IF A PRIZE were to be awarded for perseverance in the face of immense struggle then Bequia resident, Alicia Lavia would be well-deserving of such.
Lavia has hurdled financial setbacks, disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and mental health challenges to achieve a Masters Degree in Finance Investment Risk with the highest academic honours of a Distinction from the Kent Business School.
The 31-year-old Kent University graduate sat with SEARCHLIGHT for an interview where she spoke about the biggest stumbling block to advancing her academic career – lack of funds to cover tuition costs.
The trouble started in 2013 after she received an acceptance letter from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill to pursue a Bachelors Degree in Economics and Management.
“I’d made up at that point in time that I wasn’t going to go because I didn’t want to put my family through any expense,” Alicia explained.
When a friend informed her about academic assistance for indigenous peoples, she decided to try this route, hoping that her Garifuna heritage and need for financial aid would qualify her. Even though the deadline for the scholarships had already closed, Alicia still submitted and was able to receive a fully funded scholarship to cover her undergraduate studies.
Securing the scholarship proved to be the easy part as the move to Barbados placed Lavia under tremendous mental strain leading her to feel depressed.
“I was worried about my family at home … because I was always this closed off person and now trying to open up to people. I fell into depression during my second year. I never probably snapped out of that until the exam was close. Luckily I did pass my exams,” she told SEARCHLIGHT.
Lavia was able to rebound in her final year of studies however, her grade point average was not able to recover, resulting in her graduating with lower Second Class Honours.
After UWI, Lavia placed her studies on the back burner and started working with Action Bequia, a charitable organization with a focus on the environment and resilience building in the Grenadine island.
Up until 2018, she had not given serious thought to pursuing postgraduate studies as she said “I didn’t feel ready for it, and I was enjoying my time at Action Bequia as well… and then in 2020 COVID happened.”
When she did eventually decide to jump into a Masters programme, she knew her choice would be one where she could connect her passion for environmental issues with her love of Finance and she found that at Kent University.
When she moved to the United Kingdom in 2021, Lavia had the memories of her challenging time at The UWI in her mind and as such was able to better manoeuvre some of the situations which had pushed her into depression before.
“It was different. I was a bit older now and understood myself better. And I understood when I needed a break from people and from things and when I can handle people and things,” she reflected.
“ So I love spending time with everybody. I love talking about the cases, but I understood when I needed that break from everybody and everything. It was easier now to just focus on my studies as well.”
But the challenges were not completely eliminated.The Mathematics component of the programme and the fact that COVID-19 forced classes to be held virtually proved to be mentally taxing.
“Management derivative is really, really challenging. And then by the time I got to my second semester, it was Credit Risk. I was like ‘what did I ever get myself into here?’
We also had Financial Econometrics, which was also its own challenge.”
With the finish line just beyond her view, Lavia had one more hurdle, her final thesis. She presented a paper on the ‘Effect of Environmental Social Governance Policies on Development Banks In Latin America and the Caribbean’ and after some long and stressful nights trying to source and compile data, it was finally over.
Alicia Lavia had successfully completed the programme with a distinction. She received the Global Skills Award for her work during the programme and was also appointed as Student Ambassador and Student Representative.
Lavia said she has given thought to pursuing Doctoral studies but for right now, she wants to enter into a field of work where she can inspire young people, especially women, to move past tough situations in life.
“I always had a passion for young women and wanting a woman, especially in our country, to not limit themselves. I always tell them, your background doesn’t matter. I grew up in a home where both my parents were struggling, but education was key to them.
“When they begin to dream bigger and they see those dreams come to pass it brings a smile to my face, because I can watch the number of children that I tutor come to some of the top schools in the country and that brings a smile on my face.”