Andrea Toms, MA Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies student

Andrea Toms

What made you want to apply to your MA course and to Leeds?

I am a librarian and had worked in a variety of libraries for over 20 years. I was working for a charity when I got made redundant due to site closure. My sister encouraged me to use the opportunity to do something that I had always wanted to do. I have always had an interest in the Middle East from being a child and enjoy travelling out there. She supported me applying to go back to University to study. Her support made it possible for me to do this – I couldn’t have done it without her.

The University of Leeds has a good reputation. However, what really made Leeds stand out for me was their positive attitude towards me as a mature student. Whereas I found that other institutions were very negative and put obstacles in my way, at Leeds it was completely different. Their outlook was very supportive and welcoming. After attending one of the postgraduate open days and seeing how passionate the academic staff were about their subject areas, I knew Leeds was the right place. The University has a very positive, welcoming and friendly feel to it and this comes across in the staff who work here, whatever their role. 

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

The MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region is not only a very important area of the world it is also incredibly diverse. My particular interest is in cultures, which are incredibly rich and varied across the region. It is often forgotten that so many discoveries and building blocks of the modern world have their origins there. But it is also a fascinating and vibrant part of the world today. We tend to be shown a certain perspective through the media and as a result it is somewhere that a lot of people pass judgement on without having had any experience of.

What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most?  

I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn a language, as it is key if you are interested in culture. My tutor Dr Samar Al-Afandi was very supportive and I also signed up to the Language Exchange Scheme facilitated by the Language Zone and it transformed my experience. Through it I not only improved my language skills but also made a very good friend. We are still in touch, and meet up and talk over skype, and they also attended my graduation ceremony. I would recommend that anyone learning a language find a language partner. The purpose of learning a language is to use it, and you might make a friend for life.

What would you say about Leeds as a city?

I am from the other side of the Pennines but spend a lot of time over in Yorkshire, and Leeds is one of my favourite cities. There is plenty to do, whatever your interests are, but the best thing about the city is how friendly the people are.

Did you work closely with a particular tutor or member or the University’s academic staff? 

All my tutors were very supportive, particularly about my topic for my dissertation. From my Personal Tutor, Dr Fozia Bora, to the Module Convenor, Dr Hendrik Kraetzschmar, to my Supervisor Dr Sameh Hanna. They could see how passionate I was about the subject area and they really wanted me to do my best and to support me in achieving that.

What do you plan to do now you’ve finished your course, and how do you think the skills and knowledge you’ve developed at Leeds will help with these plans?

I think if anything, the last year had shown me just how determined I am and that if you want to do something badly enough you will do it. Each assignment or exam was a personal challenge in its own way. Now I have finished I am taking some time to consider my options. Short term I plan on keeping up those language skills. However, coming from a library background, I particularly enjoy doing research so this is something that I am currently investigating. The opportunity to develop my research on Palestinian dance is something that I would be interested in doing at a future date.