MY husband Nickolas and I are originally from Guyana, South America and I married into the British Army in 2005 after we got together during his basic training.
My father was a lawyer and I used to work and shadow him in the courts so it was something I always wanted to be.
My parents had other ideas however, and I ended up studying medicine in Guyana and the United States.
Eventually I want to merge my background with the law and specialise in clinical and medical negligence.
HELP FROM AFF
Under the immigration laws at the time we got married, all F&C spouses held exempt Armed Forces dependant visas, which meant that we were unable to apply for settlement or Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) until two years after our spouses (the serving soldiers) became British Citizens themselves.
It’s hard to leave your family behind, no matter where in the world you are from
So my options were limited. I faced a seven-year wait to apply for university at the home student rate, or pay the astronomical overseas fees.
Four years later, whilst reading the (then) AFF Journal, I discovered that the rules were changing, so I liaised with AFF’s F&C Specialist, Katherine Houlston.
This was a real breakthrough and it meant that all F&C spouses married to a Commonwealth soldier would be able to apply for settlement once the soldier had served for five years.
GOING TO UNI
It was great to be at school again and I quickly became involved in all that the University had to offer.
But it was also one of the most difficult decisions I had to make because of my son, Preston, as I was sometimes away from him for long periods.
There were times when I felt selfish as my absence was taking a toll on the family. I stayed with relatives when the timetable was hectic and sometimes travelled in daily from Wattisham in Suffolk when it was less busy or if Nickolas was away.
However, I was encouraged and supported by my family and the Army community, especially the staff of Scallywags Childcare Centre in Wattisham.
In my final year we were posted to Middle Wallop in Hampshire three weeks into the new term. Marching out when essays are due requires serious planning and time management!
Nickolas and Preston are very proud of my achievements and there was no better feeling than receiving my certificate knowing they were in the audience.
After finally clearing away all the books from the dining room table I’m taking a year out before starting City Law School in September.
THINKING OF STUDYING?
The UK Council for International Student Affairs (www.ukcisa.org.uk) lists the latest fees and funding at colleges or universities for non-British Citizens.
You are eligible for home fees for further education if you:
- Have ILR or you are the spouse/child or civil partner of someone with ILR. (An F&C soldier with an exempt stamp is not considered to have ILR);
- Are the spouse/child of a British soldier who has lived in the UK for three years;
- You have a valid visa and have lived in the UK for three years.
You are eligible for home fees for higher education if you:
- Have ‘settled’ status (ILR or British Citizenship) and have lived in the UK for the three years before the start of the course;
- Are married to, or the dependant of a British Citizen and have lived in the UK for the three years before the start of the course;
- Are an EU national and have lived in the UK for the three years before the start of the course.
If you’re not sure whether you qualify, complete a “fees status questionnaire” available at the university to assess your individual circumstances.
If you are unhappy with the decision, call the UKCISA Student Advice Line on 020 7788 9214.
If you have been on an accompanied posting overseas for part of the three years, explain your situation to the university to see if they will make an exception.
Contact your AFF Foreign & Commonwealth assistant by email at email@example.com for more information.
“For all Army spouses it’s hard to leave your family behind, no matter where in the world you are from,” said Natalie. “You cannot always be at their bedsides when they are sick or attend birthday celebrations. My advice would be to throw all your energies into the new life you signed up for and support your serving soldier. Get involved, as the Army family is a family away from home.”