Taking Risks and Getting Things Done: Hamza Naim on Applying to Law School, Charity Work, and More

Taking risks can sometimes come off as a dangerous thing to do, but if you ask Hamza Naim, he would tell you a different story. If he hadn’t taken a risk in applying to the top law schools in the United States, he couldn’t be preparing to head to NYU Law next year.

Thinking about taking a leap of faith and signing up for something that sounds a little scary? You may want to listen to what Hamza has to say first. When we talked to Hamza on the Homework Help Show Student Influencers Podcast, he told us his amazing story of overcoming challenges, applying to Ivy League law schools, balancing a very demanding schedule, and so much more.

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Skyline over Lake Ontario in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Hamza’s Story

Hamza has lived in Canada for most of his life, but was born in Houston, Texas. His family moved to Canada when he was about two years old as his dad was relocated for work. He currently lives in Ajax, Ontario, which is a town about an hour east of Toronto, and visits his family in Texas at least once a year – usually for Christmas.

When we spoke to him, Hamza had just finished up a hefty double major in Peace, Conflict & Justice Studies and Ethics, Society & Law at the University of Toronto, and was in the process of applying to law schools. After our interview, he found out he was accepted into the New York University School of Law.

The road to being accepted at NYU Law was a journey in and of itself for Hamza. He went through quite a few adjustment periods and trial and error in order to get to where he is today. For many students adjusting to university life, this is a reality that may sound quite familiar.
Sometimes Life Happens by Accident

When he started at the University of Toronto, Hamza didn’t really know what he was getting himself into. But in the spirit of taking risks, he took the leap and never backed down.

Peace, Conflict & Justice Studies is an interdisciplinary program that focuses on understanding all of the aspects that go into peace, conflict, and justice on an international level. While explaining what it is, Hamza provides this example: “If you’re trying to study a conflict like Rwanda, they’ll give you all the aspects surrounding the concept of Rwanda and the Rwanda genocide in 1994. So that way, you get a more holistic understanding of what happened down there.”

Ethics, Society & Law is what Hamza refers to as “almost like a build-your-own degree.” When you enter this program, you can choose the direction you want to take for your focus. Hamza chose to focus on immigration and refugee law.
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Hamza always knew he was interested in studying law, but when he signed up for Peace, Conflict, & Justice Studies, he thought it was going to be more focused on social justice. He didn’t realize it was going to be an international focus, and he certainly didn’t realize how competitive and eye-opening the experience was going to be.

He came to the realization that, “I’ve signed up for something that’s totally different than what I imagined.” But that’s okay. In the words of everyone’s favourite redheaded cartoon educator Miss Frizzle, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”
Setting Your Sights High

Keeping up with a course that wasn’t what he thought it would be wasn’t the only risk Hamza would take in his academic career. The next big opportunity came when he decided to apply to law school, and when he set his sights on law school, he set them high.

He applied to Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School, and NYU School of Law – all of which are among the most prestigious law schools in the world. Notable alumni of these schools include Amal Clooney, John F. Kennedy Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Barack Obama, and Elena Kagan, just to name a few. With a roster like that, it’s safe to say that this would be a big deal, and a very intimidating process not many people will even want to attempt given the competition.

Hamza’s own words put it best: “If I go like 10, 15 years down the line, and I’m like, you know, I could have potentially gone to Harvard Law School or at least to have tested the chances, I don’t want to regret it. So I thought, why not?”
You Can be a Risk Taker, Too

Even if you’re not applying to the top law schools in North America, you can still take a risk once in a while. Whether you’re applying to a top medical school or just considering taking a challenging math course, to be able to look back and say you took a risk, even if it didn’t work out, is inspiring.

It’s important to note that when we say it’s a great idea to take risks, we don’t mean taking dangerous or misguided risks that could get you in trouble. We mean taking risks that inspire you to challenge yourself or put yourself out there during your school or professional career. Not sure if you’re qualified for that dream job? Apply for it anyway! Thinking of taking a course but worry it might be too challenging? Sign up and go for it! Want to start a business but scared you’ll fail? Just do it! You will never know what will happen if you don’t take the chance in the first place. A great Canadian hockey player named Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Facing challenges and taking chances can also be a great confidence builder. The more risks you take, the more comfortable you are taking them. Think of it like strengthening a muscle. The more you use that muscle, the easier it gets to lift weights, and you can gradually start adding more weight when you’ve built up the strength.

