STEP student sitting in a garden wearing a winter jacket with her legs stretched in a sea view

Nazia Sajid Karmali is a first-year student on the IIS’s Secondary Teacher Education Programme (STEP).

Living your dream in the midst of a lockdown sounds daunting, doesn’t it? That’s because it is!

My experience flying to London from Mumbai for the first time to pursue my long-nurtured dream of studying at the IIS has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. All said and done, being a part of STEP for the last six months has been nothing like I had dreamed of, but so worth it because of my absolutely amazing cohort mates and seniors.

Our programme kicked off with a 14-day quarantine period and already I felt so fortunate to have seniors who brought me comfort food with oodles of care mixed in. We even had check-in sessions with our beloved IIS faculty who tried their best to accommodate our needs and listen to our rants about cold food, cabin fever, and general doom and gloom. Soon we could see the light at the end of the 14-day-long tunnel! We could step out! The first walk in the chilly autumn air of London tasted like freedom. Ah, the relief! We explored the sights and took in the beauty of the Aga Khan Centre. At last we felt like we were at the IIS. In London. Studying STEP.

Then days went by and online classes with unknown faces in these strange semi-apocalyptic times brought out all of our strong sides. We proved that, despite all the curveballs thrown at us, we could stand tall and smile through the snowstorms. Both literal and metaphorical! Over a period of time, seeing my classmates on those tiny Zoom tiles on gloomy days brought a sense of comfort to me that I could never encapsulate in words.

During these six months, I have experienced numerous special moments where relationships with my cohort mates have blossomed into friendships to cherish for a lifetime. Small notes and gifts have been exchanged on every occasion.

I will never forget the rush I have felt every time one of my wonderful cohort mates has texted me “check outside your cluster door” and I have found the sweetest gestures of their love carefully wrapped with joy. From notes to flowers, books and cupcakes, I have found different expressions of love left there.

I have visited too many parks to count, carved pumpkins on Halloween, felt the bright lights of Diwali, celebrated Salgirah with an extravagant dinner with my cluster, exchanged gifts on Christmas, seen a Haft Sin table for the first time in my life on Navroz and made memories of a lifetime.

When we created a WhatsApp group called “STEP Family” last year I would never have believed that, six months on, the people in it—from all over the globe—would actually become my new family. But today I can truly say without a doubt in my heart that it is true. Victoria Hall is my home and my classmates are my family and for that I am ever so grateful.

Find out more about STEP