The End of Term 1

Last week was the last week of term 1.  During the last week, I had three timed exams and two essays to complete.  Though it may sound like a lot, I felt like I was able to distribute my time well between all the studying I had to do.  I was a little nervous because this is the first time I have had an exam in a class count for 100% of my final grade, which was the case for two of my modules.  Since the exams were based on case studies, most of the questions required us to  give details based on our analysis.  Hand writing everything in the space of three hours took some concentration to make sure I covered everything I needed to.  Three hours may seem like a long time, but the time flew by in the exams.  The key for me was to relax, read the questions a few times, and then create an outline of how I would answer the question.  This helped me to not leave any important details out of my answer.  We don’t find out our results until the first week of February, which means we all have to be very patient.

I am looking forward to a little bit of a break now during the Christmas holidays.  I will spend this time working on the Hult Prize, which was mentioned in my last post.  I also plan on doing a little more research for my dissertation as well as some of my own projects and interests.  Its a little weird for me now that I have a ton of free time.

My wife and I plan on staying in Birmingham for Christmas and then traveling to Paris and Barcelona for New Years.  We are looking forward to traveling and having our first Christmas with just the two of us together.  It will be different, but I think it will be fun.  Maybe we will start some of our own Christmas traditions.

The Hult Prize at Aston

As I have said in a previous post, Aston provides tons of opportunities to attend events, join different societies, and compete in business competitions.  I recently competed in the Hult Prize at Aston, which is a global student competition sponsored by Bill Clinton.  You can check out more details of the competition at

Each year, the Hult Prize gives a challenge to solve a specific problem for the poor through business solutions.  The winning team then is given one million USD to start their business.  This year’s challenge was to solve the problem of early childhood development in urban slums around the world.  As an aspiring social entrepreneur, I jumped at the opportunity to compete in the Hult Prize at Aston.  At Aston, the winning team then advances to the regional finals in London, which is one of five different regional finals throughout the world.  The winner at each regional finals then competes in Boston for the chance to win the million.

Yesterday, I was able to compete with a great team of three others.  It took long hours to come up with an idea, calculate financial projections, develop a marketing strategy, and refine our business model, but we felt prepared for our pitch.  After we finished our pitch, I felt good about our chances.  However, there were good ideas from other teams as well and I didn’t know what to expect.  Gratefully, our team name was called as they announced the winner!  We were all very excited to have won and look forward to pitching in London in March.

Now that it has been a day since the competition, it is starting to sink in that we have a lot of work to do if we want to be successful in the regional finals.  We must refine our business model and our presentation if we expect to have a chance.  I am looking forward to continue learning as my team and I work on our business and seek out partnerships with other organizations.  It will be a lot of hard work, but I know it will be worth it. By March, I’ll know everything about my other team members!


1 Day Trip to London

This last week was my wife’s birthday, so we decided to make a trip to London for the day.  We left early in the morning and caught a 5:45am bus.  The National Express is the cheapest (about £15 roundtrip).  We decided to see as much as we could in just one day, which meant us taking the tube and walking all over the city.  We arrived at the Victoria Coach Station and didn’t waste anytime before going to see the sites. Here is a map of where we went:

Check out our photos from some of our favorite sites:

Buckingham Palace:

Westminster Abby:

Big Ben:

London Eye:

Trafalar Square and the National Gallery:
Tower of London.  The were poppies all planted, commemorating the fallen soldiers in World War 1:
Yes, we are Harry Potter fans.  We had to go take a photo at Platform 9 3/4:
We ended the day by going to the musical, Wicked.  My wife has always wanted to go, and since we were in London on her birthday, we figured it was perfect timing:
After Wicked, we caught the bus back to Birmingham.  We weren’t in our bed back home until 3:00am, but it was well worth the trip!

Time Management

Life here at Aston has been busy now that we are almost halfway done with the first term. I feel that I am now settled in and have been able to find a network of people who I can connect with and who have similar interests as me. With everything going on, it is easy to fall behind in your studies. I have had to be good at managing my time between class assignments, career outlooks, my personal life, and my religious commitments. The following are a few things that I have done to make sure I manage my time wisely and accomplish everything I want/need to throughout the week:

  1. I make sure I write everything down in my calendar on my phone. If I don’t write things down, I will forget about it.
  2. I make plans the night before for the following day. This helps me to not waste time trying to figure out what I need to be doing.
  3. I have learned to say no to things that aren’t on my priority list. There are a lot of events, workshops, and career fairs that happen here at Aston. It is impossible for me to go to everything. Though all of the events would be helpful, I have had to pick and choose which events would be the most beneficial for my progression.
  4. I make sure to take the time to relax and spend time with my wife and friends. I know if I never take a break, I will burn out and my studies will suffer. I haven’t been able to travel yet, but we plan to do some site seeing soon!  Below is a picture from exploring the local library.
On the roof of the Birmingham City Library

Though I have been very busy, I am still enjoying myself. I love the subjects I am studying and learning about. My wife makes fun of me because she catches me reading random reports and researching my interests on the Internet during my free time. Make sure you enjoy what you study and that it can be used for what you are passionate about before coming to do a MSc at Aston. If you don’t love it, you will be miserable!

Differences Between the American and British University Systems

From my experience so far, I have noticed some large and subtle differences in the way classes or modules are conducted in the United States and in the U.K.  I just want to share some of those differences for anyone trying to decide what university system would be a better fit for them.  However, I will let you know that I have only attended one university in the United States and one university in the U.K.  My experience may be different from others who have studied in both places.

