clinical Psychology training to become a qualified Clinical Psychologist so know how big the achievement feels when you’ve had the dream for a long time and worked hard towards it! I hope the pay rise will give me more opportunities to travel! Wish you the best of luck and your summer adventures 🙂

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    • Thank you and congratulations on your your training place – that must be very exciting and yes it feels all the sweeter when you’ve been working towards it for years! Best of luck to you too!

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