To those who are currently receiving UCAS offers – congratulations! It certainly is an exciting time and in the hope that it will give you an insight as to what university life is like during lockdown, I have documented a week in my life as a first-year undergraduate studying International Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.
The week started with two lectures for me! I consider myself lucky that I don’t have any lectures that start at 9am this academic year; all of them start no earlier than 11am. Although I had the temptation to stay in bed for a little longer, I refrained and woke up early. I planned out my day and had a quick look through my reading notes prior to my lecture on rural livelihoods and agrarian change. For this lecture we studied the dynamics of the process of modernisation of agriculture from the rise of capitalism to the current prevalence of neoliberal globalisation. My lectures for this particular module (Introduction to Global Development) are very thought-provoking and always leave me curious, wanting to read and research more! Later in the afternoon, I attended my open option module Economics lecture, where we studied money in the economic process.
One thing that SOAS is very well known for is giving students the choice to pick open option modules (languages included!) in each year of their studies. There is a lot of flexibility for studying modules from departments other than your own, and therefore I decided to take a module from the Economics department since I believe there are many intersections between general economic theory and my core modules in development studies. SOAS is the world’s leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East so all the modules offered by departments truly influence the way you think about the economic, social and political challenges that the world faces.
Another busy day! I had two thought-provoking tutorials in the morning. Lectures, tutorials, and seminars all have different formats at SOAS. Below is a brief description of each:
Lecture – Class format in which lecturers present subject material. There is not much interaction other than a Q&A at the end.
Tutorial – Tutorials are small classes in which material covered in lectures and core readings are discussed. Most of my tutors are SOAS PhD students from the same department, meaning that tutorials are more informal in nature – which I prefer! Tutors sometimes draw from their own PhD research and experience which makes the sessions very productive.
Seminar – A combination of a lecture and tutorial.
I attended my Critical Reasoning in Contemporary Development Studies (CRCD) seminar. In this module, we explore how social scientists think and engage in critical reasoning within development. My CRCD seminars tend to be very interactive so my seminar leader puts us into break-out rooms quite often. This is another great way to meet fellow course mates.
In the evening, I prepared myself for an exciting Zoom event. This academic year, I am serving as the President of the SOAS Turkish Society meaning that I have quite a few responsibilities – one of them being to overlook and ensure that all logistical aspects of events are dealt with in an appropriate manner. On Wednesday evening, we had a cross-cultural collaboration night with the SOAS Afghan Society. This consisted of a Kahoot quiz on Turkey and Afghanistan and an intellectually stimulating ice breaker for our attendees by asking them to only speak either Turkish or Farsi when introducing themselves. Overall, it was a highly enjoyable event – though, we did wish that we could have held this event in person!
Despite the pandemic, many societies at SOAS – including SOAS Turkish Society – have been running events, albeit virtually. Personally, it has been a bit difficult to socialise and get to meet people through online platforms but there are certainly many advantages. For example, since all events are online, you can attend events hosted by universities across the country. It can feel a bit daunting at first, but my biggest advice would be to step out of your comfort zone and try to attend as many events as possible – even if they are online! We only ever regret the chances that we don’t take in life…
My Thursday mornings started with another lecture, this time on the political economy of development focusing on industrialisation within the larger process of structural change. I later attended office hours with my tutor to discuss the mark I received on an assignment. This mark was lower than I anticipated, and so we reconstructed my argument which allowed me to elucidate my weaker areas in the essay.
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of booking office hours with relevant staff members – even in the first year of your studies. First year marks do not contribute towards your grade classification at SOAS, but this certainly does not mean that you should doze around. Your first year at university teaches you the foundations of content as well as assignments so it’s essential that you’re proactive with receiving further feedback.
In the morning, I had another tutorial where we covered the material from yesterday’s political economy of development lecture. Later in the afternoon, I attended an academic advice session with my academic advisor. At SOAS, every student is given an academic advisor who is there to discuss your academic progress with you, and to support you on any academic or pastoral challenges that you may face. We discussed lockdown and the small joys in our life nowadays which we would have neglected pre-pandemic (such as discovering a new path in our local parks!) and had a brief conversation on my general academic progress.
As you can see, despite strict COVID-19 restrictions, universities are trying their best to accommodate students, particularly freshers. I’d be dishonest if I were to state that it has been the best experience; It unfortunately hasn’t… Like with all things in our life at the moment, I feel as though online university has limited me and all my peers in terms of class engagement as well as socialisation. However, it’s important to note that this is a shared sentiment across all first-year students across the country because of unfortunate but necessary COVID-19 restrictions. But fear not because most university degrees are three years (or more!) long and although the UK’s COVID-19 progress is always fluctuating, there are certain speculations that university students will be able to return to campus soon, subject to government guidelines.
In the meantime, if you do have any further questions regarding SOAS, UCAS offers or university life in general, I would be more than happy to help you. Feel free to drop me a message on LinkedIn. All the best, and once again a big congratulations to those who are receiving university offers!
Written by Sinem Ishlek
Sinem is an undergraduate reading Development Studies at SOAS, University of London and enjoys socialising and exploring different cultures through cooking. She mainly writes about personal development and student life, aiming to guide motivated young women.