• Courtney Jones

REFLECTIONS ON A NOT-SO-NORMAL LAW SCHOOL JOURNEY

Not everyone follows the same path. We each pave our own way, but we all end up where we we were meant to be in the end.


When I began my law degree in 2019 at the University of Exeter, I could not have imagined the journey I would find myself on over the next three years. After getting my visa, packing my bags and hopping on a plane to leave everything (and everyone) I knew and loved behind, I was a bundle of nerves and excitement.


In all honesty, leaving was hard. Although my family was coming to help me move, they would only be here temporarily and then I would be on my own to figure out my life in a brand new country that `I had only visited once before. In addition to this, my boyfriend would not be coming with me, so we would be doing long-distance for the next four years. I firmly believe that if my mom hadn't decided to travel to England with me, I probably never would have got on the plane.



When I first arrived in Exeter, I remember breathing a sigh of relief. I had never been to the city before moving here. In fact, I don't think I had even Googled any photos of the city. So, when I arrived at St. David's train station, I was thrilled to see how picturesque it was. I knew it would be a long and difficult road through law school, but at least I could see I would like living here.





I had arrived a bit early, so I spent the next couple of weeks getting settled in, shopping for things I'd need once I moved in to my flat, and eventually getting to know my flatmates and my way around campus. I remember being shocked at just how beautiful the campus was - there were buildings that looked to me like castles, and the gardens were just lovely.


Before I knew it, the work began. My first ever law lecture was in contract law, and the teaching staff seemed amazing - supportive, friendly, knowledgeable. I spent most of my first term learning how to study law and gaining a better understanding of the British university system, a very different experience from what I was used to in Canada. (More on this in a future blog post).


In December, there were a lot of conversations happening about this new illness that seemed to be popping up - coronavirus. At this point, we were still at the stage where everyone thought it was just like another flu, it would be no big deal and we would go on about our normal lives. We couldn't have been more wrong.


A few months later, I was on a stagecoach on my way to Manchester for a cheerleading competition with the Exeter Emeralds (I had joined cheer because I had done the sport in junior high school and I missed it dearly), when my flatmate texted me to tell me she had gone back home to Switzerland and wouldn't be coming back. I remember being very confused - how would she complete her exams? She told me that maybe it would be best if I went back to Canada. I was a bit skeptical, but called the university to check that I'd be able to take my exams online, then called my family. By the time I had reached Manchester, I had a flight booked.


What luck that was. Just three short days later, Trudeau announced he'd be closing the border to international travel because of the COVID crisis. That same day, flights were all but sold out for the next six weeks, and the only flight left would have cost $10,000 CAD in business class. After the weekend competition in Manchester, I returned to Exeter, packed up as many belongings as I could, and headed to London to fly home. Not the end to my first year of law school I had pictured.


That Spring, I took my exams online. Thankfully the university had adopted a flexible policy as a result of the pandemic. What became more challenging was making a decision on what to do in second year.


To enter the United Kingdom from Canada, I would be required to quarantine for fourteen days upon arrival. The problem with this was I didn't know whether I would be going back - I had no idea whether my classes would be online or whether there would be any need to return. In addition, I would need to pay all my rent up front as I had no U.K. based guarantor. Unfortunately for me, I didn't know the university's plans until after I had already started my quarantine - turns out all of my classes would be online.


Since I had already jumped through all the hoops to return to the U.K., I figured I might as well tough it out and stay. However, one night my flatmate came home with a sore throat, and two days later developed a nasty cough. I no longer felt safe and comfortable where I lived, so back to Canada I went. I spent the rest of the term studying remotely online, but the time difference proved to be quite difficult. I made the decision to return to the U.K. for the winter term and booked myself a studio flat so I wouldn't have to risk contracting COVID from any flatmates. At this point the vaccine wasn't available to me, so I had to stay as safe as I could.


Living alone in a pandemic while your country is locked down can be quite isolating. I returned to Canada as soon as my lectures had finished for the year and did my exams online from home. Over those few months, I started to really miss the home I had made for myself here in Exeter, so decided that no matter what I would return for my final year in England. With the vaccine, things improved anyway and by the time I had returned there were no longer any restrictions. All of my classes would be on campus and in person. While I'm still nervous about COVID, I am quite glad to be back on campus with the ability to interact with people face to face again.


That brings us to now. While it's been quite an unusual time in law school, the journey so far has taught me a lot of important lessons about strength and resilience, and the importance of self-care. I hope that through this blog, alongside study tips and student lifestyle, I can offer some insights into the importance of mental health and how to look after yours. Stay tuned.




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