New York University Law School
What’s it Really Like to Apply to Ivy League Law School?

Applying to Ivy League law schools like Harvard, Columbia, and NYU is intimidating. If you’re wondering what the process is really like, outside of watching Elle Woods go through it in Legally Blonde, Hamza’s happy to tell you.

It boils down to some core components: interviews, application essays, personal statements, GPA and LSAT scores, and your resume. At the same time, while you apply to these schools, you are also applying for scholarships and need to reflect that within your essays. The interview alone, Hamza says, can make you break out in sweat.

One of Hamza’s biggest challenges in his own law school application was realizing the competition he was up against. Many students who set their sights on Ivy League schools spend their entire lives carefully calculating every move to fit in with the admissions requirements and expectations. Additionally, many students take a year or two off between undergraduate studies and law school. Hamza did not do any of those things, and was coming into his application as a fresh graduate.

Another strike against Hamza was the timeline. Most of the time, and for NYU in particular, you should be applying around October. Hamza applied in late January. Nevertheless, he took the shot and ended up getting waitlisted for all three schools before NYU Law admitted him.
Hamza’s Tips For Applying to Law School

The first thing you need to remember, according to Hamza, is that many components of the application for law school are subjective. This includes your interview, resume, personal statement, admission essay, and personality in some cases.

Here are some of this other tips for applying to law school that can help you if you’re starting to undergo the process:

● Focus on the things you can control. Your LSAT and GPA scores are a major rank factor, and when you apply while you’re in your fourth year of undergrad you still have time to increase those.

● Do your research. Look at the prerequisites you need, the client profiles of the school you’re applying to, and so on.

● Make your grades a priority. While grades aren’t everything, they are very important for law school and can make or break your entire application.

● Figure out what kind of professional you want to be, and this will help you determine which tier law school you should be applying to.

Hamza Naim during his time with student volunteer work organizations
The Benefits of Student Volunteer Work

On top of everything else, Hamza is also firmly dedicated to nonprofit volunteer opportunities and spends a lot of his free time being involved in charity work.

One of the volunteer organizations Hamza works with was created by his dad, and together they have been working on incorporating it. The organization, A Global Identity, focuses on providing relief for families in Pakistan during the current COVID-19 pandemic as well as connecting families across the globe sharing their stories and adding a more human element to poverty. The message is simple, Hamza says: “just because there is one hundred miles, two hundred miles, a thousand miles between you and somebody else who needs food doesn’t mean that the obligation lessens because of that geographic distance.” He continues to explain that, “this person’s across the border, and you might not physically be able to see them, but they need your help.”

So far, A Global Identity has raised approximately $20,000 and has fed more than 500 families. Things are also just getting started – they’ve recently applied for a research grant with the University of Toronto and have some big plans for the future to help bring global communities together.

Another organization Hamza volunteers with is the University of Toronto chapter of Love146, a human rights organization dedication to ending human trafficking and child exploitation, and helping victims get the financial support they need to rehabilitate and recover. Hamza was the chapter’s president, and has been part of the organization for the last two years.

Student volunteer work has so many benefits you can enjoy, from making you feel fantastic to looking excellent on a resume. If you’re looking for local volunteer work to get involved with, we recommend starting off looking on your school’s website to see if there are any student-run organizations you can join. You can also check your local government’s website or your local newspaper’s website to check for options.
Finding a Good Student Life Balance is a Skill You’ll Need to Learn

In addition to completing a gueling double-major and staying involved with student volunteer work, Hamza also worked a part-time job, played tri-campus hockey, and commuted an hour each way to school.

Some nights, he would have hockey games at 10:00 P.M., finish at 11:00 P.M., drive an hour home, and then get up at 5:30 A.M. to make it to an 8:00 A.M. class the next morning. Other days, he would leave his house at 7:00 A.M. and get home at 1:00 A.M. Those days would be filled with classes and tutorials at all times of the day, hockey games, study sessions, and shifts at his part-time job. Somewhere in between, he would find time to scarf down lunch and dinner.

