A reflection on the Laurier-Sussex program

Jada Phillips / Lead Opinion Writer
University of Sussex campus, Brighton U.K.

I had always known that I wanted to go abroad for school. My first flight was at three months old and I never stopped. When I stumbled across the Wilfrid Laurier University booth at my high school university fair, that was where I was introduced to the Laurier Bachelor of Arts and University of Sussex Bachelor of Law program. I could get my B.A. at Laurier and spend three years in England to get my law degree. It was a win-win situation.   

The LL.B Sussex program evokes very mixed opinions if you were to ask around the Laurier campuses. Anybody I have talked with about the program has almost always had very strong feelings, both good and bad.   

As I am a month away from my graduation, I share those same strong feelings as my peers. The program is certainly not without its flaws. I was promised many things of what my experience would look like in the program. I would finish school faster since I didn’t have to take the law school entrance exam. It was cheaper compared to law school tuition in Toronto. I would be supported every step of the way. I bought into the vision of the program, glorifying what my experience would be. For a while, my experience was what was promised.   

Until it wasn’t.   

It wasn’t until I had to move halfway across the globe in a pandemic during a lockdown that my Sussex bubble popped. It was after I had spent weeks just finding housing. Unless I wanted to live in a dorm with up to 12 other people, use a predatory guarantor company or cough up a whole year’s rent in advance, there were very little housing options for me. It was after I spent over a month just trying to open a bank account while the banks gave me the run-around. It was after I had to work twice as hard to play catch-up just to be on the same level as my peers. A legacy of peerages, monarchies and feudal landownership made the legal system a confusing mess unless you happened to be well-read in British history. That was not me.  

When I got home, it made my past years going to law school in a pandemic halfway across the world feel like child’s play. My mental health was destroyed, and I spent most days crying in bed, with little willpower to do much of anything. When my friends in the program were telling me about the fact that they had to start therapy, I knew that it wasn’t just me not being able to adjust to being back home. All these deadlines and expectations of what I should be doing according to the school’s timeline were slowly starting to crush me. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore.   

The almost constant check-ins, meetings and socials that happened up until we went to Sussex were nowhere to be found. I didn’t feel much different than what I imagined a baby deer would if they were dropped off in the middle of a forest and told to fend for themselves.   

The Sussex program is not an easy fast pass to becoming a lawyer. There are exams when you come back instead of entrance exams into law school. It is not cheaper than going to school in Canada. My bank account and the exchange rate can attest to that. It is also not a fun little vacation to England. It is hard, it is lonely and it is not glamorous by any means.   

Despite all the flaws, I would do the program over again in a heartbeat. I made my place in Brighton while attending Sussex until it started to feel home. While it hadn’t been the easiest, the last few years are some of the most cherished and formative years of my life. I don’t think I could have ever lived as many lifetimes as I did if I chose to stay in my small-town cage. I shudder to think of who I would be if I didn’t have this experience in the Sussex program.  

This article was originally published in print Volume 23, Issue 8 on Thursday, April 4.

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