Peter Kamal tells us more about his choice to study in Toulouse, his experience of living abroad and his favourite activities in his free time.
First of all, congratulations on winning the British Council IELTS Award, Peter!
Can you tell us something about yourself and your background?
I grew up in rural Bavaria, reasonably close to the mountains and always surrounded by nature. My parents instilled a deep love of the natural world in me, and I carry that with me to this day. I left school at 17, quite disorientated about what to do, and started studying Law. After a two-and-a-half-year stint at Law School, I finally admitted to myself that I was not happy, dropped out and changed my degree to Business Administration and Economics. What I missed most in Law was the perspective to make a proper impact – and I felt especially Economics was a better tool to do so. Over the course of the bachelor’s degree, that turned out to be the correct intuition and I decided to pursue a career in Economics. With climate change evermore looming over our heads, I was determined to go into the environmental/ecological part of it.
The best reinforcement I got was when the Dasgupta review on Ecological Economics came out this year. In the foreword, the amazing David Attenborough had written that he considered Economics one of the most important tools to change our current ways of living to the better. He is an ecologist and one of my heroes (and of so many other people), thus it felt like a perfect validation of the path that I had chosen.
What are your study plans for the upcoming year?
The first year here at Toulouse School of Economics is a rigorous Economics programme, including but not limited to Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Econometrics and R programming. Beside the compulsory curriculum (which is very similar to any first year in an Economics master), I have the possibility to choose electives that prepare me for the second year, which will be an interdisciplinary programme together with the ecology faculty from UT3 Paul Sabatier focusing on human-ecosystem interaction. To prepare myself for this unique curriculum, I will take courses in Environmental and Behavorial Economics as well as some quantitative methods to be able to conduct proper data analysis.
Why did you decide to study abroad?
Up to this point, I had not lived abroad because I was too scared when I was younger and half of my bachelor’s degree happened throughout the pandemic. I was aching to finally go, and having finished the bachelor’s degree, there was nothing in my way. If you have the opportunity, I think living abroad for an extended period of time is one of the best experiences you can have – and I feel like a full master’s degree instead of an Erasmus semester provides a much better possibility to dive deep into foreign languages and cultures and really build a life there. I hope to be fluent in French by the end of my time here, and not only make international, but also French friends.
Why did you choose Toulouse as your study destination?
It definitely came down to the programme. This combination of Economics and Ecology is quite unique in Europe – Helsinki offers something similar, but if I have the choice, I’ll pick southern France over southern Finland any day. I only started reading and hearing about Toulouse after I had applied, and it boasted raving reviews as a city in general and as a student city in particular. With that in mind, it was not hard to make the decision for Toulouse.
What impact do you want to make after finishing your degree?
From the little I know about Ecological Economics, I feel like the main point is to understand human-ecosystem interaction on a community level first, and then scale it up to a systemic level to effect change. That is pretty much the path I want to take, doing research in communities about their interactions with critical or endangered ecosystems, and hopefully optimize these interactions in a way that is beneficial for humans and nature alike. In doing so, I hope that patterns emerge that chart a way to a more sustainable future in which our relationship with nature is symbiotic instead of exploitative.
How were your first days in Toulouse?
They were kind of dreamy, to be honest. Coming out of lockdown, I was sorely lacking social contact, vibrant city life, and a proper schedule. Toulouse has provided that from the first minute on – everybody in my programme seems lovely and the city is beyond beautiful and full of life. Right now, I’m attending Math and French boot camp and I’m looking forward to attending the regular classes. I’ve found great places to eat and relax already and spent a few evenings at the Garonne with my classmates. It’s love at first sight.
How has Covid-19 changed your study decision?
It has not changed the decision whatsoever. By now, many people are vaccinated, so TSE is actually doing presence lectures (which I’m very glad for, especially regarding social contact). Life feels quite normal right now, puzzlingly so.
Based on your experience so far, what would you tell young people who are thinking about studying abroad?
Do it. Wherever you are, you are going to be in a bubble. However, I feel like the trick to having rich experiences is to visit as many bubbles as possible. It’s scary leaving your bubble, it’s comfortable in there - but that little bit of discomfort when entering a new one will reward you with such an amazing experience. I’ve been here one week and I already feel better than I have in all the time during the pandemic. It’s new, exciting, challenging, all of that. If you can, go abroad.
How did you hear about the IELTS Award?
I was searching for scholarships and just stumbled across it in my Google search results. It seemed perfect for my particular case because my subject is concerned with societal impact. Additionally, it looked quite unbureaucratic (which would prove to be true).
How did you learn about IELTS? Why did you choose this test and what was your experience with the test?
The IELTS was the required language test to get into my master’s degree. My experience was good overall. The test was administered quite well despite being during the first Covid-19 winter, and the complementary online prep materials do a good job in giving you a feel for the questions. Text production is always a tricky thing when you don’t know the corrector, but they do give some good pointers there too.
Would you recommend the IELTS test to students who are aiming to study abroad?
If a language test is required for your degree abroad (which is the norm today), I would definitely recommend IELTS. It seems to me that it is the test that is most widely accepted, so it’s your best bet in mitigating the risk of having to take multiple tests if you apply at different universities.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoy variety, so I do a host of things I know quite little about – from reading philosophy and writing short stories to longboarding and Star Wars fandom. The most important things in my life, however, are my friends, photography, specialty coffee, running, and yoga. Photography is my creative outlet, running and yoga balance me out (the latter quite literally), and coffee is just a weird thing I got into when I worked as a barista. And of course, life is nothing without friends.
Thank you Peter for the interview. We wish you every success in your studies in Toulouse! We are looking forward to hearing more about your experience in the coming months.