How did he handle all of these responsibilities and demanding schedules? With trial and error, like many college and university students do. “It was terrible. It was absolutely awful on some days,” Hamza says.

At the same time, he believes this experience has been fulfilling for him, and he’s satisfied knowing he made the most out of his degree and his time at school. The benefit to packing all of these responsibilities into his schedule also meant that he got a lot of socialization in, as each of these activities are social by nature and involve groups or teams.

Hamza can joke about it now: “Sometimes I think that that university isn’t like an aptitude test for four years, but it’s just, like, who can endure the most suffering.” There are likely many students out there who have wondered if their university professors and educators are watching them fall and get back up after late night study sessions and early morning classes, balancing demanding schedules, dealing with mental health issues, and any other obstacles that come their way. It’s perfectly normal to feel like this sometimes, and remember that it’s always okay to ask for help when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Hamza Naim doing his part in his law school study groups
Study Groups Are an Invaluable Resource

So, what’s one thing that really helped Hamza try to balance all of those responsibilities and not burn out? Study groups! Those introverts out there might shudder at the thought of willingly creating a study group, but the reality is that a study group can be a great tool to use when you’re in college or university.

Hamza’s classes in his Peace, Conflict & Justice Studies program were very competitive, so he formed a study group with some of his classmates. They created a shared document and made sure they worked in it together and added notes where others may be missing information. This way, they could compare notes and keep each other on track to help one another succeed.

At one point, everyone in the group was scheduling their sleep around one another to make sure everyone was working together at the same time. Now that’s what we call a real team effort.

Of course, you don’t need to go that far, but it’s helpful when everyone is on the same page. If you’re interested in creating your own study group, check out our blog where we explain how you can get started.
The Secrets to Effective Group Work, According to Hamza

Study groups might get a bad rep from some people, but if you make the right moves, they can be an incredible and helpful resource for your time in school. Here are some of Hamza’s tips for effective group work:

● Work together in a shared Google Document where everyone can contribute and see updates in real time from their own location.

● Limit the size of your study groups. The more people involved, the easier it is for slackers to avoid contributing and only reap the benefits. Work with a smaller group of people you trust will contribute actively to the collaboration.

● Delegate tasks to each member of the study group to make sure everyone is responsible and accountable for their own contributions.

● Select group members you can trust and who you know you can work with. The last thing you want is a big group of people who aren’t going to get the work done on time, which could negatively impact your own success.

Hamza Naim and his family support from living at home during university
Living at Home During University Has its Advantages

Like many students who grew up in a large city and attended school there, Hamza opted to live at home and commute instead of moving to the dorms or student housing.

For some students, the thrill of moving away and living on your own for the first time is a major part of the attraction of going to university. However, there are many advantages to living at home while attending university. For starters, saving money on living costs is a big benefit.

To Hamza, though, the biggest advantage was having his family there to support him in the good times and the bad times. Whenever he felt stressed, he knew his family would always be in his corner and not be afraid to let him know that he needed to take some time out and cool down. Living at home also meant he was more accessible to his close-knit group of friends from high school, which helped him stay grounded and connected socially.

Hamza credits his family’s support for a lot of his successes both in and outside of school. “If I was ever failing at something, they were there to pick me up emotionally and support me and be like, ‘You know, this isn’t the end of the world. You can recover from this.’ And having them there was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.”
Think About The Kind of Person You Want to be

When Hamza thinks about his career goals and his plans for the future, he’s not entirely sure what route he wants to take. Maybe he’ll open his own law firm, or he’ll seek out a job in legislature. Whatever he chooses, there’s one thing he really wants to focus on: being someone he’s truly proud to be and living a fulfilling life, even if it’s not a six-figure salary. He’d much rather be someone who can come home and spend time with his family, inspire people around him, and rest easy at night knowing he’s made ethical decisions than work day and night to make as much money as possible while sacrificing time with his loved ones.

