As a young child my mother was always a huge advocate for higher education. An extremely bright young woman, in school, she was advanced by two academic years, excelling particularly in Maths. As a young woman she had hopes of becoming an accountant. However, University was an opportunity that was never afforded to her, due to the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 leading to the downfall of the Somali government and a mass migration out of Somalia and for many like my mum it was the only home they had ever known.
I remember as a young child growing up in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa where I attended school with my older sister. To say the least, we had two very different experiences of early education, with my older sister loving education and excelling at it and myself always looking for a quick loophole to avoid my homework at all cost. Often coaxing doting aunts and uncles to complete the work for me with a little bat of the eyelashes. From the start education I have never mixed well, however, university was never out the question.
As the state of conflict worsened back home in Somalia, my family sought political asylum in the UK. A fresh start and a new opportunity to make right that which was impossible back home, to get the level of education that my mum had not accessed. She often stayed up late with me to study and improve my literacy skills, my mum was a huge influence on me finally falling in love with academia. Through her patience and love I was able to graduate secondary school and progress on to university, to study International Relations at Goldsmiths University.
Although, a world away from my secondary and sixth form education, university was an exciting prospect for me, a chance to grow into my independence and confidence and present myself to the world as the grown woman I was raised to be. Despite the two-hour journey I’d make each day from my home in west London to south east London where my university was, I found it to be a strangely freeing experience. Seeing such an ethnically diverse area of London was almost therapeutic for me, facing head on some of my deeply repressed discomfort with growing up in the north of England. It also helped with my overt detachment to communities that culturally resembled me, as I was now living in a relatively south Asian part of London.
University opened me up to open up to a lot of new experiences both good and bad, I found libraries and coffee shops were no-longer daunting, instead they became my safe spaces, a quiet warm spot to gather my notes and prepare myself for the long journey back home. I found that choices held much more weight than they had previously, so too did my voice and words. As I transitioned into this new adult world, I was lucky enough to meet mentors and educators that continue to guide and encourage me through my journey.
Through University societies I was also able to meet new people and networks with shared interests and beliefs. I hadn’t realised it at the time, but university helped me find my voice, both academically and socially. The insecurities I dwelled on in sixth form and secondary school were seemingly remedied by my newfound autonomy. As I learnt more positive self-talk I became more confident in my work and writing, allowing me to learn to critique and explore that which I was learning more thoroughly. Now as I graduate, I look back at how much I’ve changed in the space of three short years.
It’s a unique experience for everyone but definitely a worthwhile one in my opinion. However, due to rising fees and institutional racism, many young BAME and working-class people are deterred from higher education. My mum always told me that ‘learning is universal, a part of our biology, and not just your human right’, and thus should never be taken away. So, for all those considering the journey, my advice is to be brave and steadfast, for these years of higher education may be the years that will make you.