Two years ago, I had never heard of public relations. Actually, that’s not strictly true – I’d come across the term just once.
That was about three years ago, when I was an exchange student in America. We all had to write a paper on a career we were interested in. I did mine on being a translator and another student wrote hers on public relations. Maybe she didn’t have to present her paper, or maybe I simply wasn’t paying attention – in any case, I don’t remember a thing, except that I had no idea what public relations meant.
So, how come I ended up on a PR degree course? ‘The best choices I’ve made in my life were intuitive, not rational,’ one of my teachers in college kept telling our class whenever he got slightly side-tracked and started giving us advice on life after school. Even back then, I had a feeling he might have a point. Now, judging from my own experience, I know he was right, since my decision to come to England and study public relations was purely intuitive.
When I returned home to Germany to finish school after my year in America as an exchange student, I knew that I would be leaving again as soon as I had graduated. I just couldn’t see myself staying in Germany any longer. My initial plan had been to go to university in the States, since living over there had been a fantastic experience.
Halfway through college I realised that would be quite impossible financially (I know students complain about tuition fees in England, but fees are even higher over there.) So, when I finally came to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to afford university in America, England just came to my mind as the next best option – it was another English-speaking country, with lower tuition fees and closer to home (I didn’t necessarily consider that a desirable feature, but I thought it might help convince my parents).
You might think I had been to England before and would have had some idea what it was like, but my experience of England was limited to a stopover at Heathrow airport on my way to America. Yet I was ready to immerse myself in another culture after my positive experience in the States, and so my decision to go England for university was settled without further investigation into English culture or lifestyle.
That then brought me to the second and equally crucial part: finding a course I was interested in studying. Before going to America, I had wanted to be a translator, but doing some research on the job over there had made me realise it wasn’t the right thing for me. At that point, I was at a total loss as to what would be a suitable career.
I was certain that I wanted to work in a business environment. I briefly considered courses like business studies or international business, but quickly dismissed those options as I realised I wasn’t really interested. It was around that time that I came across the term public relations on a university website. Curious about what PR was, I decided to look it up. As I came across the CIPR’s definition, ‘Public relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you, I started to get interested. I read more and found out that public relations involved a lot of communication, as well as some business and management elements. That’s exactly what I want, I thought.
Soon after, I ended up on the UCAS website, looking for universities offering PR courses. I picked out six across England, including Leeds Metropolitan University, and sent off my UCAS application. As I was waiting to find out if I had got into my chosen universities, I spent some more time considering which of these I actually wanted to go to, in case I got several offers. I decided on Leeds Met as my favourite, since, having lived in a small town all my life, I quite desperately wanted to experience the big city life. When Leeds Met’s offer arrived, I declined or cancelled all my other choices and prepared to move to a new city as well as a new country that I had never been to before.
Now, several months into my course, I have more of an idea what public relations is about. I love the course, as well as Leeds and England in general, which underpins my teacher’s advice – just go for what feels right. Maybe intuition isn’t always the best guide in decision-making, but so far, it has worked for me.