Sometimes, dreams come true with a dose of star power. That’s the story of Vitoria Mario, to whom Taylor Swift gifted US$32,000 last year to her GoFundMe campaign to study mathematics at the University of Warwick.
Mario, who moved to the UK in 2016, earned two A*s in maths and an A in physics in her A Levels. As she did not qualify for maintenance loans or grants, she lacked the funds to help pay for accommodation, a laptop, textbooks and general living costs. Life isn’t always easy, Mario knew, but staring at the prospect of missing out on university was crushing.
Not believing in the impossible, she set up the GoFundMe page. “Sowing a seed into me and my dream, is sowing a seed into a generation of young people, of immigrants who face similar barriers and struggles like me, who have goals, dreams and aspirations,” she wrote. “Help me fight this battle today.”
The GoFundMe sought to raise 40,000 pounds (approximately US$56,100 at the time of writing). When Mario was halfway to this target, Swift donated the rest of it.
The pop star wrote on the fundraising page, “Vitoria, I came across your story online and am so inspired by your drive and dedication to turning your dreams into reality … Good luck with everything you do! Love, Taylor.”
We caught up with Mario nearly a year later to find out what life’s been like at the University of Warwick and her future plans:
Where does your interest in math stem from? Is there a personal backstory behind this?
My interest started from early times and there’s no specific reason for it. But nevertheless, it has been the only part in academics that just made more sense to me.
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What made you choose to study abroad in the UK?
Better opportunities and a better life prospect, especially for black people.
Walk us through getting sponsored by Taylor Swift to study at the University of Warwick. What did it feel like for you to get randomly chosen and how did it help your studies?
It felt weird to be honest. I never thought a famous celebrity would help me get to uni. Swift’s donation has helped immensely as I am now able to pay for my accommodation and it has also contributed to academic costs.
What do you like most about the UK?
The diversity that is found in schools. In Portugal, I was always a minority but in the UK it was completely different.
If you could list your top three favourite things about the University of Warwick, what would they be?
The buildings are amazing. They’re so aesthetically pleasing to see and be at. I also like the campus, which in my opinion, is so welcoming. It’s also perfect for first years to socialise and start getting to know each other.
Lastly, the diversity that’s present at uni which exposed me to so much that I’ve never experienced. It’s certainly a preparation for the working world that is more diverse than ever now.
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What’s been your most memorable experience besides your studies at the University of Warwick?
Being able to learn English in two years. Netflix had a big role to play.
Walk us through your hometown back in Portugal.
My hometown is a village situated in the centre of Portugal called Miranda do Corvo. It’s pretty quiet and the population is very small. There’s not many tourist places but the food there is amazing so I would definitely take visitors to a local restaurant since the gastronomy is very unique.
What’s local food compared to home like? Tell us your most and least favourite.
The food in Portugal is healthier as we are big consumers of fish and seafood. I love “chanfana” (Portuguese lamb or goat stew) and “leitão” (suckling pig) which are the most popular dishes from my hometown. To be honest, I don’t know any dish I dislike.
Is it hard to order food or have conversations with locals in Portugal?
Yes, it’s very hard in my opinion. Some people will know how to speak English but the locals tend to not be very sympathetic which would make the conversation harder to flow. There’s no UberEats or Deliveroo where I live so it’s basically impossible to order after 10pm.
What’s one thing you miss from home and how do you substitute it?
My family. Unfortunately, I was the only one that moved to the UK and I miss having my family nearby and of course, my mum’s food as well. The only way to substitute it is to keep in touch with video calls.
What are your plans after graduating?
After graduating, I intend to work straight after. Even though I’m still quite unsure of what industry I want to work in.
Any advice for international students looking to study in the UK?
I would say go for it. Don’t be scared and be ready to win.