A Let Us Learn campaigner on why she’s still hoping for a happy ending, despite being blocked from taking up a place at medical school.
I came to London from Nigeria when I was 5 with my mum, brother and sister.
During my school years I knew my mum was trying to sort out our immigration status. I didn’t really know what that meant but I knew it was something very important to us.
It took a long time to sort out and it was a lot for my mum to do on her own. There were so many delays. The Home Office lost our papers and we had some very bad lawyers acting for us. It dragged for years. From talking to other Let Us Learners, I know that what happened to us happens to a lot of people.
Without any legal status we had to rely on help from friends, the church or my school. My mum wasn’t allowed to work. It meant relying on food banks and coming home to a cold dark house because there wasn’t enough money left to top up the meter. It meant sometimes eating nothing but plain rice for a month and moving around a lot because the rent became too expensive. My way to cope with all of this uncertainty was to bury my head in a science book or read a fantasy novel where I could be someone else, somewhere else.
I remember in year 9 when help was dwindling, The Hunger Games series was the new thing. I took the book out from the library to read but I couldn’t continue after the first few chapters because, like the main character in the book, I felt like I was stuck in a hopeless situation where I had no control over what was going on in my life. The book was really descriptive about how bleak the character’s situation was, and to the 14-year-old me this was all hitting too close to home. I was reading this book under layers of blankets because the electricity was out and there was no heating.
Escaping to the facts of a textbook has always been my escape mechanism and this was why I was good at school and enjoyed every moment of secondary school. I was determined to take back control of my own life and that meant beating my situation. I did brilliantly in my GCSEs and got 5 A* and 4 As.
When we were finally granted what’s called Limited Leave to Remain at the start of year 12 in 2014, I thought that I was on a roll. I had it all planned and worked really hard to gain my place at medical school and was looking forward to five years of studying.
That was when I found out that even though I now had status, I needed to have had it for three years before I could qualify for a student loan. It was really hard to hear this and it felt like my world was crumbling around me. It felt like the control I fought so hard to gain was slipping through my fingers and I couldn’t imagine a life outside the plans I so carefully made.
I’m still not at university, but I haven’t given up. I found out about the Let Us Learn campaign and how a growing number of universities are helping people like me and setting up scholarship schemes so we can have the chance to go to university like everyone else. I wanted to get involved because it was important to me that others have the opportunity to go to university and carry on chasing their dreams.
People like to watch films where the underdog overcomes all to win at the end of the day. However, they are always given some sort of chance, an opportunity to showcase their talent. There is always a point in the movie when someone believes in the underdog and gives them that chance. That’s what we want universities to do. The people I’ve met as part of the Let Us Learn campaign are bright, confident and determined not to just sit around and wait for change to happen, but to go out and make it happen. They would be an asset to any university.