April 12, 2023

Embracing Change: My journey to London Interdisciplinary School

Geanina Vasile

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In response to a recent email from LIS asking me if I`d like to share my experience before joining their ranks, I found myself eager to oblige. My time at LIS has been nothing short of fantastic, and perhaps my tale could inspire others to make a similar leap.  

But as I began to consider the contents of my forthcoming testimonial, a creeping sense of unease took hold. Would divulging the full extent of my pre-LIS journey – a winding path marked by change, anxiety, and an all-consuming quest for belonging – paint me as a hapless outcast?

In today’s society, academic qualifications and job titles are deeply ingrained in our identities. People are often seen and valued through the lens of their credentials, and the higher the degree or the more prestigious the position, the greater the perceived worth. Scan through Twitter bios, and you’re likely to find a litany of PHDs and other laurels proudly displayed. Meanwhile, those who lack such markers of prestige often find their voices drowned out in the cacophony of intellectual discourse.  

We inhabit a world where status is determined by a hierarchical system that privileges certain qualifications above all else. Those who can lay claim to these credentials are granted the power to shape the narratives that define our collective understanding.

The median view, however, is not typically found in one place or among the most influential figures. Instead, it may reside in the gaps between seemingly ordinary views that are struggling to be heard amidst the noise.  

In the midst of contemporary challenges such as aligning artificial intelligence with human values or fighting new viruses in a pandemic, where collaboration among experts from various fields is essential, the prevalence of technical jargon hampers effective communication and understanding between specialists, thereby slowing progress. Although a specialist can provide insight into one aspect of a complex issue, it alone cannot uncover the entire extent of the matter. A distinct need for interdisciplinary professionals emerges – individuals who possess good knowledge of both the arts and sciences, who have studied subjects like natural language processing, statistical computation, as well as key elements of philosophy and political theory, and who can swiftly draw connections between these seemingly unrelated disciplines.

Early Years

I spent my early childhood on a quaint Romanian farm, living with my grandmother and older brother. Life seemed simple and carefree, as I was ready to explore the world with my hands and bare feet. Our small farm provided everything we needed, and my grandmother would make homemade ‘țuică’, a traditional Romanian drink she sold to neighbours, which served as one of our additional sources of income for paying bills.  

My initial foray into learning came from my elder sibling, who had a habit of reading everything out loud. Unbeknownst to all, I committed to memory the entirety of a 392-line Romanian verse narrative titled ‘Luceafărul,’ or as it’s known in one English translation, ‘The Morning Star.’

I proudly attended my brother’s end-of-year school event as his 4-year-old sister, cheering from the audience. The headmaster selected several young children from the crowd to perform nursery rhymes or recite poetry.  

I recall my grandmother’s ashen visage warming with embarrassment, attempting to signal me to leave the stage. When my opportunity arrived, I recited the complete poem, much to the boredom of those present, but also making me the talk of the village.  

Upon starting school, we moved to the city with my parents, leaving the rural life behind. My heart was tethered to the realm of mathematics, with creative expression and fictional writings languishing far behind in my affections. As I went through the early stages of my educational journey, I found myself ensnared in numerous math contests and Olympiads, culminating in my proudest victory: a bronze medal in the International Kangaroo Math Competition.  

Later, to the astonishment of my family, I delved into the realm of language and literature by choosing to major in Philology and English at Ienechita Vacarescu High School. However, it was during this period that I discovered my love for artificial intelligence, cognitive sciences, and psychology, passions that have remained steadfast up to this very moment.

Higher Education  

At the end of my high school years, my mental health deteriorated, derailing my baccalaureate and the chance to attend an university in London, studying psychology with criminology program where I was offered a conditional place. Undeterred, I ventured to London the following year, still intent on studying psychology. They agreed to admit me, provided I first completed a foundation course to make up for the exams I’d missed.  

Little did I know that fateful summer would pivot my life’s course when I met the man who would become my partner and then my ex-husband. He resided in Cardiff and urged me to join him there. My ex-husband was the epitome of my antithesis: grounded, confident, and a triumphant entrepreneur whose charm could placate even the most irate employee. Upon expressing my desire to study psychology, his smirk was telling. He pointed out to the handyman he occasionally hired for odd jobs that held a psychology degree, as did my brother’s girlfriend at the time, who struggled to find employment. I questioned whether pursuing my passion while accruing £36k in debt would truly advance my station.

