Yensi Alejandra Flores Bueso
Q: A brief introduction of yourself
A: I completed an undergraduate degree in Biology, in Honduras; followed by an MBA before life in UCC. I arrived first to UCC to undertake a Postgraduate Master's degree in Molecular Cell Biology and now I am happy to say, I’m a PhD student at the Cork Cancer Research Centre.
I think I was very lucky growing up in Honduras because, there’s a lot of natural areas and biodiversity. This allowed me to really appreciate nature. I developed a deep curiosity for it, I just wanted to learn and understand it. This was reflected during high school, although I wasn’t very good in a lot of subjects like history or sociology, but I was brilliant in Biology, Maths and Physics.
Living in Honduras taught me to innovate and create from scratch. As in many developing countries, in Honduras, everything is to be done, there are many needs and very few solutions. This can be very challenging, but from a positive perspective its great schooling for problem solving, creativity and entrepreneurship. Where there are no jobs, you create your own. Where there is a necessity, you can create a solution. This taught me: It’s all up to you! No one will do it for you! This was great. I don’t have any expectations.
Q: What attracted you to study University College Cork?
A: The opportunity to study a Master's degree in Molecular Cell Biology with Bioinnovation attracted me to UCC. At the time where I was ready to pursue this Master, I was lucky that UCC was part of the Erasmus Mundus AMIDILA Scholarship programme. AMIDILA stands for “Academic Mobility for inclusive development of Latin-America” – a scholarship to promote the mobility of students from the less developed Latin America Countries, where students do not have the financial capabilities to pay for postgraduate studies and where the offer of postgraduate programmes are very limited. This was my case.
I am passionate about cellular and molecular biology. Ever since my first year as an undergraduate, I knew this was my path. However, this subject or research area is not available in Honduras. Therefore, I was clear that I needed to move and what’s more, I knew I needed a Scholarship to sponsor my studies. Scholarships for developing countries are limited and are very competitive.
As an undergraduate, I was aware of this and hence since early stage in my career, I did my best to fulfil any requirements to apply for a scholarship programme. Even so, it took me around 5 years to finally get offers from Scholarship programmes. Among the offers I received, was AMIDILA. This was the best Scholarship Programme. It covered my tuition and living expenses and what’s more, it allowed me to pursue a PhD after I graduated. This was in line with my ultimate objective of pursuing a PhD. AMIDILA had a consortium of Universities where I could pursue my MSc. Among them UCC. From the Molecular Cell Biology programmes, UCC’s MSc was for me the best structured programme. It also had a uniqueness, it incorporated Bioinnovation to it.
This made my mind: Creating and innovating through molecular cell biology??? Wow!!!
Q: What was it like adapting to Ireland, It’s people, culture and surroundings?
A: Although I have never been to Ireland before, adapting to Cork was the easiest part. The city is small, safe, and everyone is so friendly. I never expected to feel this good anywhere. People in Cork, they just make you feel like you are home. Everyone is happy to help and they are very welcoming. I am very thankful and happy that I decided to come here, being in a place where I feel so good just makes the studying so much easier. Cork is great! It has all the advantages of a big city with none of its disadvantages.
For me, since day one, I’ve felt that Ireland is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It almost looks like a fairy tale. But it's the people that makes this place so special. They are the friendliest and more welcoming people. Also, I am a big fan of Irish Trad music. Its magical.
Q: If you had to choose your best experience in UCC, which would it be?
A: One of the happiest moments of my life was when my Master’s research project supervisor offered me a PhD position. You see, for me as for many Hondurans, a PhD is almost impossible. Is something you dream about, but you know is just out of reach. This was my highest goal. I had worked very hard for 10 years to get to this opportunity. That day, my dream came true. I was in shock for like 3 minutes. I just couldn't believe it! After Dr. Tangney, told me, I just started saying – sorry, what? Afterwards, I just started crying with joy.
Q: Do you consider that your experience in UCC has enhanced your abilities and qualities on a personal and professional level?
A: Yes, I do think so. I think, one of the main things that I've seen here, that's very different from Honduras, is for example, the cultural differences and perceptions about 'ambition'. Everyone encourages and supports you to achieve as much as you can or as much as you want too. In Honduras, I felt I had to hide my ambitions and achievements because I didn't want people to think I was greedy or better than anyone else.
