Joint Alumni Profile - Leandro & Sofia
We met when we were 17 and we had always wanted to study abroad together. When we achieved a scholarship to study here, our dream came true. Overall Queen Mary, the University and its location, offered us the full package.
What did you both study whilst you were at Queen Mary?
S – I did a MA in International Relations.
L – I did a LLM (Masters in law).
S&L – We graduated together in September 2017.
Why did you choose your respective courses and why did you choose Queen Mary in particular?
S – I studied International Relations previously in Uruguay and I wanted to improve my knowledge; I chose Queen Mary due to the reputation of its teachers and because it is very multicultural. For me, this last factor was very important; I wanted to be exposed to the different opinions and perspectives of people from different countries around the world.
L – I chose Queen Mary because the LLM here is prestigious worldwide and frankly there is little choice if you want to go to a law school in the UK and in London, because Queen Mary stands out by far. I was specifically attracted by the Cyber and Economic Crime modules and teachers that the LLM offered. I have no regrets when it comes to my choice; it was a truly fantastic year-long experience.
S – We met when we were 17 and we had always wanted to study abroad together. When we achieved a scholarship to study here, our dream came true. When deciding on which courses to study and where, Queen Mary met all of our requirements and more. We also wanted to immerse ourselves in London and to experience what it was like living in the city. Overall Queen Mary, the University and its location, offered us the full package.
L – It was always a dream of mine to not only live abroad, but to be exposed to different cultures and in London, which comprises so many cities in one, I found what I was looking for.
S – I agree. London is very global. It’s like you’re living in different places all at the same time, not only in the UK, but in different countries around the world.
How did you find the experience of studying as a couple?
S – The University gives you the full package; if you come alone it is not a big deal as the University arranges everything - the social and the academic side. Maybe as a couple we didn’t have that need to be in contact with other people, but the University makes it so easy that you want to interact with other people.
L – The only thing the University doesn’t give you, because it can’t, is being close to home. In every other aspect we felt spoilt; there’s a phone line for every query you have to support you in all aspects of university life and to help your adaptation and evolution in London. We come from a small city of 100,000 people where everybody knows each other so we really needed this support. Studying alongside Sofia made me feel very close to home; we were able to speak about home in our native Spanish tongue, which made us feel connected and meant that we didn’t have to push ourselves too hard to speak fluent English. We could take one step at a time. I’d really recommend studying as a couple due to the emotional and mental support you can give each other.
How did exposure to new cultures shape/effect the perspective that you have on things now? Did your time in London have a noticeable impact on you?
S – Definitely, it has changed our lives completely, we’re not exaggerating in saying that. We returned home with another perspective on everything. From inside the UK our perspective changed not only in regards to Uruguay, but also in regards to London. We read beforehand how multicultural London is but actually being in London, we experienced the extent of its diversity first hand.
L – You can watch the TV and search the internet and think Asian people dress like this and look like that, African people eat this way, Americans act like this etc. But until you get to know these people and become immersed in their culture, everything you think you know needs to be challenged. Here at Queen Mary we had the chance to eat in the house of our African friends and to go to a pub with our Asian friends. For us, coming from a small town, our minds were broadened. I’m not the same person that I was in 2016.
S – The things that you do here at Queen Mary and London in general, you want to see implemented in your own country or city. These can be small things that you don’t even notice day to day, but to us, they are truly ground breaking.
L – Small things like being polite to one another is a fantastic character trait of Londoners, as is evaluating everything that you do. For example, after every module I was asked to fill out an evaluation form with questions such as: how did you feel about it, did you like it, why did you like it? These small things make an impact and when you go back home, your mind set is really different. People can tell that you’ve lived abroad.
How did you find adjusting to being back home after your studies?
S & L – It was tough.
S – We are only just getting used to it now after two years! Before, we were both working in full time jobs in Uruguay but when we came to Queen Mary, we returned to being students, living that student, carefree life. In the year that we were here, everything was so idyllic and perfect and then we had to return to Uruguay and get a full time job again.
Would you ever consider working abroad?
S – It is definitely a possibility for us. We returned to Uruguay as our scholarship demanded that we had to go back to our country for two years.
L – We continuously have this discussion! Whilst at Queen Mary, we missed our country, our people. However, you always think the grass is greener on the other side. We realised this when we returned home. Aside from the fact our scholarship stipulated that we had to return home, we felt like we could have stayed longer, maybe to do a PhD or to try and find employment to unlock the full experience of living here. But we doubted ourselves; back home we had the added pressure from family and friends to settle down and start a family. However, with perspective we can see that we have time for all of these things; when you are younger, it is better to follow your passions and to live life to the full when you have fewer responsibilities.
