Moving for university can in some cases, be a daunting experience, and in my case, moving nearly halfway across the world for the next three to four years made it exciting but even more daunting. This article examines various ways and tips to navigate the law school experience from an international student’s perspectives, and ways to get involved to make the most of all the opportunities presented.
Studying law is a very intense experience as it involves a lot of reading and independent learning. At the same time, spending hours and hours poring over each textbook and article available can not only be extremely draining, but it can also intensify loneliness and the feelings of homesickness. Add this to the experience of living in a new city and experiencing a new culture, I have therefore created a list of tips that have helped me as an international student transition from foundation or a-level years into studying law at the university in a different continent.
These are perhaps, the everyday words you would always come across whilst studying law. As an international student, I initially struggled with these two principles, as using the various law databases was completely new to me and I couldn’t initially wrap my head around what critical thinking meant. Where, for instance, you did not study law at A-Levels in your country, or your foundation programme did not directly introduce you to these terms, it is important you understand what these mean as they are integral to studying law. From problem solving questions, essays, seminars, tutorials and presentations, having a high level of research and critical thinking is one of the key ingredients to getting these high marks. Research entails being able to effectively investigate across various materials, sources and resources to not only establish facts, but also reach conclusions based on those facts, which are relevant to the given topic. In the same progression, critical thinking, a term you will hear often, is the ability to use the research conducted, to form analytical opinions and discussions and also review existing opinions on a topic, to reach your own well defended conclusion. Having a succinct understanding of these key principles allows you develop a well grounded essay or problem question answer. The best way to start off with developing this is getting involved with various library sessions and workshops that touch on this. This also entails being able to generally and specifically use law databases to gather information and data, and also analyse these in line with the research question or problem. Making use of available library resources also goes a long way in helping you develop both.
Before coming to the UK, I had never really understood what the term ‘commercial awareness’ meant. This is a term you would come across especially when you are beginning to delve into the legal world, applying for open days, work experience and various opportunities with law firms as a law student. Essentially, as pertaining to law, this means having a knowledge of various industries and sectors within the business world, and the impact it has on the legal sector. This also means understanding who the major players are, as well as the various economic, political, commercial and regulatory changes and the challenges or opportunities these present within the legal sector.
As an international student, it was a bit challenging keeping up with the latest news, trends and developments around me, especially combining trying to get used to my new environment, beating homesickness and the new territory of actually being a law student at the university. However, as time progressed, I was able to keep track of business and commercial developments. In doing this, my tip is to read the Financial Times, The Economist, as well as various law blogs (Like this one! The Student Lawyer, The Lawyer etc). Additionally, you can also create google alerts on specific terms or phrases you want to keep abreast with, either industry-specific or generics business developments. Alongside this, you could also create an Investopedia ‘term of the day’ alert, which sends various email alerts to you on everything you need to know about a particular term, phrase or commercial situation.
This was perhaps my favourite part of studying law in the UK and is perhaps one of my biggest tips for making the most out of your international university experience. It is important to engage not just with the university, but the wider community and society you find yourself in, especially if you’ve travelled all the way to another continent for school. This engagement is also inclusive of taking advantage of, and making the most of academic support hours, staff contact hours as well as the support the school and personal tutors provide within the law school. Students’ understanding of the law (especially from the first year), vary, and if you come from a country where the system of law is vastly different from that of the country your university is in, it is always advisable to make the most of these academic support hours. This can additionally get you engaging with and also forming professional networks with some of the specialists at your law school.
This engagement also covers taking part in activities that offer contact with the wider community you find yourself in. Law or non-law related, either ways, this offers a bonus especially in developing certain transferable skills needed in your law career. At the same time, this allows you to also enjoy the community socially, as opposed to being holed up day in, day out, in the library or your accommodation. This could range from volunteering at a festival, street event, local community centre or council, gallery, or even just attending public events. Law related, this can also range from volunteering at the local citizens’ advice bureau, legal aid clinic or students’ advice office.
It is also important to engage with societies, other students (both law and non-law) and with the large community. From my first year at university, the two societies I engaged with the most was the Law society and an international students’ society (the Nigerian Students’ Society). This allowed me not only to have the opportunity to meet other law students, participate in law events and further work and career opportunities, but being a part of the Nigerian society allowed me mix with other fellow Nigerians and make some of my first friends whilst at university. I also had the opportunity to volunteer in events organised and later be a part of a team that organised many student-centric social activities and educational events. This helped remove some of the initial feelings of homesickness. So, find your school’s law society and another club or society that you have interests in (be it country specific or interest/hobby specific). The experience you get from this is a lifetime and enjoyable one.
Overall, my greatest advice and tip would be enjoy yourself, be adventurous and make the most of what law school and the university has to offer!
Article by Oluwabunmi Adaramola