There are so many circumstances beyond our control in life – just look at what has happened in the world during the COVID-19 pandemic this year. While those circumstances are always going to be a threat, Hamza says it best: “There is one thing that I do have control of, and it’s determining what type of person I want to be in the future.”

Think about who you want to be in your own life. Who you are as a person says a lot more than how much money you make. Some people are comfortable working hard and making personal sacrifices to be successful financially, while others are happy working with a budget and prioritizing family time. This is a choice we all need to make for ourselves, and we are the only ones who can make that choice.

Hamza Naim traveling during law school
Listen to the Full Interview on The Homework Help Show Student Influencers Podcast

If you want to know more about Hamza’s application process, his tips and tricks for students, or his experience in undergrad, you’ll have to tune in to the interview to get the full story. He dishes on even more topics, from his favourite motivational quote to his favourite memory from school and more information on the amazing nonprofit organizations he works with.

You will learn a lot of lessons just from listening to Hamza recount his stories of overcoming struggles and adjustment, so tune in to Episode 15 of the Homework Help Show Student Influencers Podcast. If you have a go-to streaming service, you can look us up on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Breaker, or your other favourite channel. If you’d prefer to watch the interview, head to The Homework Help Show YouTube Channel to take a look at the video.
FULL TRANSCRIPT FROM OUR PODCAST INTERVIEW WITH HAMZA NAIM BELOW

Hamza [00:00:02] They were there for my triumphs, for my failures. So if I was ever failing at something, they were there to pick me up emotionally and support me and be like, “You know, this isn’t the end of the world. You can always recover from this.” And having them there was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.

Lesley [00:00:20] So, hi, everyone, and welcome to the Student Influencers podcast. So I’m here with Hamza. So thank you for joining us today and-

Hamza [00:00:30] Thanks for having me.

Lesley [00:00:30] Awesome. So we usually start with some kind of basic get to know you kind of questions. So let’s start with where are you currently located?

Hamza [00:00:44] So I’m in- in Ajax. So it’s about an hour from Toronto. But still going to the University of Toronto.

Lesley [00:00:51] Right. And so where were you born?

Hamza [00:00:54] I was born in Houston, Texas.

Lesley [00:00:56] Oh, really? How did you end up at U of T?

Hamza [00:01:01] My- I actually- so my family ended up moving down to Canada when I was about like two years old. So we permanently relocated. My dad ended up getting a job in Canada. So, yeah, it was the most pragmatic choice, it was also an hour away from where I live.

Lesley [00:01:15] Oh, that’s so interesting. And do you ever go back? Like to Texas?

Hamza [00:01:21] Yeah, actually.

Lesley [00:01:23] Do you have family there?

Hamza [00:01:24] Annually, yeah. Yeah. So we go for Christmas. My uncle and all my cousins are there. So it’s cool. We, yeah, we frequent Texas.

Lesley [00:01:31] There must be a, quite a difference, though, in Texas, ’cause isn’t it hot all year round there?

Hamza [00:01:36] Um, no, actually.

Lesley [00:01:37] Oh really?

Hamza [00:01:37] In December, it’s- yeah. It’s like, I’d say it’s like fall weather, maybe like slightly warmer fall weather here. But yeah, it can get quite cold, maybe-.

Lesley [00:01:46] Huh.

Hamza [00:01:46] By quite cold, not maybe by Canadian standards. But I mean, up to like ten degrees or something or five degrees.

Lesley [00:01:52] Oh, that’s interesting. I was kind of thought I would just be super hot there since it’s so south.

Hamza [00:01:57] Yeah. Yeah. No, it gets reasonably cold for sure.

Lesley [00:02:00] Wow. Good to know. Interesting. What major are you taking? Oh, I know you- you are- you finished a B.A. at U of T. And now you’re applying to law school. Is that right?

Hamza [00:02:14] Yeah. So I just finished a B.A. in peace conflict and justice studies and ethics, society, and law. So they’re both interdisciplinary programs.

Lesley [00:02:23] That’s interesting. And then you just applied-

Hamza [00:02:28] You wanna know more about ’em, or?

Lesley [00:02:28] Yeah, go ahead!