Have you had any contact with Queen Mary alumni since graduating?
S – We have had many Queen Mary alumni visiting and returning to Uruguay, especially lawyers. For example, Dr Gabriel Gari is from Uruguay and he obtained his PhD from Queen Mary and he is now a Reader in International Economic Law at the Centre for Commercial Law (CCLS). We have had a lot of engagement with alumni, more so than we expected, since graduating. When we returned to Uruguay, we never imagined we would have a dinner with alumni from Queen Mary in our home country! When I called my Mother to tell her I had an event with people from Queen Mary my Mother was like: “what?! People from Queen Mary are here in Uruguay! What are they doing here?”
L – This event really made us feel part of the Queen Mary family and community still. We’re so nostalgic about the experience we had here, that we are keen to expand Queen Mary across the world and in our home country. We are truly Queen Mary through and through.
What are you both doing now back in Uruguay?
S – I predominantly work in a private company in International Procurement, but I also work at a university as an associate professor for International Public Law - more or less what I studied whilst I was here! A typical working day starts in the office and ends with me heading to the university to give some classes. A lot of my time is spent studying and researching. In my full time procurement job, I love that I get to work with people from all around the world.
L – I work as a lawyer at the firm I was at before my studies. Fortunately, my Masters has helped me to develop my vocation further; I was able to hone in on the subjects which I’m more passionate about and change departments within the firm. I used to do Corporate Law and now I am doing Cyber Security and Privacy. An average day for me consists of reviewing privacy policies, patent law and licensing and software agreement services.
Do you have any advice for current Queen Mary students and recent graduates?
L- University is so diverse and students come from different backgrounds so it is hard to know which path each student is going to take after graduating. I would say that students and graduates should try to consider fully the different paths their futures can take.
S – Take advantage of all the services that the University offers which might not seem too relevant at the time, but which are important elsewhere. For example, CV corrections offered by the Careers and Enterprise team proved invaluable to us. During first semester I was so wrapped up in exploring the city that I didn’t go to many extracurricular activities taking place on campus such as talks and book presentations. I regret this and I would urge current students to make the most of them.
L – I agree. Take advantage of every opportunity that the university gives you and every opportunity that comes your way after university. Also join societies. I played football for the Octagon football club and I still follow them on social media to this day. I formed great bonds and still relive the tournaments that the University organised so that everybody could take part.
Have you got a favourite spot on campus?
S – Library Square – when we arrived during Welcome Week this area of the university was crazy and when something was happening throughout the academic year, it was always happening here. I remember at Christmas there was mulled wine which was great!
L – I really like the cemetery; it made me feel like I was in the middle of the world when I stood there as people from all across the world were speaking and walking behind me! I also love the history of the cemetery, its reason for being there and the fact that it encourages you to reflect.
What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? Does one moment stand out in particular?
S – Enrolment day was really great. Particularly meeting new people and getting to grips with the campus in person. Beforehand we had conducted all of our research via the Internet so it was amazing to come to Queen Mary and realise that it was exactly how we had imagined it and more. The student card with our photo and Queen Mary logo also made it feel very real for me!
L – When we went to dinner at a friend’s of ours from Zambia who we met whilst at Queen Mary. There was a cultural synthesis between Uruguay and Zambia throughout the meal as we learned more about each other; I was also able to talk about legal stuff and learn from them at the same time. On the surface, it was a meeting of five people eating but for us, it was so much more.
Is there anything else that you would both like to say?
S – From an academic aspect, there is so much variety within courses. In Uruguay, the courses are very structured, whereas at Queen Mary you can choose to study a mix of modules that you are really passionate about. You don’t have to waste time studying what you do not want to; this meant a lot to us as we came all the way from Uruguay so our time was precious and we wanted to study specific things.
L – It is really important to encourage these kind of links between alumni and Queen Mary; in countries where the Internet is not as developed or used as frequently, alumni need to act as ambassadors. We are extremely willing to collaborate with Queen Mary and to help expand its global alumni community. Alumni, in our case and I know that a lot of other people feel this way too, are proud to be former Queen Mary students. Alumni want to keep in touch and feel connected to one another and the link with alumni is a great way for the University to keep capturing new, prospective students.