Alumni Spotlight: Mona

After a gap year in China and a stay abroad in the USA during her bachelor's, Mona took part in an Erasmus Mundus master's program called "Global-MINDS". Within the program, she studied at the University Institue of Lisbon (Portgual) and at the University of Limerick (Ireland).


Why did you choose this program?

During my bachelor's, I gained interest in social-justice and social-change oriented psychology. I was looking for a master's program that would focus on social justice issues and not only focus on individuals but on community well-being and society as a whole. There is only very few programs in my home country that take that perspective. So I was very glad to find Global-MINDS which combines social and cultural psychology and includes a mobility component creating a special wholesome learning experience. Some classes in particular sounded very appealing to me, e.g., Cultural Psychology, Community Psychology and Political Psychology. Additionally, the mobility component was appealing to me because I had had great study abroad experiences before and I knew that going abroad meant challenging myself, gaining new perspectives and growing as a person.

Global-MINDS allows you to choose between three paths. I chose path A starting in Lisbon and then going to the University of Limerick. Compared to the other paths, the classes interested me the most and the places seemed interesting too, though very different from each other.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I had to organise my travels, accommodation, food, health insurance, enroll at the two universities, get my student card and sign up for classes. Non-EU classmates also had to take care of their visa which can be very stressful, especially between the first and the second semester. Overall, a lot of responsibility is on the student. However, all Global-MINDS students are in a similar situation and help each other very much. Additionally, many Global-MINDS alumni and alumnae are open to giving advice and sharing their experience with you.

The program coordination hosted an online welcome event where the current students could get to know each other and gain intercultural and self-awareness. When we arrived at the universities, there were regular (more regular at the University of Limerick than in Lisbon) in-person meetings where one of the local coordinators would check in with us. Via email, the program coordination provided information on how to enroll at the universities. The alumni association shared advice on how to find accommodation. Through the student email of the University Institute of Lisbon, we got some information on local student events and services. Later, via our student email at the University of Limerick, we got further information on local events, student organisations, library, counseling services, writing centre, the postgraduate union, sports activities etc.. Our program coordination also provided information on networking opportunities and local cultural and academic events, e.g., from the Migration Research Lab at the University of Limerick.

Students have to organise their internship on their own. You get a list of previous organisations where Global-MINDS students did their internship which can help to get an idea of what the internship could be like. We also got further information about the internship at the summer school (at the end of the second semester).

For the master's thesis, students could take initiative and approach a professor regarding thesis supervision. Alternatively, students would get a list of possible thesis supervisors and topics, could name their preferences and a supervisor would be assigned. During the summer school (at the end of the second semester), we got further information about the thesis regulations. Beyond that, we got a thesis handbook from the program coordination and could approach our thesis supervisor for further questions.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

The Global-MINDS experience is different for every student. Besides academics, your experience will depend on the social dynamics within your students cohort, the social-political situation in your residence countries, your visa processses, luck in finding accomodation, your homesickness, your health, your contact to your family and your local support systems. Either way, it will be a unique experience full of learning opportunities. I don't know which challenges will arise for you but I would advice you to:

- stay curious
- follow invitations to try new things (if your energy allows it)
- try and learn the local languages and about the local, political contexts (if your energy allows it)
- spend as much time as you can in the country where you are studying (don't travel too much back and forth, for example, to visit your family) and allow yourself to be present - cause time will fly by
- learn about your best coping strategies to reduce stress, feel calm and content
- be ambitious about your student performance but don't put yourself under too much pressure
- get in touch with locals, e.g., through students or sports organisations
- get to know the fellow Global-MINDS students. You will be each other's support systems, so invest time and energy in your relationships
- be critical of the class content and the program's structures
- contribute to an academic culture in which you can be openly critical of each other's work while remaining kind and appreciative of each other's efforts and different perspectives
- enjoy. Enjoy the opportunities to reinvent yourself, to find new friends and hobbies, to learn about new cultures and perspectives, to engage with interesting class content, to engage in critical discussions and to intellectually challenge yourself. Enjoy the sunsets, the green spaces, the rainy walks and train rides and the beautiful campus of the University of Limerick. Enjoy the freedom to explore and learn.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

During the first and second semester: At the University Institute of Lisbon and the University of Limerick, you will have 1-2 classes per day (Mo-Fri). In addition to the classes, you will do a lot of reading, some group work and writing. It's up to you to organise yourself.

During the third and forth semester: You will do 300 hours for your internship. It might be full-time or part-time. You will also be in touch with your thesis supervisor and work on your thesis, e.g., literature review, writing an ethics proposal, prepare research materials, writing, reviewing. To avoid procrastination, you can set yourself intermediate goals and set aside some hours per week to make progress on your thesis.

Depending on your other obligations (e.g., work, volunteering, care-taking), this will allow you time to enjoy Lisbon and Limerick, get to know the regions, make new friends, attend cultural events, do sports etc. Exam phases in Lisbon and Limerick and the final writing phase of your thesis will probably be the only more stressful times.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

Honestly, my biggest fear was not to be good enough - classic imposter syndrome. Talking to peers and mentors and having first academic achievements during the program helped me to become more confident. So my advice would be, "Do it anyways!", because you bring your unique perspective to the classroom and you're probably underestimating how much your classmates and lecturers can learn from you.

Any final tips or advice you would give someone interested in this program?

The Global-MINDS program is a relatively young and small program with small cohorts and an usual structure (due to the mobility component and collaboration between universities). It's not a typical study abroad program, so there will be some uncertainties and organisational challenges. I wouldn't recommend the program to someone who has a hard time coping with uncertainty. However, if you don't mind some uncertainty - you'll probably have a great time exploring the universities, countries and learning about yourself, the program and the world.

Lastly, I would recommend reaching out to alumni/ae if you have any further questions.