As a young boy growing up in a family that had only school education, and was otherwise self-taught, I always dreamed of earning my PhD. In our basement there was a dim, cramped room covered with stacks of books - some of which were forbidden - about literature, politics, philosophy, language and many more topics. In addition to reading, I watched movies such as The Wizard of Oz and the Star Wars series. Under the Taliban regime television was outlawed but fortunately my tech-savvy brother had been able to set up an old TV in the basement so that we two could watch it covertly.
To eke out a living my two older brothers were child labourers, working beside my dad. I performed best in my education but without generous scholarships and constant financial aid getting an education would have remained an unrealised dream for me. However, getting high marks helped me gain fully-funded scholarships for my graduate studies to read law and computing science - I was (and am) interested in the intersection of law and technology and their influence on society.
Meeting professors who had studied for masters or PhDs in the UK inspired me to pursue my graduate studies there too. I found the Chevening Scholarship through my professors who had received this award before me. Like many scholarship programmes, the Chevening Scholarship has a very tough and rigorous selection process. Only a dozen or two students per nation are chosen out of the thousands who apply. At the beginning of my last year, I started preparing for the application, and, in fact, it took me two years to prepare, apply and be able to win this prestigious scholarship. The application process is simple but challenging. You must write four essays in addition to separate personal statements and purpose statements for every university you wish to apply to. When you are shortlisted you must attend an interview and then wait another few months to get the results. You get the final award letter from the Chevening Secretariate and should receive at least one unconditional offer from a UK university to be able to start your master’s. The whole process takes around one year. Eventually, I got admission to study an LLM in International Commercial Law at the University of Aberdeen School of Law. I was very lucky to get an unconditional offer to start my master’s in September 2019 and see the UK for the first time.
The reasons I chose the University of Aberdeen were manifold. Most importantly, opting to study the LLM International Commercial Law with Professional Skills, instead of a dissertation, allowed me to get first-hand experience from experts and the world’s most experienced practitioners in my field. I believe this sort of programme sets the University of Aberdeen apart from most UK universities and is one of the best things about studying there. The location itself was another factor that drew me to the University as Aberdeen - a small and calm city by the sea, which is a lot less noisy than other, bigger cities. This has helped me concentrate on my education, health, and future plans.
My experience at the University was amazing. I was taught by world-class academics and developed a genuine enthusiasm for my subject. The professors were friendly and organising meetings to discuss essays and problem sheets was very easy and effective. The facilities at the University and in Aberdeen City are excellent as well, especially the Sir Duncan Rice Library which is simply stunning!
Masters degrees in the UK are quite intense, but I refined my time management skills and was able to study and have fun at the same time. There were many extracurricular activities and clubs at UoA, from the Bachata Dancing Club to mooting societies. I am proud to have participated in the Willem C Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Court Competition and to have represented the University of Aberdeen in Edinburgh and London. I learned my first dance move at the University of Aberdeen too. In addition to that, I had the chance to take German language classes at night. To take a break, I would exercise at Aberdeen Sports Village or sunbathe in the University gardens. As a note to future students: “Yes, the beach is very beautiful but windy - no, you cannot have a barbecue at the beach!”
The Chevening Scholarship enabled me to have the incredibly valuable experience of studying in the UK, as someone coming from a poorer country like Afghanistan. I was able to get a world-class educational experience, meet famous scholars in my field and travel around the UK. I truly lived my best life during this one-year journey.
Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic in September 2020, I graduated from the University of Aberdeen with a concentration in International Commercial Law. My master’s degree enabled me to write articles and essays and research legal issues concerning international commercial law, arbitration and political issues regarding Afghanistan. Unfortunately, since the government’s fall and the return of the Taliban regime, I had to leave the country and am unable to return and work in Afghanistan.
Despite all the odds, I feel immensely grateful for the exceptional opportunities that have come my way: the Aberdonian hospitality; the skills I have gained; and the memories I hold. As the author Paulo Coelho says: “No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.” Now, an arbitrator, IT technician and founder of the NGO Roshna Social Organization working for peace, I have realised my dreams, arbitrating on commercial disputes and providing legal education for future agents of change.
Higher education institutions in the UK have a long tradition of providing sanctuary for academics and young people forced to flee conflict and persecution and find safety elsewhere.
To build further on support measures already in place, the University of Aberdeen has committed to become a University of Sanctuary and work in partnership with City of Sanctuary, The Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) and other partner initiatives to inspire and support a culture of welcome within our own institution and our wider communities. Find out more at: Universities of Sanctuary | Study Here | The University of Aberdeen (abdn.ac.uk)