Undergraduate Laws awarded the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (SOAS) scholarship to LLB student Zuha Hameed in 2018/19. Ten months later, we asked her to share some information about what receiving the scholarship has meant to her and how studying law still motivates her. You can read the interview below. Please note the views expressed are those of the author and publication on the Undergraduate Laws blog does not constitute an endorsement.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I have always found this question to be quite intimidating because it reminds me of all the things that I still need to explore and discover about myself. I picture myself as someone brought up among a bunch of strong women, and two incredibly hard working men. I see myself, sometimes as a reflection of my parents and sometimes as their polar opposite, which means that there are times when I have to stand my ground and convince them of how I want to live my life, and luckily up until now, I have always succeeded. So kudos to me! In case you want a more basic introduction, I am a 20 year old Muslim, born and raised in Pakistan.
What made you decide to pursue an education in law?
Law is a tool of development in my mind, it can help people who are caught, often through no fault of their own, but due to their social, ethnic or religious status, in a cycle of discrimination to protect themselves and assert their rights. Knowing where you stand – in legal terms – is important in so much of life and that’s what attracted me to law.
How did you feel when you found out you had been awarded the scholarship to study in London? Were you scared, excited, nervous?
My father can actually narrate the entire experience of the day I found out that I had been awarded the scholarship, with incredible precision; because it was just one of those rare moments in life which leave you completely shaken up. I couldn’t forget it even if I wanted to. Of course, I was excited but more than anything there was a sense of fulfilment that I couldn’t possibly compare with any other achievement.
What did receiving the scholarship mean to you?
Receiving the scholarship was an honour that I had only dreamed of having someday as a child. I remember that I stopped praying and hoping for it once I realized that I needed to be practical in life. The scholarship reawakened my belief in dreaming big, and I think that is why it meant so much to me. Of course it goes without saying that it was a once in a life time opportunity in ways more than I could count, but for me, what mattered the most was that it brought a sense of confidence which convinced me that all those years of hard work were paying off.
How did you prepare for life in London? Was it your first visit?
This was the first time I ever went abroad, and doing it for the first time without someone to rely on was difficult, but the UoL team guided me throughout, and I am grateful for that. However, the most exciting, yet the most challenging part about preparing for life in London was trying to make sure I get a hang of everything BEFORE I leave. When you move, on your own, to a completely new place half the preparation is the process of mentally preparing yourself.
What do you like about studying at SOAS?
The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) is amazing. I am quite honestly, so lucky to have had the chance to study here. I say this because of how diverse the student body and the faculty is. I enjoyed my lectures mostly because of the lecturers who came from such diverse backgrounds and such diverse world views that I felt like I was truly part of a GLOBAL degree of law. The same goes for the student body, I had my tutorials with 14 other students from 10 different countries. I could not stress enough on how interesting and truly enlightening it is to learn among people from all over the world.
Have you encountered any challenges?
Shifting from Pakistan to the UK was not just a shift in residence, it was a shift from a mentality, and a society, an educational system, and a constellation of societal norms that I didn’t realise were an integral part of me until I was stripped of them and placed in environment that was almost the complete opposite. Leaving your home town, where you feel safe and confident is a challenge in itself. Moving away from my friends, family and THE FOOD, was obviously something I still miss. It is difficult to leave a big part of your life behind of course – but it is all still, like I said before, COMPLETELY worth it.
Have you joined any social clubs?
I did not plan to join any this year because I felt like I needed to get comfortable and accustom myself to the nuances of system before I could let myself wander into the realm of social clubs and extra-curriculars. Plus, having been incredibly active in drama, MUNs, debates, arts and publishing, I decided to take a much deserved break and focus on my new life before diving back in.
How is it now different to studying on a distance learning degree?
One of the challenges that I faced that actually surprised me and was the most difficult to overcome, was the difference between the Pakistani and the English education system. Despite the fact that I did my O levels, A levels and then my first year of Law as an international program student, there were still some aspects of the two systems that made it very difficult for me to adjust in beginning. In Pakistan, students give their exams on paper, thus, we make our notes on paper, which helps develop our writing speed which is crucial for analytical subjects like Law, and it also helps us understand concepts better. In addition, we read from paperback books, or hard copies, which obviously has its own medical advantages that I don’t think I need to go into. I understand the need to technologize education, but I think it takes away the essence of practicality when the exams are all written, when the law is written, when everything else is still written on paper. This was something that might seem insignificant to an observer but affected me more than I expected. Nonetheless, I’ve stuck to my old school paper and pen, because that is what makes me feel more in control and comfortable.
How do you think this experience will benefit you in the future?
I believe it goes without saying that the opportunity that this scholarship gave me has in itself completely turned my life around. Studying in London, at SOAS with this scholarship has given me that edge that I needed that would help me use my degree to change mindsets in the legal arena. A change in mindsets is the only way we can recreate the renaissance in the modern world, by bringing about a change, one case at a time, in the mindsets of the masses. But most importantly, I think the exposure that this experience has given me, was something that has changed me as person. Going out in the world and learning to thrive independently, especially in a place like London, the hub of globalization, is obviously something that reshapes your entire being.
What are your plans for the summer?
I have been looking forward to the summer all year, especially coming back home and catching up with family and friends. However, the summer is perfect to get some work experience and I plan on tutoring A levels and undergraduate students, interning at a law firm in Lahore and also broadening my experience by working in the arts and media field.