Student Diaries: Studying Abroad At The London School of Economics

Packing your bags for a new country can be an unsettling experience. Yet, there is also an alluring charm in unravelling the beauty of a new culture, and learning lessons that shape your perspective on life.  Abdul Hakeem, SIM-University of London Economics and Politics graduate who was offered a scholarship to study at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) pens his personal journey of what it’s really like to study abroad and how his experiences have shaped him.

17 Nov 2020

5 mins read

#Leaving Home

“This is it,” I muttered nervously under my breath. I glanced at the wall clock planted outside the airport's departure hall. “12:56 AM” it read, as time continued to trickle by. It was nearly time to go. I was silently wishing that the moment never had to pass. While the thought of spending the next nine months in the UK studying at the LSE excited me, the uncertainty was in equal measure unsettling. My mind was awash with mixed thoughts. Out of seemingly nowhere, a familiar voice whisked me out of my pensive state. Fighting back tears, my mother reached out for a goodbye hug, “Take care of yourself, Hakeem. InsyaAllah, things will be just fine.”

#Settling Into Life
In London The school term started a mere three days after my arrival in London, so there was hardly any time to acquaint myself with my new surroundings. Looking back, the latter was something I majorly underestimated. I mostly took it for granted that I would seamlessly acquaint with this new place - a place that, for the greater part of one year, I would be calling home. Yet, as I would have done well to realise earlier, the word place implies something quite special. It is not a hollow vessel of a word with only surface meanings. For one, place is dense with cultural practices, habits and ways of life. For better or for worse, cultural differences matter. While my Friday evenings in Singapore are typically spent at Changi Village laughing the night away over teh tarik, many Londoners (i.e.those who inhabit London) take comfort in being able to let their hair down in a snug pub over a pint.

#On Student Life
A good number of hours of my waking time were spent studying. Eight to ten days of reading and revising were not unfamiliar, with essential course readings often snowballing to hundreds of pages per week. Each module had two components: a lecture and a seminar (i.e tutorial). On top of these, all seminars had presentations and/or debates. Individual foibles that saw me shy away from freely expressing my opinions were, for example, quite present in these early days. It was not so much that I was hesitant to speak my mind because of the fear of judgement; it stemmed more from the fact that throughout the majority of my schooling life, for whatever reason, I internalised the idea of self-censorship, especially where it concerned more ‘controversial' opinions. For fear of potentially offending someone in this new place - a place that I was still in the process of getting to know - I initially chose to err on the side of caution, keeping most of my thoughts to myself. Notwithstanding these minor struggles, I found academics at the LSE incredibly supportive and nurturing. Subsequently, as time progressed and I gained more confidence, I truly began to appreciate the conducive learning space that they had carefully crafted. One could speak their minds without harsh opprobrium even though they held a somewhat ‘different' opinion from others.

#Dealing With Homesickness
Phone calls to family and friends were a constant source of support and encouragement throughout. The occasional pigging out on local (or at least Asian) food at a restaurant was also very comforting. You can probably imagine my feeling of ecstasy when I stumbled across a ‘local' sounding restaurant called Dapur on one of my frequent strolls around London, about two months into my stay. Needless to say, I couldn't recall rendang ever tasting as good as it did that time. Over time, adapting to my new environment became easier. I began to truly enjoy living in London and immersed myself in the activities of Londoners, soaking in the beautiful city of London and basking in all her magnificence.

#Reflections This is not to detract from how humbled, grateful, and lucky I feel to have been gifted this incredible opportunity - this incredible experience that will continue to set my neurons alight just thinking about it for as long as I live. Also, upon reflection, I think my mother got things slightly wrong. Things weren't “just fine”. They were amazing!