Faustina Edward - The pressures of being an international student interested in a legal career in the UK
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When people hear the term ‘international student’, there is a stereotype that English may not be our first language, we’re filthy rich and we’re more interested in the aesthetic of being an international student as opposed to a regular student working to get a degree at the end of three years! The thing with stereotypes is that they are mostly wrong.
I am an international student from Anse la Raye, a village on the west coast of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia pursuing a law degree at Kingston University London. There’s a lot of pressure involved in being an international student, especially one who is a first-generation student (neither of my parents went to university), a BAME student and a woman.
My first two years in the UK have been a dream come true but have also been met with some bumps. I want to share with you part of my journey and some tips on how international students can make it in foreign territory.
Let’s get all the sad stuff out of the way first...
Leaving home that first time
"Goodbye" is literally one of the saddest words in English language! I remember the week leading up to my departure – I was filled with sheer joy and excitement – until the morning I left when I went around my village saying goodbye to close friends and family. The waterworks came on and I couldn’t get them to stop. It wasn’t until I spoke to one of the last people, my hairdresser, I was reassured that my leaving Anse la Raye will be something that will be good for the village, just as much as it will be good for me. It may not sound like something that’s bright and sunny, but that statement made me even more determined! Coming from a small village and knowing when I eventually return, some people will no longer be there, there will be children and houses I would not know, is something I still struggle with every now and again because, after all, there’s no place like home.
I’ve spoken to many international students in my time here and I have found that a large percentage of them found the culture shock one of their biggest struggles. Luckily, this was not something I struggled with too much, as before coming to university I had never been to the UK before, therefore I came with an extremely open mind. If this is something you may struggle with, doing one thing helps – embrace the new culture!
Coming into a new culture that is one of the melting pots of the world is scarily thrilling. You’ll taste new food, hear new music, experience fewer holidays and new holidays, and so much more. While embracing this new culture of having tea and biscuits at literally any time of day, hold onto your own. In doing so, you will now be able to share your own culture with your new-found friends, while enjoying those nuggets of feeling like you’re at home!
An international law student’s fear
One the biggest fears of international law students who wish to build a career in the UK, and one of my worries, is finding a firm or chambers willing to hire you. International students like me tend to work extremely hard at university to gain good grades and be involved in extra-curricular activities which make us look more employable. However, home students are at an even bigger advantage as they do not require a work visa to stay in the country. This can be discouraging to an international student. Personally, I try not to limit myself when looking for firms I want to apply to for a training contract, but there is always a white elephant sitting next to me with a big fat "will they sponsor you?" on its forehead. Whenever I meet a practising solicitor or barrister, I always ask them one question: how does an international student make themselves more employable? If you’re a practising solicitor or barrister, or a recruitment manager at a firm, I would love to hear your answer to this question.
I promise it’s not all bad
Coming to university, especially being so far away from home, has forced me to mature. The joys of adulting are very interesting. You get to grocery shop regularly or are forced to eat out. Suddenly you have bills to pay and trust me, I have never wished to be a child or teenager more than I have anytime a bill comes out! But that’s what its all about. University students who don’t live at home are pushed into the deep end of juggling adult responsibilities in addition to our studies. It truly is an experience I would recommend to any university student – live away from home, even if it’s only for one year. You won’t regret it.
Beyond being an actual adult, coming to a different country has grown my network beyond my wildest dreams. From meeting and connecting with people from all over the UK and the world who are studying subjects that aren’t law, to practising lawyers and sitting judges, members of university staff and even ancillary staff! It's amazing how much this experience as an international student has opened my eyes. Having a global network is something you will appreciate when you’re older, but is something that need to be worked on for now.
Top tips for law students (especially my fellow international students):
Join your law society
I’m sure this is something you’ve heard from the first day of welcome week. (I know that’s where I first heard those four words). Your law society is there to connect you with people who have been in your shoes and are where you hope to be in the future. Law societies also provide material from external organisations to help guide you along your solicitoror barrister route. It is also great (not only for your CV) to join your law society’s committee where you can gain several transferrable skills, which help to differentiate yourself from your peers. I started off as a first-year representative, then at the end of my first year ran for president and won. I know not everyone is confident in leadership positions, but there is always some way you can help on your committee.
Make good friends
This oneis self-explanatory. We have so much leeway at university and living alone that it’s easy to stray from your target. I told one of my friends once that peer pressure is way worse at university than it is at secondary school. Be sure to have the right people in your circle. Your university friends make the journey much easier, but it’s worth it to find ones that you can relax and have fun with, who will also motivate you to stay up that extra hour to get some studying done.
Use the resources that are at your finger tips
As an international student, I was completely unaware of what the UK education system held and what the different paths to becoming a solicitor looked like. Join networks that will help you understand where you want to go and will also make you feel more informed. There are so many groups you can join - LinkedIn is a good place to start. If you aren’t aware of which legal blogs or websites to follow, trust me when I say that LinkedIn will be able to help you out. When I first made my account, I came across LawCareers.Net, Legal Cheek and so many more. The rest, they say, is history.
Silent opportunity awaits
My last tip is very simple. Say yes! Many of the opportunities us international students can take part in come through our university. Whether it’s serving as a cross examiner for criminology students, attending dinner at an Inn of Court, or even representing your class at an internal subject review – say yes. This is maybe four hours of your life that you can spare doing something that you will be able to speak about for the rest of your life. Recently I got the chance to serve as a bailiff at the UK rounds of the world’s oldest mooting court competition, the Philip C. Jessup Moot Court Competition. This opportunity came through one email sent by one of our lecturers. 'Silent' opportunities like these come through emails we sometimes tend to brush to the side. You’ll be surprised how many fascinating opportunities await.
Being a law student and an international student is not an easy road. It is, however, fulfilling, and if you make the most of it, you will be happy you did!
Faustina Edward is a second-year law student and president of the Kingston University Law Society. You can follow her motivational blog, The Unicorn Project, on Instagram.