Aqua Koroma first started her university journey in 2000 but pressed pause on her studies when she became mum to two boys.
After her marriage broke down years later, Aqua was inspired to return to study Law with The Open University and pursue her dream of becoming a solicitor.
Her journey to graduation wasn’t without its challenges, including failing a module, but she didn’t let anything stand in her way.
“I didn’t complete my degree initially,” said Aqua. “I chose to work instead. I’d always wanted to study law though, and even resigned from my job so that I could. But life had other plans for me and granted me the gift of my two gorgeous boys. However, it was a traumatic separation and the breakdown of my marriage in 2017, that eventually triggered the need for urgent change.
This spurred me on to complete my degree. I enrolled with The Open University, so I could create a better life for my children and demonstrate to them the merits of working hard in what some could perceive as unideal circumstances.
Juggling life as a newly single parent with her degree and volunteering with the Citizens Advice Bureau was hard, and Aqua admits there were times when she wanted to quit.
It was in these toughest moments that she drew on several sources of motivation to get her through. I was motivated by my children. I want a better life for them and wanted to set a good example for them. My eldest son is happy for me and very supportive of me studying.
He always asks me ‘lawyer questions’, as he puts it.
“Every time I felt like giving up – and there were many times when I did, especially during my final year – I remembered these two sources of motivation. Even when I failed an assignment – which only happened once, thankfully – I thought of these, and I was right as rain in a day or two.”
It's okay if you don't always pass with flying colours
When Aqua failed her module, she admits she was devastated – but decided to channel this into doing better next time. She said: “I failed the assignment because I was emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. The demands of juggling parenthood and all else came to a head during that period.
“I was devastated, to put it mildly. I am my worst critic, and the assignment critique and result felt personal. You are advised to not to take assignment feedback personally but, at that time, I could not take on that advice. That failed assignment meant I did not achieve first-class honours by the narrowest margins, according to feedback received.
“But the fog lifted eventually. I told myself I could not permit a single fail in almost three years at The Open University to dictate my performance in future assignments. I needed to put the fail in context with the number of assignments passed; some with pretty good grades.
“To any student who does encounter this circumstance, putting things into context is critical. It is ok if you do not pass all assignments and with flying colours. Do not use ‘failure’ for anything other than as a motivator to do better and be better.”
For Aqua, The Open University was the obvious choice to continue her studies.
I chose the OU because of the flexibility and the opportunity for the better management of my personal/academic balance. It would have otherwise been difficult for me to complete my degree as a single parent
“All of my tutors were brilliant from start to finish, especially my final year tutors,” she added. “I think close to the end of my time with the OU, I started to appreciate the feedback on my assignments more. I paid better attention to where I needed to make improvements and it showed in my assessment scores. If it wasn’t for this honest and helpful feedback from my tutors, I wouldn’t have performed as well as I did.”
Aqua soon discovered that supported distance learning would benefit her in many unexpected ways, extending far beyond achieving her qualification.
She said: “Studying at the OU nurtured existing skills and cultivated new ones. I feel calmer and more centred than I was a few years ago and, overall, I feel more confident within myself and in my academic ability.
“I am far less reactive to negativity and can manage conflicts better, the latter thanks to my participation in the Mediation Project on the Open Justice module – and that skill comes in very handy when you’ve got two boys. I’ve realised that I am a lot stronger as a person than I gave myself credit for.”
I am aiming to qualify as a solicitor and am currently studying the Legal Practice Course LLM at the University of Law,” she said.
It took me a long time, but I finally got there.
“To anyone who is thinking of studying at the OU, I’d say to just do it!
The tears, frustrations, tantrums, exhaustion, stress, and hours spent studying it are definitely worth it. It’s yet to fully sink in that I’m the proud owner of a degree. But when it does, and I think it will do at the face-to-face graduation, I am hazarding a guess that I’ll burst into happy tears."