HUMANS OF LSE LAW
"I wanted to create a place where students could share their honest stories. In a big city, where people can feel isolated and uninspired, I hope some of these stories show that there are people just like you."
Leah Montebello, Education Officer 2017/18
My name is Banu Hammad and I entered the UK as a Kurdish asylum seeker, fleeing from the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime.
Coming from such a background of political turmoil, my parents were not as well equipped as other parents in helping me with homework and they, thus, involuntarily ceased to fulfil responsibilities that would have aided me on my academic journey. Indeed, the aspiration of higher education was a very remote one for my parents and I, with LSE and Oxbridge appearing impossibilities.
Given our refugee status in the country, as a family, we were frequently relocated - from Margate to Birmingham to Newport. Thus, the sense of educational stability was severely lacking in my life. Subsequent to another relocation to Bradford, then to London, most of the schools in my catchment area were full and extremely oversubscribed with waiting lists covering many, many pages of A4. At this point, I was supposed to be enrolled as a Year 6 student and instead, I spent 6 months out of education. After finally enrolling, I vowed that I would value my long-anticipated education and do everything in my power to make the most of it. This philosophy acted as a vehicle carrying me through my secondary and further education.
However, this was, undoubtedly, a blemished journey. In Year 11, leading up to GCSE exam season, my family and I were ousted from our home and after being declared homeless, we were forced to relocate to Woking, Surrey. My father was a great support mechanism during this time, making an exceptional 60-mile drive to and from my school to ensure that my grades were not affected. The very beast I tried to tackle - Maths - I did not conquer for this very reason. Nevertheless, I achieved a combination of predominantly A and A* grades at GCSE. Although my dreams of straight A's were intangible to me given the circumstances, I achieved more than I expected of myself, which was testimony to the fact that no adversity could disable me in such a way that would put me out of action, academically.
I continued my studies through A Levels and remained at my secondary school. Indeed, studying in a socio-economically disadvantaged area had its downsides. This was demonstrated to me as, during A Level exam season whilst on a bus to a revision session, my friends and I were subjected to a brutal gang attack. Even this was not a sufficient cause to lead me astray from academic success and I am absolutely certain that nothing else will, here at LSE.
Coming from a family based in a rural Romanian village, I moved to the UK aged 3 and attended state schools in Dagenham, Romford, and Colchester throughout my primary and secondary school education. To put it plainly, the schools I attended received unfavourable ratings and there was little support from teachers when it came to helping students reach their aspirations. This was perhaps one of the reasons for education not being a priority of mine until sixth form. Until that point I was actually set on becoming a professional footballer and despite performing well in GCSEs I always had a sense of doubt regarding my academic ability, a mind-set that plagued me throughout sixth form. Nevertheless, I decided that I would pursue a law degree having enjoyed the substantive topics in A level law and the essay writing that came with it.
The question was where to study: I was fortunate enough to attend an open day at the LSE and absolutely loved it. It was a combination of having exposure to some of the brightest minds in the country and being located in central London, which really appealed to me. Being part of such a fast-moving, vibrant city was very exciting, and in many ways it was the antithesis of what life was like in Romania. That being said, I was uncertain whether I would fit in at the university and London in general because I came from a completely different walk of life. I gave it a shot anyway. I spent countless hours drafting and re-drafting my personal statement with tutors, and I was obviously delighted – albeit slightly surprised – to receive an offer. From that point onwards my only focus was to meet the grade requirements for my offer, and it was hugely satisfying when I eventually did so.
In hindsight, most of my fears about not fitting in and not being ‘good enough’ to study at the LSE were unfounded, though it is probably a natural feeling ahead of coming to such a well-renowned institution which hosts so many incredibly intelligent people. I hope my experience and my thoughts prior to studying at the LSE would encourage those who have similar feelings about applying, because anyone can thrive if they really want to study here and are willing to work hard, regardless of their background.