Hamza [00:02:29] They’re kind of funky. Yeah, they’re kind of interesting. I know most people tend to scratch their head when I say peace conflict and justice studies and ethics society and law, and they’re like what does that even mean? I feel like a very conventional way of doing things on your way to law school is political science or international relations. And these are actually not disciplines that exist academically. So this is an interdisciplinary approach to understanding precisely the themes of peace, conflict, and justice, for example, where you’re studying IR, you’re studying sociology, socio biology in some instances, political sciences, history, geography. Like, it’s a mix of everything. And so, for example, if you’re trying to study a conflict like Rwanda, they’ll give you all the aspects around it in the confl- surrounding the concept of Rwanda and the Rwanda genocide in 1994. So that way you get a more holistic understanding of what happened down there.

Lesley [00:03:24] Oh, that’s interesting. So it’s more like a- more of a, like a global peacekeeping kind of scale as opposed to like a, your average justice system like within, like say, a prov- provincial court or something like that.

Hamza [00:03:39] Yeah, precisely. So the ethics, society, and law that’s, that- I’m double majoring. So the second major would probably- it could be anything I guess, it depends on the way that you decide to- it’s almost like a build your own degree. So for ethics, society, and law, I chose to- to focus more on immigration and, like, refugee law. And that also went hand-in-hand with what I was doing for peace conflict and justice, which I think tends to take a more global approach, although it doesn’t necessarily have to because you select the courses that you want to put into it.

Lesley [00:04:07] Right. Interesting. What got you into that?

Hamza [00:04:14] Um, I- quite frankly, I think it was a misunderstanding of what the program was. I- I- I hope that- I definitely learned my lesson.

Lesley [00:04:23] Right.

Hamza [00:04:23] But yeah. So I looked at, for ethics, society, and law, I always knew that I was interested in law. That was kind of a straightforward shot for it, because when- when you’re studying law, you’re studying all the concomitants of it as well. When- when you’re in law school. So ethics, the spirit of the law, that sort of stuff, how you’re supposed to conduct yourself within the legal field. And then society, I guess, is what formulates the law, what framework it works around. And then law obviously is the central core of going into legal studies. And then the other major, peace conflict and justice studies, I was under the impression that that was more like social justice oriented. I took a social justice course in my first year and I was like, wow, this seems quite interesting. It’s definitely a lens that I haven’t seen before. And I wanted to work towards that. And instead of doing equity studies, I thought that I would do something that’s a little bit more diverse. So I thought it meant peace, conflict and justice within society, not internationally. And I was in for a rude awakening even after- after doing this interview and everything, I still was under this misunderstanding of what the program was based around. So it was, it was an interesting first couple of weeks until I realized, like, wow, I’ve signed up for something that’s totally different from what I imagined.

Lesley [00:05:34] But you stuck with it, so you obviously liked it.

Hamza [00:05:37] Yeah, no, it’s- it’s interesting. And I think the programs, if I could put out a recommendation for or it, from- for the both of them, they’re- they’re quite difficult to get into in terms of the credentials and the academic requirements that they have or the thresholds are quite high. So the people that you meet, I think, is what the most important takeaway is from that program, that it increases your intellectual academic capabilities because you’re surrounded by people who really push you to do a lot more than you than you tend to do before.

Lesley [00:06:09] Right. So it’s a lot of networking. That’s a big aspect of it, I guess.

Hamza [00:06:13] Yeah, I think- I think it’s networking, but also the class sizes are small and I think more than learning from the material, the content, the readings, I learn more from everybody who is around me, which is quite interesting. I don’t know if everybody can say that within their undergraduate degree.

Lesley [00:06:29] Yeah, definitely.

Hamza [00:06:29] The people that were around them taught them so much. Yeah.

Lesley [00:06:32] Yeah, I had a similar experience like that, too, because I went to school for journalism and it was the same kind of thing, like all of our classes were really small sized and our professors were- they weren’t like PhD professors. They were actual journalists.

Hamza [00:06:47] Oh, wow.

