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In her grandmother’s footsteps: One Italian student’s journey to help save lives

Flaminia Fichera on a mission to follow in her grandmother's footsteps to save lives. Source: Flaminia Fichera

For Flaminia Fichera, becoming a doctor stems not just from a personal passion — service for the greater good is a family legacy. Her “nonna” (Italian for grandmother) was a paediatrician — and Fichera plans to follow in her footsteps with a degree in Medicine and Surgery from the University of Leeds. 

“I have always looked up to my Nonna, and hearing her stories of working in the healthcare industry inspired me to do it myself. With this virus coming along, and seeing how amazing the health services responded all over the world just made me realise I was making the right choice for my degree course,” Fichera tells us. 

At the beginning of this year, Fichera applied for a bursary with global logistics franchise PACK & SEND and won the grant. It gave her the confidence boost she needed to take the leap and study in one of the most respected education systems in the world.  “Being chosen to receive the bursary felt amazing. I’m putting the bursary towards paying for my books and accommodation when I arrive in Leeds — which I hope will be very soon,” Fichera says.

The bursary is a way to alleviate the financial distress many international students were in when the pandemic hit, according to CEO of PACK & SEND Mike Ryan. “We’ve worked with international students for decades, helping them repatriate their belongings or move from one university to another … We had so many wonderful applications, but Flaminia’s story was particularly inspiring,” he says.

Although not able to attend the lectures in person, Fichera has been logging on virtually from Rome to access her classes. This hasn’t deterred her though, it has only motivated her to work harder. With only five more years of studying Medicine and Surgery at University of Leeds, Flaminia Fichera is giving it her all. She has plans to make her mum and grandmother proud — we speak to her in more detail below:

With the world as your oyster, why make the choice of studying Medicine and Surgery at the University of Leeds in the UK?

I’ve visited London a couple of times and I just knew that studying Medicine and Surgery at University of Leeds in the UK was my long-term goal. The education system there is very sophisticated, and made me realise that I could excel in it. The NHS also plays a big part, and something I have always wanted to be a part of. 

You’ve touched hearts with your story on following your grandmother’s steps to study Medicine. Can you tell us a bit more about her? How did your Nonna and you become so close?

I was born and raised in Rome, where I’ve lived all my life with my family. We’re all extremely close and we are there for each other when we need it. I look up to my Nonna as an inspirational figure in my life, not just because of her experience within the healthcare industry, but because she was an amazing person, inside and out. To Italians, family values are really important. 

Flaminia Fichera and her beloved “Nonna” share a special bond. Source: Flaminia Fichera

Your grandmother sounds amazing. Do you have any inspiring stories of her?

My Nonna studied a lot of cases in her life, hearing about them made me more determined to be like her. I was inspired by her bravery, passion and determination to make a difference in other people’s lives. The fact that she also met her husband at university, adds to this beautiful love story. 

One of her first cases as a paediatrician was supporting someone with cancer. This gave my Nonna so much satisfaction to put people first, it just gave me motivation to do the same. This was the pivotal point that helped shape her career.

What are some of the challenges you faced with online studies at the University of Leeds, and how did you overcome them?

All the technological problems at the beginning were sorted out very quickly. I also thought there would be some challenges in not having the same experience as someone who was physically in the lecture hall at the University of Leeds, but there really wasn’t. 

I learn everything I need from each session, and the team was extremely helpful in getting on with the classes which has been brilliant for me. Although this is a little different to how I planned to start my studies, I am now used to it. 

The PACK & SEND bursary is known to be very helpful towards international students, and helping them move abroad. Can you walk us through what it was like applying for it?

My biology teacher told me to apply for the PACK & SEND bursary, and as I was feeling motivated one evening, I put together an application. My mum and boyfriend also pushed me to do it, they knew how passionate I am about studying Medicine and Surgery at the University of Leeds in the UK — it just made sense.

Flaminia Fichera has big plans to continue her grandmother’s legacy in healthcare. Source: Flaminia Fichera

For my application, I submitted my inspirations for my studies, as well as highlighting my reasons to want to study in the UK. I also included some details on the positive contribution I wanted to make during my time at the University of Leeds — which was making a difference in the healthcare industry. Being chosen after the process which was straightforward and simple made it all the better.

The bursary will help with my living costs, buying books for my studies, and flights to the UK when I am finally allowed to travel. It will help take some pressure off so I can live comfortably and not have to worry too much about money.  

As Leeds is known for its vibrant city culture and lifestyle, what’s the first thing you plan to do when you arrive there, and why?

I have been speaking to my fellow housemates ever since I secured a place there, so I plan to spend some time getting to know them a little more. It’s nice to be able to communicate with people from Leeds which just makes me more excited for when I finally arrive. 

I am also extremely excited about being able to decorate my own bedroom, like my little project to make it feel like home. In addition, I have a few friends who are also studying in the UK, so I plan to visit them at some point.  

What’s are some of the things from your home country you think will miss the most, and how do you plan to substitute them?

Four things that I will miss the most? My family, my friends, the sun, and obviously, Italian food. It’ll take a while to adapt to my new life, but I find it invigorating as well. Keeping in contact with family and friends virtually is challenge number one. 

Flaminia Fichera aims to make her mum and grandmother proud by studying Medicine and Surgery to help save lives. Source: Flaminia Fichera

Challenge number two will be experimenting with cooking with my new housemates when I’m at the University of Leeds. I don’t think you can substitute the feeling of being in the sun, but it’s something I can adapt to. 

As studying abroad becomes the most popular choice for the younger generations nowadays, even in pandemics like the one we are currently facing, what is your advice for students looking to take a similar path to yours abroad?

Things might not run smoothly, but it’s important to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. It would be so easy to just go with the safest option, but life is about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and going with your heart. 

Always keep your goal in mind and surround yourself with positive people. This is consequential to help you keep on track to what you want to achieve. Think about what would give you the best opportunity to thrive.