Living the Dream – The Hard Way

Apr 26, 2013   //   by Keith McDonald   //   Guest Post  //  Comments Off on Living the Dream – The Hard Way

Which4U is delighted to bring you the remarkable story of Anna Francombe, a former BRIT School star who was offered a place at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles. Despite being offered an academy scholarship, she still had to find $25,000 dollars for college fees on top of living expenses. What follows is a remarkable story of perseverance, learning, and discovery, for a talented young performer to fulfil her dream.

At the age of 20, I was offered a place at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles following a successful audition. I received a performance-based scholarship of $5,000 towards my tuition fees, which totalled $30,000 for the year. I was determined to go. It was my dream.

Firstly, I contacted the BRIT School for advice, and they referred me to the Obie Bursary. I presented my situation to the Obie Board, who kindly donated £2,000 towards my cause.

Next, I applied for a Career Development Loan from Barclays. At first they refused me based on my credit score. But when I checked my credit score and found it to be ‘Excellent’, I queried Barclays’ judgement and sent them a screen-cap of my credit score along with a letter of appeal. My appeal was accepted, and I was given a £10,000 loan – to be sent directly to the school each term.

I set up a website called ‘Get Anna to AADA’, which I used to inform everyone about my cause and provide updates. The link to my Paypal account gradually began to receive donations.

I also received donations from many generous friends and family members. One of my friends put £200 in an envelope through my door with a note on top which said “Be as magnificent as we all know you are”, which was a simply beautiful gesture.

Of course, tuition fees were only part of the battle. I had to be able to prove I could financially support myself in Los Angeles, without needing help from the state. My father and I had to get an affidavit of his guaranteed financial support, which required him to invest the lump sum of his pension into my fees for AADA.

The process of being able to afford – and prove I could afford – the one year at AADA was stressful and very tiring. But with my family and friends supporting me every step of the way, I eventually managed to get my visa, book my flights, secure my apartment, and before I knew it I had landed at LAX.

Whilst in LA, I used a CaxtonFX card to access my money at ATMs and to pay for things without using cash. I highly recommend it for anyone staying abroad long term, or even for a holiday. If you don’t want to be carrying around wads of cash or be charged for using your debit card, CaxtonFX is the way to go.

Applying for the card is very easy. After paying a small deposit, money from your UK bank account can be transferred to the card in the currency of your choice. Once you’ve returned home and have no further use for the card, any remaining funds can be transferred back to your bank account. It was a huge help.

Whilst in LA, I used a CaxtonFX card to access my money at ATMs and to pay for things without using cash. I highly recommend it for anyone staying abroad long term, or even for a holiday.

It was very difficult to keep a lid on my spending. Everything was new and exciting. I was meeting different people, going to different places, trying different food and drink. It was the most exciting time of my life so far. Yet, LA is very much like living in central London – it gets very expensive, very quickly.

I frequently had to ask my father for further financial help, as I didn’t quite think about how much day-to-day living would cost.

Having to buy things that make an apartment easy to live in, like coffee mugs, glasses, bowls, plates, cutlery, cleaning products for the kitchen and bathroom, toilet paper, kitchen towels, bath towels, duvets, bed sheets, pillow cases, the weekly food shop, a kettle, a toaster, a hair dryer, really mount up. Add to this buying health and beauty products, going out and socialising at the cinema, or buying drinks for a party.

I had to buy new dancewear when my old things wore out, alongside sun lotion and sunglasses (essential in LA). Also, all of the little costs that add up like having the odd visit to a coffee shop, or forgetting lunch and having to buy it. It all gets so expensive.

Of course, returning home I was pretty much penniless. But it was worth it: for the experience I had, the friends I made, and everything I learned. The tuition I received at AADA was amazing, and what I have learned there – about my craft, about finance, and about myself – will stay with me forever.

Upon the completion of my time at AADA, Barclays contacted me about re-payments. I spoke to some very helpful people from the Career Development Loan department, and we figured out a payment plan that was manageable.

I will be paying my loan off for another 4 more years. At every step of the way, I am able to call Barclays, tell them where I am financially, and they will do everything they can to help make my repayments manageable. They are very helpful and very understanding.

Living in a different country and effectively starting from scratch taught me a lot about myself, and made me a much stronger and more confident person. All the stress of trying to finance it was totally worth it.

Even the journey of finding ways to finance it was worth it. I know now what it takes to try and reach your dream. I know that while banks may tell you ‘no’ in black ink on a white page, you don’t have to take that ink as the final answer. You can write back to them, call them and speak to someone.

I explained my story to them in my appeal letter, and I think that is what got me my Career Development Loan. That, and the fact that my credit score was ‘Excellent’, I think, might have had something to do with it.

The experience has taught me that no matter how financially impossible something may seem, if I want it enough then I will work hard to make it happen. If I could do it, anyone can. If you think it’s worth it, and you have support around you; anything is possible.

I know that while banks may tell you ‘no’ in black ink on a white page, you don’t have to take that ink as the final answer.

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