From Be’er Sheva to Oxford Brookes – Auren’s life changing experience

Auren Renford

In 2019, Auren Renford, received the Sam Zuckerberg Israel Scholarship to study MSc International Hotel and Tourism Management at Oxford Brookes’ renowned School of Hospitality Management. He says receiving the scholarship gave him a “once in a lifetime experience” which has changed his life.

Auren is from Be’er Sheva, in the Negev Desert in southern Israel. He studied Hospitality at undergraduate level in Israel and managed a growing portfolio of Airbnb properties.

To further develop his career and expand his horizons, he wanted to study at postgraduate level. Despite coming from a city that only sees rain on a few days each year, he was keen to come to the UK and Oxford Brookes’ reputation for excellent Hospitality courses made it an ideal choice.

However, the cost of living and tuition in the UK made it unaffordable for Auren – and seemingly unattainable. Until he heard about the scholarship, which funds one student a year from Israel to study for a Master’s degree at Brookes.

An amazing opportunity at one of the best universities for hospitality

“It was an amazing opportunity for a once in a lifetime experience. I wanted to become more professional and learn more about the world of hospitality, and Oxford Brookes is one of the best universities for hospitality. So I had to go for it!”

Auren did go for it – and got it. He and his wife, Ortal, arrived in September 2019 and settled into life as students in Oxford.

“I loved living in Oxford, really loved it! It’s a beautiful city, with lovely architecture and parks, and the people are super nice. There’s a whole international vibe which is cool and great fun.

“Also, my scholarship was paid for by the Jewish community in Oxford and they took good care of me, inviting us for dinners, holiday meals, community celebrations and that sort of thing. They were very welcoming to us both and we are forever grateful to them.”

Truly international

The “international vibe” of Oxford was one of the best features of studying at Brookes.

“At Brookes, I was studying with someone from China, someone from India, someone from America, someone from France, people from all over the world and it was really interesting to listen to so many different opinions and hear how they operate in their home countries – talking together led to many amazing ideas.

“It is truly an international university, which we don’t have back home where everybody studying with me was Israeli.”

Auren learnt a lot from his fellow students, and they learnt a lot from him. The culture at Brookes encouraged sharing of professional experiences, from diverse backgrounds, to everyone’s benefit. And this extended to the teaching as well.

“I particularly enjoyed Dr Peter Szende’s classes – he taught with stories, using his own experiences and telling us what happens in real life, which was a lot of fun. It was an eye-opener to see how he dealt with real-world problems.”

Coping with the Covid-19 pandemic

Like everyone, Auren and Ortal have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Thankfully, it hasn’t prevented Auren completing his course but it did bring his otherwise happy time in Oxford to an early and downbeat end.

“Assignments were affected by the pandemic and lockdown because I couldn’t meet up with my classmates to discuss ideas, and guest speakers and other events were cancelled. But it didn’t stop me from studying.

“We started to see our friends all leaving one by one. And all of a sudden we felt alone. It was quite depressing.

“So we returned to Israel two months earlier than scheduled. We had an amazing experience up until then but what can you do? It was time to go.”

Putting innovative ideas into practice

Auren has returned to his previous company in Be’er Sheva, and as well as managing Airbnbs he is also now managing a new hotel. And he is already putting into practice innovative ideas he learnt at Brookes.

“For example, we had one class talking about innovation in hospitality. When Covid came, I looked back over it because there was a lot about contactless technology. Since then I’ve become a contactless devotee.

“So in the new hotel, I’m looking to switch the locks to contactless, make opening refrigerators contactless and allow people to control the TV with their phone.”

Although it is a difficult time for many in the hospitality industry, Auren is optimistic about the future. He is even looking into the possibility of managing properties in Oxford, drawing on his knowledge of the city – another benefit made possible by the Sam Zuckerberg Israel Scholarship.

A life-changing scholarship

“I could not have afforded to live and study in the UK. It was a dream and without the scholarship would have stayed just a dream. The scholarship changed my life.”

The Sam Zuckerberg Israel Scholarship was established in 2011 and each year since has enabled a student from Israel to study for a Master’s degree at Oxford Brookes. It is made possible by the generosity of donors.

To support the scholarship and enable future students from Israel to study at Brookes: make a donation here.