Coming from an all-girls grammar school in Kent, I had a very sheltered secondary school career – I certainly wasn’t prepared for the level of diversity that LSE has to offer. I also found that in my school in particular, Law as a degree choice and the legal profession as a career option wasn’t very well advertised. My work experience in the field was more or less non-existent. My first piece of advice to anyone in the same position as me would therefore be to do as much research and networking as you can and try to find out for yourself whether Law – and higher education in general – is something that you should be considering.
To cut a long story short, I got the offer and the grades I needed to secure my place at LSE, which brings me onto the next part of my own experience: where to live. Coming from a small town in the middle of the countryside, I knew I wanted to study and work in London, but my views on accommodation didn’t quite fit the stereotype of the generic university lifestyle. And so, I made the somewhat brave step to make the dreaded commute from home. The decision did bring about a lot of worries at first – would I make enough friends? How would I meet people from other courses? Will I be the only one not living in halls? But, the arrangement works perfectly for me, and LSE’s Off-Campus Support Scheme helped settle these questions before I even began my course.
The fast-pace of London life means it can be a bit of a culture shock, and so escaping back home each day provides a welcome relief. This leads me to my second piece of advice – if, like me, you are the stay-at-home type, don’t let the social pressure to live in halls define your university experience. University is a place where you can make your own choices and become more independent, and often when you think you’re going against the status-quo, you probably won’t be – you’ll find so many other people in exactly the same position as you.
For most of my education I’ve attended public schools in a small town in Poland, where it is likely no one has ever heard of the London School of Economics (including me up until I left my country to attend a boarding school in England). I completed the International Baccalaureate Diploma in a small international private boarding school in Oxford. Initially, I was not planning on applying to UK universities as I had my heart set on the United States, having spent a lot of time preparing to ace the SAT exams. However, my plans were flipped upside down when my parents suddenly changed their minds telling me I had to come up with a completely new plan for my future. I was terrified as I knew nothing about UK universities and did not have enough time to prepare for the LNAT anymore. However, thanks to the amazing careers support at my school I was able to quickly figure out that LSE was the place I wanted to go.
This marked the beginning of extensive research and tens of personal statement drafts. I was very lucky to have an amazing careers counsellor at my school, who read my personal statement countless of times, providing me with useful feedback. In all honesty, I never considered LSE an actual option treating it as a fully aspirational choice requiring a miracle to happen. After receiving the email informing me that there had been a change on my UCAS Track account, I refused to check it for hours in fear of receiving a rejection which I was expecting considering the fact that my friends which all had much better predicted grades received their rejections already. I was very positively surprised to find out that LSE ended up offering me a place to study Law in the Fall.
I’m not going to lie and say that LSE was my dream university; it was simply a university that was recommended to me by the careers office in my school. However, now that I’m here I feel incredibly lucky to have been given this opportunity and don’t regret it in the slightest that I didn’t end up studying in the US as I had originally planned.
I distinctly remember sitting up late on a weekday night, googling ‘how to be a lawyer.’ Aged about fourteen, I’d figured out that I’d like to be Harvey Specter from Suits, and that law made sense. After all, I liked History, English, and the sound of my own voice. My ambitions remained largely a secret from my friends and family – there was still some expectation that I might not even go to university. It was only until, at an outreach event run by the University of London, that the speaker asked: ‘Who knows what they want to do with their life?’ ‘I’d like to be a corporate lawyer,’ I replied, my friends surprised that I’d committed the year-ten sin of ever showing enthusiasm for something.
At lunch that day, my teacher told me that his partner worked at Clifford Chance. He asked me where I wanted to study, and my reply was something along the lines of: ‘I want to go to Cambridge or LSE, but if I can’t be bother to work hard I’ll probably go to UCL.’ He laughed, and told me that I hadn’t quite got a grasp of university admissions quite yet. Most importantly, I remember him telling me that aiming for anything less than an A* in every subject would be a waste of my potential – a notion which didn’t sit well with a 13 year-old me, who was quite content with coasting for the rest of my life.
