When Sara moved to England from Jordan aged just six, she couldn't speak a word of English. As her frustrations in the classroom grew, her behaviour plummeted and she was almost excluded from school. Yet now, just 15 years later, she's studying history at the University of Oxford. Here's how she got the help she needed to turn things around.
When I was six, my father secured a highly sought-after job as an NHS nurse in England. It was an exciting time for our family, but when I arrived at primary school in North West London I couldn't speak a word of English, knew no one and was totally unfamiliar with my surroundings.
Learning to speak a new language was incredibly difficult because my mum didn't speak it at home, so when I couldn't understand what the teacher was saying I often cried out in frustration.
I thought I was stupid.
Secondary school was even harder. It was a huge comprehensive school with a bad reputation, and I continued to struggle. I thought I was stupid, and my growing frustration meant that I began to misbehave. Sometimes, when a teacher announced that we had a test, I would just get up and walk out of the classroom. My behaviour got so bad I was nearly excluded.
But, despite all of this, I was lucky. My teachers saw beyond my behaviour and in year 12 they recommended me for Teach First's Futures programme, which helps less-advantaged students fulfil their potential when they leave school.
No one in my family had even applied for university before.
You can imagine my surprise when my Futures mentor, Sarah Louise, suggested I apply to Oxbridge. No one in my family had even applied for university before, so we were totally unfamiliar with the system and I was really scared about being rejected. But it began to seem like a real possibility when I was given an additional Oxbridge mentor who had himself been to Oxford to study the course I was hoping to read – history. He helped me to realise I had nothing to lose. I was also given the opportunity to visit Oxford to gain a real experience of life at university as part of Teach First's Easter Schools. This was a turning point for me as I really enjoyed the lectures, the surroundings and the company. So I applied and I got the place!
I've got big goals for the future.
I did the work and I deserve the results, but Teach First levelled the playing field for me, providing me with insights I would otherwise never have had the opportunity to gain. Without the support and encouragement of my teachers and mentors, I honestly don't know if I would have even applied to university, let alone secured a place. And not at just any university but one of the best in the world. I've got big goals for the future. I'd love to become a human rights lawyer, and maybe one day become an MP, to fight injustice and help others less fortunate than me. Being supported by Teach First has really challenged me to aim higher and believe in myself. They made it possible for young people like me overcome huge obstacles and achieve things we never even dreamed possible.