I couldn’t have imagined what experience I’d have as an international master’s student at Oxford Brookes University. Looking back, it kick-started my passion of incorporating diversity and inclusion in marketing and ultimately led me to start a new company called Equalify Marketing Ltd.
To add in a little bit of background about myself, I am Sri Lankan but mostly lived in California and Monterrey, Mexico, while growing up.
Although I consider myself a confident person, coming to Oxford as an international student was quite intimidating. The thought of studying again in a new place mid-career was a bit overwhelming. I only started feeling more at home when I made an effort to connect with others and voiced my opinion about what I thought was important.
Working and studying
I worked in a marketing job while I was studying for my master’s. After participating in a panel event where I discussed how international students could be made to feel more comfortable, I was contacted with an offer I then pursued. I learned that being active and helpful while also allowing enough time for personal well-being does pay off.
Juggling a job and a full-time master’s programme was no easy task as it required specific time management and organisational skills. You should never let your work consume you, especially if your purpose is completing your degree.
I was offered roles within the university after graduating. Although they were great opportunities, I instead chose to take a risk and open my own inclusive marketing company.
I am happy I was able to work throughout my degree and even achieve a distinction, but the resulting stress in combination with the pandemic really did take a toll on my mental health.
When you find everything a bit overwhelming, my advice would be to take a step back and do something completely different. Don’t feel guilty about not functioning properly nor about your academic and professional work reflecting that.
Before and during the pandemic, it was essential for me to have a support system of family, friends and colleagues who encouraged me. Your university should also be able to help alleviate the situation.
Being a person from an ethnic minority and LGBTQ+, I always wanted to focus on diversity and inclusion in my career and combine those values within marketing.
During my degree, I found that teaching insufficiently addressed the need for marketing approaches grounded in diversity. Researching for a marketing assignment, I encountered numerous case studies using racial stereotypes as well as racist commercials from misinformed companies who did not exercise sensitivity.
I found myself getting more and more invested in matters concerning race equality, and I participated in forums, conferences and events addressing existing inequalities. I saw that diversity should be celebrated and protected in every social and professional context. The more I looked at these issues, the more passionate I became about promoting inclusive marketing practices in future, which led to me setting up my own marketing company.
A piece of advice I could give you if you are a student is to be vocal about what you believe. Although you might be in a new place (even if digitally for the time being), you will find like-minded people who share your values. I met many amazing people along my journey, some of whom will stay with me for a long time.
You might be thinking about how you could be proactive digitally while you are studying remotely. I would say the answer to that is to make the most of digital events.
Also, don’t restrict yourself to your university; look at digital events throughout the community. I remember personally meeting great people and encountering opportunities at events outside the university.
You might even find a new purpose that you hadn’t thought of before. Don’t stick to your comfort zone, especially when it comes to meeting new people.
Overall, my two years at Oxford Brookes University have been a valuable experience, even if there were also some difficult times. Finding my passion and combining it with my experience in marketing by starting Equalify has been rewarding. In large part, this was attributable to my experiences, such as attending an event for founders from diverse backgrounds, while doing my master’s.
If you have any questions, please do let me know and feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.