Lesley [00:06:48] So it was more- it was almost just like conversation based with them, where they were just talking about their own experiences. And it was kind of very similar to what you’re talking about, except with, obviously with journalism. But yeah, so I get that. I get why that’s more valuable too. It’s just a different experience, I guess.

Hamza [00:07:08] Yeah, absolutely.

Lesley [00:07:10] So you said that- you had told me the other day you were applying to like really top law schools like Harvard and Columbia. What is that process like? I bet that’s pretty intimidating.

Hamza [00:07:23] I mean, it was. I just had my NYU interview the day before yesterday and man, you really break out in sweats. I think- I think for me personally, it was a lot more difficult than the average applicant because a lot of the people who tend to get accepted have taken a year off or two years off. And I know people who have applied for these types of schools and who formulate their lives around getting in an Ivy League law school. And when you’ve constructed your life to fit into their statistics, it tends to work in your favour for sure. So if you take about a year to two off, they tend to look at that as a very positive source of experience, which I’m coming straight out of my undergrad. So I’m kind of like a fresh graduate. I don’t know, in the same lens whether I have the same benefits, right?

Lesley [00:08:12] Yeah.

Hamza [00:08:12] In terms of the application itself, I think it’s quite standard for all law schools. Some- some law schools will have like a slight variation for them. So, like, Harvard has like an optional statement, like a diversity statement. Not all- not all schools have that, I think. NYU had a lot of in- in- sorry. There were in-application scholarships, which was different from Columbia and Harvard. So Columbia and Harvard have merit based scholarships only. NYU- sorry, Columbia and Harvard had financial need based scholarships only. And then NYU offers financial aid based on merit. So I think that was one of the key differences in terms of essay writing, that the preparation for NYU was a lot of a higher level because you had to do the post, like you’re applying for 10 scholarships, which, you know, in the long run, it’s definitely gonna be worth it. You end up spending hours on top of hours trying to write these essays. And in my case, my applications weren’t as thoroughly thought through because some of the schools I just hadn’t imagined I would be in a place to apply to.

Lesley [00:09:19] Right.

Hamza [00:09:20] So like a school like NYU, I didn’t apply to until like late January, I think, which is way past the average application, which is that- you’re supposed to aim for like October for the cycle. So I guess that sort of indicates where I was at. And I only applied because they they sent me a fee waiver and I was like, wow, NYU, like, that’s a huge school. I had never imagined a school like NYU would be reaching out for me and then you look into it and you’re like, this is an amazing school. Why not take my shot? Right.

Lesley [00:09:47] Yeah. Well, what’s the risk that you’re taking by just applying, even if- even if you think it’s a long shot, right?

Hamza [00:09:54] Yeah, absolutely. And I know it’s a- it’s a little bit more work and something like, like Harvard Law School, when I was looking at the application, I’m like looking at their medians and I’m like, wow, these are high expectations. I mean, it’s Harvard Law after all.

Lesley [00:10:07] Right.

Hamza [00:10:09] And- and I was running, there are these regressions that you can find online, and they- they do it just based off of, like, your hard statistics. So your LSAT, your immediate, your GPA, where you fall around their class median. The time that you’re applying even influences your- your opportunity to get into the school.

Lesley [00:10:25] Wow.

Hamza [00:10:26] And for Harvard Law, things were not extremely favourable for me. We’ll leave it at that. And I was like, OK, but, you know, there- there’s still a chance on that regression. So why not take the application? Let’s see. Let’s see where we can land. And I ended up getting waitlisted, so.

Lesley [00:10:42] Oh, really? That’s awesome.

Hamza [00:10:43] Yeah, I got waitlisted for Harvard, Columbia and NYU, so.

Lesley [00:10:48] That’s actually really incredible considering you were-you were kind of applying thinking like this might be a long shot, but to get wait listed is really great.

Hamza [00:10:57] Yeah. Yeah, it means that they’re definitely considering you. And I think for two of those schools, Harvard being one of them, the mobility rates are quite high. So, you know, I’m going to remain optimistic until August and then we’ll see. We’ll see where I’m at.

Lesley [00:11:10] Yeah, that’s that’s crazy. Like, not a- not a lot of people get to say that they even applied to Harvard and all of those top schools.