In UCC, Ireland my experience with feeling or showing ambition is perceived as a good thing, something positive. My Supervisor has helped me a lot to be more confident when speaking and writing, and not to be embarrassed about my ambitions or achievements. This has helped me a lot when pursuing different projects, networking, giving talks in conferences or applying for scholarships. These are essential skills for my research and entrepreneur career. In Honduras, I felt that receiving a recognition is something awkward and what I had achieved so far, just wasn’t recognised. But here, is something celebrated. I even got to meet Dr Michael Higgins, President of Ireland once. What’s more, - I couldn’t believe it – he acknowledged my achievements at UCC.
Q: Did you find it easy to make friends on campus and outside of UCC?
A: Yes, I make friends with everyone. I feel very safe in UCC, Cork. Here in UCC and Cork, you can talk to everyone because people are friendly. I felt I was too old to join societies and clubs because they tended to cater for the younger students. However, I did get involved in Voluntary Work. I approached Trocáire and became a Volunteer. I'm involved in a lot of activities inside and outside of UCC. I volunteer with the Munster Lost and Found Pets (I love dogs!) and the Irish Cancer Society.
Q: What is your favourite place on UCC’s campus?
A: The Quad and the Glucksman River Walk. It's just like a fairy tale in the Autumn months because of the change in foliage colours –from green to yellows, reds and oranges and the air is crisp and clean.
Q: What is your favourite place in Cork or elsewhere in Ireland and why?
A: Ireland is so beautiful. The Burren Landscape – OMG it's so beautiful! I've never seen this particular environment before – karst limestone rock with flowers growing in between the rocks. It's like something out of a movie. When I studied for my MBA in Madrid, I didn't like the built environment, too many buildings. I knew I couldn’t live there. When I came to UCC Cork and Ireland, I knew I could live here, there’s green everywhere. My favourite place in Cork City is the Mardyke Walk, Blackrock Castle – wow, it's so beautiful. These are amazing places.
Q: Would you encourage other international students to study at UCC and why?
A: Yes, I would. It’s the place to be if you want to innovate.
Here, if you really want to achieve something. You will. Everyone is happy to help you achieve your goals. Also, everyone is very accessible. There are very strong research groups and the welcoming environment just makes it easier.
UCC has lots of advantages. One of the things, it's a relatively small University. It's easier to succeed here, if you want too. If you shine, you'll be easily seen and faster, as opposed to a bigger University with a larger student population, that's a highly competitive environment. You might get lost or become just an account number; that's what it felt like in my home University – students are called by their account number and never by their names.
In UCC, the Master classes are small with approximately 20 students in a class. The learning is more personalised. You get to know the person and there's no hierarchy. It's ok to call your lecturer by their first names, although I still call my Supervisor Dr Tagney. It's very nice when someone knocks on my laboratory door to say, hello. It's also nice when you email a lecturer, that they will actually reply!
All that, plus the world class facilities; access to journals, the library which is amazing; WIFI internet; computer space. OMG – the gym! When I went to the gym for the very first time, I couldn't believe it. I said to myself, that's the nicest gym I have ever seen in the world. It's amazing. I love using it. I think we're pampered at UCC. If I hear a student complaining, I'm thinking "what are you on about! You don't know how lucky you are."
For me and where I've come from, it's impossible to complain when we have all these facilities here. We have everything we need to achieve good grades and do something with yourself. If you want to succeed, you can do this at UCC but you have to want to. I couldn't believe the amount of money that's available if you want to make a start-up business. I wrote the proposal and my co-founder pitched the idea and we won the funding. If I did this in Honduras, it would have taken me twenty years. I would have needed a loan. Unfortunately, there's no investment in Honduras.
Entrepreneurship is a great way to take a country forward, giving people a chance to improve themselves and make a difference, to do something. I don't take it for granted and I think many people appreciate it. IGNITE is a Business Innovation Programme established to specifically support graduates with a business idea. You can talk to them for advice which they're happy to do. If you want to succeed and achieve something, UCC is where the opportunities are vast. Everyone is willing to push and support you in the right direction. All you need is ambition.
Q: If you could give other international students advice what would it be?
A: Cease the opportunity! Take a risk, grab the opportunity to prove yourself. I think some people don't try because they're scared that they'll fail.