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First of all, welcome to my first blog post guys! Today, I'd like to share some bits of my UCL journey with you.

So for those who don't know me, I was born and raised in Sierra Leone. All my prior education had been in SL and I graduated medical school in 2016. During med school and the few years after, I was so afraid of failure, I hardly ever stepped out of my comfort zone. All of that changed when I got accepted to University College London (UCL) in 2018. Just so you know guys, UCL is one of the top 10 universities in the world (and yes, google it!😄). I could not believe it myself. I kept asking myself how that happened. Many people probably might not get why that was a big deal, but it was. By the time I finished medical school, I had lost every thread of self-confidence. Let’s just say the school system down here does more pulling down than pulling up. But anyway, that's a story I'll tell some other day. During my first rotation as an intern doctor, I found a mentor. He helped me believe in myself. He pushed me to be better and constantly reminded me that I can be a golden girl if I wanted to be. So I worked tirelessly to become a better version of myself each and everyday. To be honest, I do not even remember how I got myself to apply for a masters in the first place. I just remember having some guts and thinking that I have nothing to lose. It can only go two ways, a yes or a no. For a moment I fantasized about how excited I would be should I be accepted into this prestigious school but then I told myself that was just a dream. Lo and behold! I was in the out-patient department at work one afternoon when I got an email; I received a conditional offer from UCL. Can you imagine the excitement and how much I screamed? Fast forward a few months, I got a Commonwealth Shared (with UCL) Scholarship and an unconditional offer for a master's program in Global Health and Development.

I started my journey in September 2018. I had never been as excited and nervous about anything like I was about this course. During the first few weeks of school, I figured that I'll have to adjust to new realities such as completely different teaching methods, being in class with some of the brightest young minds from all across the world and acknowledging the fact that I hadn't learned a lot of things outside what I was taught in undergrad. Anyway, I made up my mind to be better in every way I could- to learn as much as I could, make new friends, create networks, explore- basically do whatever I can to make this experience totally worth it.

I'm not even going to lie and say it was a smooth run. It was hard. Like stay-up-all-night-crying hard. There were days when I had so much to read and so much to catch up on that I wouldn't even know where to start. Thank God for some pretty awesome people I met on the course, my friends back home and family who helped make those sleepless nights bearable and kept me grounded. When it came to writing my dissertation, that was a different kind of struggle. I did not realise how much I didn't know about my topic until I started writing it. I had to buy new text books and read about subjects that I had never done before. There was a point where I almost just settled for whatever but I had the most tolerant and supportive supervisor and in the end, that paper turned out to be the best piece of writing I had ever done.

UCL and the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission gave me such an enriching experience and my heart will never forget what an amazing year it was. I evolved in ways I did not even imagine. I got the opportunity to nurture my intellectual curiosity, meet some great minds and make life long friendships. At the end of it all, it was the most amazing 12 months of my life. I laughed so hard, cried so much, explored so many new things, travelled, learned. I evolved.

Here are some of the highlights of my year (in no particular order):

1. I went to some Arsenal games (Yes, I'm a Gooner. Don't judge me😄)

2. I volunteered for two causes that I really believe in- Emergency UK and Diabetes UK

3. I did a short course in Global Surgery at University of Oxford. I remain inspired by all the global surgery enthusiasts and leaders that I met on the course. The #FutureOfTheOR is brighter than ever!

4. I attended the Young Leaders for Health conference in Berlin, Germany and represented the Wellcome Trust as a Non-State Actor in a World Health Assembly Simulation. It was truly an amazing experience.

5. At the celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Commonwealth, I met HRH, the Duke of Sussex- Prince Harry (..well we all know who our favourite British Royal is😊)

6. One of my friends realised how much I loved christmas and booked tickets for 'Christmas at the Royal Albert Hall'. There are no words for how totally blown away I was by the choir.

7. I got to see my all time favourite pop band WESTLIFE, live on stage. My childhood friends will understand why I Iost my voice before they even came on stage.

8. I gained admission into the University of Edinburgh to start my second master's degree in Surgical Sciences.

I returned home last October with loads of life lessons in my already overweight luggage. I had learned that knowledge, skills and experiences are everything. I have done so much in so little time that sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed. But one of the things that UCL taught me is that any and every thing is possible if you work hard enough. Don't let anyone tell you 'you can't'.

Before the pandemic, I imagined walking across the stage today when my name is called, with my head held high in pride. So even though graduation day was cancelled, today I'm doing a dance with my hands in the air, patting myself on the back, opening a bottle of wine and reintroducing myself as Dr. Marcella Ryan-Coker, MBChB, MSc (Global Health and Development with DISTINCTION).

I am no where close to where I want to be and the impact I want to create in the world but I am on my way. Like President Obama said "Don't just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table''. I am a work in progress and I look forward to the future and its endless possibilities.

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