Hamza [00:11:18] Yeah, and that’s- that’s part of the reason that I did apply because I’m like one day I’m going to look down the line and be like, you know, there might have been only- even if it was like a five percent chance, a 30 percent chance or whatever, something nominal that you consider isn’t worth your time applying for. But if I go like 10, 15 years down the line, I’m like, you know, I could have potentially gone to Harvard Law School or at least to have like tested the chances, I don’t want to regret it. So I thought, why not?

Lesley [00:11:41] Yeah.

Hamza [00:11:42] Shoot the shot, right?

Lesley [00:11:43] Or you’ll be somewhere down the line, thinking, hey, remember that time I applied to Harvard?

Hamza [00:11:47] Yeah. Yeah.

Lesley [00:11:48] It was pretty cool.

Hamza [00:11:49] Yeah. Like, you know, even if you get rejected, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t take the opportunity, right?

Lesley [00:11:54] Exactly.

Hamza [00:11:54] If you get rejected you’re like at least, like, I tried. And the bridge wasn’t there. So it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t the failure of my- my effort.

Lesley [00:12:02] Right. That’s awesome. At least you’re staying positive, too. Like, that’s really- it’s about that life experience too.

Hamza [00:12:11] Yeah. Yeah. And I think it was close to like twenty five percent of their waitlisted applicants end up making it into their and end up matriculating.

Lesley [00:12:20] Oh, really?

Hamza [00:12:20] Yes. So it’s not, you know the odds aren’t-.

Lesley [00:12:22] There’s hope.

Hamza [00:12:22] Yeah. There’s still hope.

Lesley [00:12:23] Yeah. So did that take a lot of, like I’m sure you had to do a lot of research when you’re applying because there’s probably, like you said, there was a lot of specific requirements involved. Like, I’m sure that took-

Hamza [00:12:38] Yeah. So, I think the main two statistics that are necessary for any law school, this- this is across the board ubiquitous is LSAT and then your GPA. And then you have smaller factors. Some, it depends on the school as well, whether they take a holistic approach or not. So like you have personal statements. But that’s also a very subjective indicator, right? You have things like your resumé, also another subjective indicator. What type of person are they looking for? Potentially you have interviews. Another very subjective indicator. So those are the two major indicators that, you know, if you get them right, you can’t mess it up, right?

Lesley [00:13:13] Yeah.

Hamza [00:13:14] You know that a number is objectively high or not or what percentile you went on for the LSAT. I think, yeah, in terms of- in terms of that, I definitely was succeeding in, like just making sure that I was doing the research, the requisite research, the subjective part. Like, you know, you try your best and you’ve got to work with what you have. By the- by the end of this cycle of the applications, I feel like I memorized, like, every single statistic on the client profile. And that’s just pure- I think when when people are applying, there’s a little level of high stress and anxiety. So you’re always checking like, will I meet this threshold and somebody who is still in school who is able to manipulate whatever the numbers are, because I still have an entire fourth year by the time that I’m submitting my applications, right?

Lesley [00:14:03] Right.

Hamza [00:14:04] So that GPA can still go up significantly and potentially even an LSAT can go up significantly if you’re on the waitlist, right? Because you can rewrite it and then resubmit.

Lesley [00:14:13] Yeah, that’s true.

Hamza [00:14:14] So, yeah, definitely. I was certainly focused on that. I was looking at what type of classes, what type of grades I would need in all my classes. And that’s always just been the type of person that I am. I’ll be like, on this assignment I need whatever X, Y or Z on the grade calculator to finish with this mark. And I think part of succeeding in undergraduate degrees, especially in a school like University of Toronto, that’s notoriously difficult, is making sure that, you know, even like the fine details that the average person would be like, all right, if I land- if I land roughly at an 82 versus like an 82.3 is exactly what I need to finish with this GPA.

Lesley [00:14:51] Right.

Hamza [00:14:52] I know it sounds really taxing but sometimes it’s a requirement.

Lesley [00:14:56] I get it. I get it. Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, that’s a pretty- that whole field of law is very, I’m sure it’s very competitive and very specific. So, I mean, that makes sense to me, even- even just like a point three difference in your marks. I could see that being a big factor.