At Aston, I have now been to one week of lectures.  I have four main modules along with a few modules that only occur a few times throughout the term, which are dedicated to career progression, ethics, and starting our dissertation topic.  Lectures from each module are held only once a week.  Lectures are followed by tutorials, which is basically when group projects are discussed, presentations are given, and case studies are analyzed.  The rest of my free time is spent reading course material and getting together with my group to work on projects.  Aston focuses a lot on teaching us how to work in teams.  A portion of our final grade or mark can even be determined by how team members present material we have prepared.

The benefit of structuring our modules like this is that it prepares you well for the real world.  You learn how to work in a team, which is almost always the case when working in any organization.  You also won’t always have a professor or boss to be there when you have questions.  The set up at Aston teaches us how to find answers on our own and be self sufficient in the learning process.

I did my undergraduate work at Brigham Young University in the United States.  There I had five to six classes or modules every term.  Each class had lectures two to three times a week.  There were more assignments and exams and it was more hands on as opposed to self-directed.  The majority of my time outside of class was spent reading course material on my own.  We were also expected to do things pertaining to career development on our own.  There were resources available, but there wasn’t time set aside for us within our coursework.

The benefit of this class structure was that I had more face-to-face time with my professors.  I was able to build relationships with them and felt very comfortable going to them for help and advice.  The learning process was more about going to class than doing research on my own, as it pertained to the course material.

Obviously, both structures have their pros and cons.  I am happy that I have been able to be a part of both structures and have done my best to take advantage of their strengths.

Hello Birmingham

We have now been in the UK for just over a week and are finally trying to get settled in.  After traveling for about 17 hours, we finally landed in Birmingham at 7:00am.  From there we had a young family from our church pick us up at the airport.  They took us to their flat and then we started to look for places to live.  We decided to live off campus since we were married and didn’t want to live in dorm style housing with shared kitchens. The housing market here is crazy, especially this time of year when so many students are looking for places to live.  We would literally be viewing flats with other applicants interested in renting the place.  We also had to be decisive if we found a place we liked because others were sure to write up an offer.

After two days of looking, we found a nice apartment for a great price located across the canal from the Mailbox.  Though we were able to sign the contract, we weren’t able to move in for a week because the funds and all the paperwork had to be processed.  In the meantime, we stayed at a budget hotel called Nitenite.  It was small, but did the job as we tried to settle into our new lives in Birmingham.

photo 1
A street in the city centre
The canal outside our apartment
The canal outside our apartment

There are a lot of logistics that you need to think about when moving to the UK.  Some things you need to keep in mind when moving include:

  • Opening a new bank account and becoming accustomed to new banking policies
  • The different policies for paying bills such as water and electric
  • Registering with the healthcare system
  • Learning new phrases and words that are popular in the UK

Though there are things I have needed to learn as I have made the transition to life in Birmingham, it has been well worth the adjustment thus far.  I have already met people from all across the world and am sure I will meet many more.  My term 1 group has already been set and I have two teammates from Germany, one from  France, and one from Nigeria.  We are already working on a business plan for an assignment we will be presenting this week.  I am looking forward to continue working with them and getting my modules started next week!




One Week Away!

I have about a week left here in the States until I leave for Birmingham.  My wife and I now have our visas in hand and are starting to pack and get all our things in order.  It was a little stressful waiting for our visas, but we were very exciting after received them in the mail.

This summer has been quite a whirlwind with family vacations and work all over the world.  Now that the summer is coming to an end, we are just about ready to make the long plane ride to the UK to start on my master’s degree.  This summer started with me finishing my undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University at the end of April.  To continue my education and increase my skillset, I went to Ghana to do market research and helped build a company that coaches/consults SME’s in developing countries.  It was a great opportunity to learn how a startup works and learn what it takes to grow a successful company.  While I was there I was able to meet lots of inspirational people and was exposed to new business opportunities.

I am now looking forward to growing in my professional and personal life as I go to Aston University.  Learning has become something that I love and I hope to do a lot of it while at Aston.  I am eager to meet people from all over the world and be exposed to different cultures.  From what I have heard and experienced, Aston is a great place to be to gain an international perspective.  I can’t wait to get started!

With the in-laws on vacation
With the in-laws on vacation
With my family on vacation
With my family on vacation
Holding an event in Accra, Ghana
Holding an event in Accra, Ghana

If you have any questions or want to get in touch, please feel free to make a comment.  I will get back to you as soon as I can!

The beginning

A few weeks ago I was informed that I was awarded the Santander Scholarship from the Aston University International Office.  I was delighted to learn of the opportunity I will have to be an International Ambassador during the 2014/15 school year.  I am very grateful for the financial help I will be receiving to pay for my studies.  The scholarship will really help me focus more of my attention on being a student, which will better prepare me for my future endeavors.  In the fall, I will be studying a MSc in Strategy and International Business at the business school.  I have had experience working with social entrepreneurs in the United States and Africa and would love to use my degree to create a positive impact through social innovation.  I am excited for the opportunities that will come as a student and International Ambassador at Aston University this fall.

About me

CornillesMy name is Austin Cornilles and I am from Portland, Oregon in the United States.  I graduated with my Bachelor’s in sociology this last Spring and will now be studying a MSc in Strategy and International Business at Aston University.  I look forward to meeting students from all over the world and gaining an international perspective on business.  I plan to be involved with companies and organizations that create socially innovative products and services.  My passion and dream is to reduce unemployment and eliminate extreme poverty around the globe.  I love watching and playing sports, traveling, and creating lasting memories with family and friends.