Although I have always lived in quite an urban area of Thessaloniki, my grandad was a forest ranger working for the government, and my dad in particular enjoys spending time in nature, so I spent lots of weekends during my childhood in the surrounding forest and national parks. So it seemed quite a natural choice when I opted to study Forestry and the Natural Environment at my undergraduate university in Greece. When I finished my degree, I knew that I wanted to do something related to the environment but I felt that I needed another experience to make me more employable. I wanted a master’s course that could lead to a variety of career options and that’s why I chose the Environmental Management for Business MSc. I felt that it would give me the choice of jobs in consultancy, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission. Basically, I think there are lots of sectors you could be employed in with this course, and it was a real boost for my CV and something that would give me a different experience, away from the technical aspects of forestry.
I had always wanted to study abroad and so I also researched universities in the Netherlands and Germany. For various reasons, I decided to stay in Greece for a further year. During that time I did more research and realised that most master’s courses in the Netherlands and Germany are two years, but in the UK they are one year. I started looking closely at Cranfield and Newcastle in particular. In the end, I decided that Cranfield had better rankings and more of a reputation in my area. It was a more interesting choice of location too, a real change from the urban environment I grew up in. I came to visit with my Mum in May 2017, had a meeting with the course director David Parsons and a tour from Student and Academic Support manager Heather Hill. They were both so helpful. I applied and then I got an unconditional offer. I am an only child so my parents weren’t really happy that I was leaving home but they understand the impact the MSc will have on my career.
When I got to Cranfield I found some things quite overwhelming, so if you are thinking of coming here you should be prepared for that. The master’s course is very intense and challenging, and studying in a different language at first was a shock. I didn’t think beforehand that it would be a problem but it takes some time to understand the education system here in the UK. For example, I have had no exams here, my course is assessed by assignments, the group project and my thesis. Back in Greece I was used to a system based on exams, so that was quite a change. I also had to learn how to reference properly. I had never used Mendeley referencing so I have learned that now. That has been the most challenging part of my Cranfield experience, to understand the way reports and assignments are written here in the UK – you have to tell lecturers that you need help if you are finding it hard! The marking is different here as well – assignments in Greece are essay-based, but here you have to provide evidence and justification for all points in an assignment, so you have to do more research and be more thorough.
To sum up the Environmental Management for Business MSc, basically we have learned how to make money while also minimising potential environmental impacts. We have studied the importance of conforming to environmental standards and of creating and running a sustainable business. During my undergraduate degree I followed the forest and water engineering stream, which wasn’t focused on economics, so I decided that afterwards I wanted something where I could actually make an impact, a qualification that would lead me to a job where I will be making decisions and steering strategy.
I would say the academic year was divided in two. The first part, from October to February, was made up of lectures and assignments. We would have one week of classes, from Monday to Friday, from 9am to 3 or 4pm, then a week to do the assignment, personal study, research etc. The main chunk of lectures ended in February and then we started the group project. It was a great experience, it doesn’t feel like you are studying as such, because you’re in an environment that is much more like actually working. My group’s project was about using GIS mapping with UAV integration and historic flood extents to explore flood emergency pathways, and overall the project was to identify evacuation routes for an area that’s repeatedly flooded in Cumbria. In my group we created two tools, one to identify evacuation routes based on flood water level and flood extent and one to identify economic impact from flooding.
With the group project there is a lot more requirement to be self-organised, as you have to deliver on your part for the benefit of the whole group. At the end there is a group project presentation to people from the industry and other guests too. One of my best friends from Greece came to visit and was here for the presentation and she was able to see how close Cranfield is linked with industry, so she could understand better why I chose to study here. After the group project comes the individual thesis. Mine is about understanding the characteristics of an effective flood community action group. Now I have completed my thesis I am so proud, because I created it, from beginning to end, and it has been a very fulfilling experience overall.
I live on campus, which is good because there is no commute, everything in walking distance. It can be a bit isolated, and it is quiet, slightly in the middle of nowhere! But if you establish good friendships and a good group of friends, it’s really nice and the scenery is lovely. I should say although it is quiet sometimes, it is very loud other times, particularly on Friday nights! Parties at the Cranfield Students’ Association, or in our halls, or outside in the fields since the weather has been good – it’s all a good way to blow off some steam and relax. You need a bit of imagination to find things to do outside of your academic work, but we have played cards, played sports, and travelled around the UK. I have been to Oxford, London a few times, Nottingham and Bristol. One coursemate planned his life so accurately that he went to a different place every weekend, and he really loves Cumbria. We also went to the Peak District. It’s good to do something physical, rather than mentally challenging – although I did get sunburn! You may need to adjust to the UK weather, particularly if you are from the Mediterranean! But the scenery of the UK is beautiful. Try to do something that you really like alongside your study.
One of my best experiences here was the last Friday of lectures, in February, when we had a dinner for all of our coursemates. We all cooked something from our different countries and it was a bonding experience, it was great fun. I did a Greek salad – I bought oil and cheese from home so it was genuine! I also made tzatziki. I also tried Spanish food, ham, Italian lasagne, homemade British scones with cream and jam, Turkish delight desserts, dumplings from China. One coursemate is Austrian so we also had fried vegetables and the final dish was something delicious from France!
My advice to anyone coming to Cranfield is that you should know that the educational level is really high which is a huge plus, and you will get a lot of knowledge in a very short time. The best bit is having an overall very different experience to what you have known before. It’s more practical, more like working than studying, and my thesis was in collaboration with an actual company which gave me industry experience. This year has been extremely intellectually stimulating, my knowledge has been expanded in so many areas, it makes you understand yourself and learn about yourself so much more. The Cranfield experience is a challenge, academically and personally, but totally worth it!