Ultimately, I enrolled in a business and management foundation course at an University in Cardiff, where I got a first. During this period, I also became a mother, which necessitated time off to ensure my child received the best possible start in life. A year later, I applied to the University’s Accounting and Finance program, although I harboured doubts about my commitment to business. My integration into the uni proved challenging compared to my previous experience at Cardiff Met, as I adapted to motherhood, confronted mounting responsibilities, and grappled with my anxiety and depression once again.  

For a time, there was solace in the anonymity of the Uni’s vast lecture halls, where foreign students often cloistered themselves and an ever-shifting sea of faces provided a unique form of intimacy. It was a place where one could lose oneself amidst the multitude. Professors were primarily accessible via email, rarely engaging in one-on-one interactions and often commuting just to deliver their lectures.  

It was the midpoint of my third year in university when the dam finally broke. Like a fraying rope that had been stretched to its limits, my mental health unravelled, leaving me grasping for support in the arms of student advisers, where my desperation was met with the joking remark: “Why not try socializing more and having a drink or two? After all, you’re young, and there’s nothing else glaringly wrong with you.” This suggestion so casually tossed my way, highlighted a chasm that yawned wide between two opposing forces. As a mother and wife, the notion of socially imbibing alcohol to deal with my anguish held no appeal. My predicament echoed the duality of my childhood, where I would sometimes bore witness to the comings and goings of jolly individuals, their thirst for my grandmother’s intoxicating wares providing a stark contrast to the sobriety of my own upbringing. I found myself torn between two seemingly unrelated worlds, adrift in a sea of confusion and uncertainty, unsure of where I truly belonged.

Shortly, my marriage met its abrupt end, and I was forced to abandon my studies. With a heavy heart, I found refuge in a homeless center, my young child in tow, as I scoured the city for employment and a roof to call my own. Luckily, I managed to claw my way out of the abyss.

I gained a semblance of stability before the pandemic threw the world into chaos. With the closure of nurseries, I was once more shackled to my home, my child the only constant in a world turned upside down. In a bid to regain control, I taught myself software testing, eventually securing a job that offered a glimmer of hope.

While looking at universities in London, that would accept my transfer, I also came across London Interdisciplinary School and felt that its program was a better fit for me. Despite receiving offers from other universities, to finish my previous degree, I chose LIS because it offered the chance to start over and pursue a path that felt more aligned with my varied interests. After a winding journey marked by challenges and obstacles, I was eager to embrace the interdisciplinary nature of the LIS program and learn from the best. The location of LIS was also conveniently placed near Aldgate and only 20 mins walk to where I subsequently moved -across the road from the University campus, where my 18- year-old self once left her dreams.  

My Experience at LIS  

The environment at LIS was inclusive and supportive, and I felt at home among the students and faculty. The professors were accessible and engaging, and their passion for change contagious. I was able to delve deeper into the subjects that interested me, without having to confine to a strict path of knowledge.  

The curriculum at LIS was demanding, but I was driven by my desire to learn and grow. I found myself challenged, not just academically, but also personally, as I navigated the complex and often conflicting worlds of science and art, theory and practice.

As I reflect upon my journey, I am filled with gratitude for the series of events that led me to the embracing environment of LIS. The challenges I faced, the barriers I overcame, and the people I encountered have all played a crucial role in shaping my current self. I firmly believe that it is not solely academic achievements or professional titles that define our worth; rather, our distinct and invaluable identities are sculpted by our experiences, passions, and perspectives—a tenet that LIS’s bespoke selection of candidates aims to embody.  

During my time at LIS, I have grown to recognize the vital nature of interdisciplinary collaboration in unravelling complex problems. By forging connections between seemingly unrelated fields, we facilitate a more intricate and all-encompassing understanding of the world we inhabit and inspire the birth of positive change.

I wish to extend my heartfelt appreciation to LIS for granting me the privilege being part of its founding cohort and growing community, and for fostering my personal and academic growth. My deepest hope is that my story encourages others to take a courageous leap and wholeheartedly embrace their passions, regardless of how unconventional they might seem

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