After that, I started chasing my dreams and haven’t looked back since. I’ve had to self-teach A-Levels, look for work experience placements, and make sure that I had a personal statement good enough to get me into the LSE. But all the while, I remembered that there aren’t any rewards for being a person who ‘is smart, but just needs to work hard.’ Granted, the dream has changed from a career in The City to a career at the Bar, but I still look back on that day four years ago as when I realised that I could get to wherever I wanted to with hard work and determination.
I remember sitting on the floor of my room with open textbooks around me and a pile of laundry on the bed and thinking how the hell am I supposed to do this? The realisation that I was living thousands of miles away from home with no support system and my whole life looming ahead of me hit me like a freight train.
My first year was filled with panic attacks, culture shocks, social anxiety, and a general reluctance to admit that I was finding University life difficult. But I’m better now, I took the summer to re-evaluate my goals - I’m focussing on loving the law (read: ignoring the social pressure to apply to every internship) and I’m prioritising my mental health. I scrapped my elaborate 20-year plan and decided that I’m going to spend the next two decades making sure that I have experiences that make me an interesting person instead (who knows, that may even include a law firm or two). It’s not easy - LSE is competitive and stressful - but when you find a nice group of friends, have a drink (or more) on a weekday and remember to call your parents, it can be pretty transformative.
Some days I feel like I’ve traded in a typical university experience for employability. And then I walk down the Waterloo bridge - with the Thames below me and the London skyline on either side - and I’m filled with an indescribable sense of calm. For those 336 meters, the pressure is put on hold - I let myself be proud of my accomplishments and grateful that I get to live out my dreams.
That sentiment is quickly forgotten when I’m writing an essay or reading what seems like the millionth page but, in my fleeting moments of downtime, I try to remind myself that going to LSE has made me a stronger and more introspective person. I don’t think I’d change that for the world.
I ended up at LSE after a strange twist of fate and this once again goes to say that anyone can do it.
I figured out I wanted to study Law ages ago, but university destination was a very contested question. Coming from a traditional and religious background, going abroad for studies seemed unimaginable to my family. It was always something “you could do after you get married”. Education was also not a priority, as my culture limited females to more stereotypical gender roles. Even my own grandmother is illiterate and only finished four years of primary school. I also dropped out of school after GCSEs due to these pressures, as well as wanting to help my family financially. I eventually was able to resume my studies halfway through sixth form and, with the support of my teachers and own self-study, I was able to catch up on the material.
When it came to applying to university my teachers encouraged me to try it and then negotiate with my parents afterwards in case I got any offers. LSE seemed like an unrealistic shot but I gave it a try. I don’t even remember how many times I re-drafted my personal statement, but eventually it flowed naturally. I couldn’t believe it when I got my offer, and I am grateful for the opportunity I have to study here.
Therefore, please don’t let doubts cloud your judgement. ANYONE can and should feel confident in applying. Give it your best shot and the outcome may just be the best thing to happen.
I began my time at boarding school, in the middle of the countryside, at the age of seven. Despite loving the entire experience, by the time I left the last thing I wanted to do was continue formal education within a heavily structured institution. Instead, I decided to go into work. However after less than a year after leaving school, my perspective had changed. Spending many of my days off researching topics that interested me I had become incredibly interested in issues of gender inequality; its social origins and the varying stances of the world’s legal systems. Just before the application deadline I decided work could wait and applied to university. I only applied to London universities in the hope of finding a greater variety of experiences to my fantastic, yet isolated, school.
LSE has been fantastic for this. Without having any real campus, LSE offers me the chance to focus on my studies in a less suffocating environment. I am able to work at university in the knowledge that when I finish I can step outside and be re-immersed into the flow of Londoners walking past. While a non-campus university may not be for everyone, there are also a large number of events and committees that pull together students looking for a more collegiate experience. I find LSE offers a great balance whereby you are able to remove yourself physically from university very easily but I also have a large number of opportunities at my fingertips for when I wish to further engross myself in university life.
LSE has enabled me to pursue my interests in an environment that works for me. The advice I would offer anyone questioning whether or not to study at LSE, or elsewhere, would be that any structural concerns can probably be overcome either by yourself or with support from the university. If you have an interest you want to study make that your primary goal.
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