Kellogg College: A Strong Support in my Oxford Journey!

1 December 2016

Gayathri Balan, alumna

By Gayathri Balan

Gayathri Balan, an Oxford 1+1 MBA student (MSc Comparative Social Policy & MBA) and Pershing Square Scholar, was a student at Kellogg College from 2014 to 2016. Here, she reflects about the various ways such as college advisors, accommodation with college friends, intellectually stimulating seminars and financial grants through which Kellogg College became a strong support in her Oxford journey.

Hailing from a middle class Indian background, I was the first woman in my family to study abroad. Five different scholarships had helped cover the tuition and living expenses of my dual degree at Oxford. When I first came to the UK in September 2014, I was apprehensive since it was my first trip abroad. Over the next two years, Kellogg College played a huge role in helping me adjust and making me feel at home in a foreign land.

Oxford has an excellent system in place to ensure welfare of graduate students: college advisors. These are professors or research fellows associated with the college, who take care of students’ welfare needs. During my time at Kellogg I had the privilege of working with two college advisors: Dr David Birks, former Research Fellow at the Blavatnik School of Governance and later Mrs Kate Jones, Director of the Foreign Services Programme at Oxford.

An important factor was that my advisors and myself were from different academic streams, thus studies rarely became the focal point of our talks. I would meet up with them two to three times a term. Our conversations revolved around a wide range of topics such as: settling into a foreign country, understanding other cultures, and mental and physical wellbeing. In the hectic academic environment at Oxford, regular interaction with my college advisors helped me form a good balance between curricular and extra-curricular activities.

Another aspect that I remember very fondly about Kellogg was living with my college mates. In the 2015-16 academic year 38-40 Woodstock Road, a University accommodation, was given to Kellogg and our college was very kind to provide housing for second year students. We had flatmates from diverse backgrounds such as history, computer science, development studies and business administration. We would often bond while cooking dinner. Such casual chit-chat would lead to unexpected professional collaborations. I once invited my flatmate and now junior warden, Agne Gvozdevaite, to give a talk about her research on the Amazonian rainforests to MBA students.

Richa Sinha, who was studying for the MSc in Environmental Change Management, and myself had a joint interest in development consulting. We would often help each other with mock interviews, CV reviews, etc. One particular instance that stands out is when I spotted four of my flatmates in the annual lecture given by Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus. Our shared interest in the revolutionary microfinance techniques of Grameen Bank stood testimony to the spirit of social service permeating our house.

Our college also held many interesting seminars. During the 2015 Bynum Tudor lecture, we had the pleasure of listening to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. This lecture laid the foundation for Oxford to become one of the first ten universities to sign up for the iconic UN ‘He for She’ Campaign. Later, in 2016, we had the privilege of listening to our own DPhil scholar Jenny Chan highlight human rights violation in the supply chain of Foxconn, supplier to Apple Inc.

Kellogg offers numerous student scholarships and grants. On two separate occasions, these proved to be of invaluable help to me. I had to apply for a visa extension at the start of my second masters. That year there was an unexpected increase in the visa fee due to the International Health Surcharge. With scholarship funds tightly stretched through the year, I was in a financial fix. At this juncture, Kellogg College’s Hardship Fund was a source of great help. Towards the end of my MBA programme, I wanted to conduct research on public/private partnerships in New Delhi, India. Here, the Kellogg College Travel Grant played an instrumental role in enabling me to focus on my research, without financial worries clouding my mind.

In my experience, I found Kellogg College to be an egalitarian institution with a flat hierarchy. Staff, irrespective of post, could be easily approached and the student-led MCR was always open to feedback.

I feel grateful to have been part of this warm and friendly community which played an important role in enriching my Oxford experience. I look forward with excitement to staying connected as an alumna.