Hamza [00:15:14] Yeah, absolutely. And then, you know, there’s other indicators like, like I mentioned, I think it was about 80 percent of their class for Harvard Law School, around the same for Columbia, I think, took at least a year off from college before going into their their professional degree. So, like that- that sort of indicates what increases my chances, what would be the best life choice for me to make at this moment to ensure at least a higher rate of success for entry. I’m just at the point in my life where I don’t think I want to take a year off. I don’t know how much it would benefit me aside from changing the school institution name where I get my degree from.

Lesley [00:15:50] Right.

Hamza [00:15:52] Ultimately, I think I’m gonna end up in the same spot at the end of the day, right?

Lesley [00:15:55] Yeah, that makes sense. Do you have any other tips or insights that you can share about this process or anyone who is looking to kind of follow the same study path? I guess is the word I’m looking for.

Hamza [00:16:09] Yeah, absolutely. So I think knowing exactly where you want to go from, and this is tough, right, because at this point, I guess me giving you this advice, or you soliciting this advice already indicates that you’re interested in the legal field, right?

Lesley [00:16:23] Yeah.

Hamza [00:16:23] But if you have an interest in the legal field, I’d say the earlier you can say it with conviction, the better off you’ll be. So you know exactly what the prerequisite steps are, right? I guess for the four years that you’re in undergraduate, you- when you- when you’re studying for your undergraduate degree, the best thing to do is maintain high grades. Like, that is pivotal. That’s all- that’s all that matters. Right? If you can do extracurriculars, I guess it depends on what type of- the type of school that you’re trying to go to. I think within, within Canada you have U of T, Western Osgoode, Queens. Those are the major schools. McGill as well. Major top law schools. I think they have- they’re really great schools, but they have a little bit less- less emphasis on extracurriculars simply by like how much traffic they get in their application system, right? A school like Harvard, Columbia, NYU, Stanford, they have an even higher expectation for extracurriculars because they have a bunch of people applying within the 99.99 percentile to their schools. And they’re looking for ways to reject people at this point, right?

Lesley [00:17:32] Yeah.

Hamza [00:17:33] So it depends. Now, once you’ve made that decision of going to law school, now you want to see what type of tier law school you want to go to. You want to be the type of person who’s going to work 90 to 100 hours a week, and you want put yourself through that so you could be at the very top, or potentially do you want to have like a more moderate lifestyle? Like, what exactly are pursuing? Right? You have to make that decision. And then once you’ve made that decision, I guess you could construct what exactly your undergraduate degree should look like. I, thankfully, I didn’t have the problem of doing that because I didn’t even consider this. It ended up working out in my favour because I pursued things that I was interested in. And I did it for just like the joy of doing it myself, like I did like charity work. I worked for various not for profit organizations. I had a job on the side. You know, did sports and whatnot. And those are things that are obviously smiled upon, right, by admissions officers. But that’s just- it just happened to be coincidental that the things that I truly enjoy doing are also very positively viewed.

Lesley [00:18:38] Yeah. I mean, that works out perfectly right? What are some of your kind of, after law school, what are some of your long term goals?

Hamza [00:18:49] This is an interesting question. This is one of the questions that I got within my interview. My answer is quite unconventional. And I- if you are going to answer a law school question within an interview, maybe don’t take the unconventional route. But I-.

Lesley [00:19:07] Good to know.

Hamza [00:19:07] I would- I would prefer to be genuine about it. It’s more so, I think- I don’t exactly know where I plan on ending up. I do know that I want to work in refugee law and immigration law and help families in resettlement. And that’s something that, it’s like a personal goal that’s quite dear to me. But I don’t know how that- how that’s going to manifest, whether it’s going to be a lawyer opening my own firm, perhaps like a legislature- a legislator or a policymaker or whatever it is. Ideally, I would open my own firm. That’s something that I’ve always liked the idea of just like spearheading my own project. But, you know, I never know how, how life’s going to work out, how things are going to unfold. So I never like to decide just to suppose like twenty five years down the line, right? Now, that being said, I think there is one thing that I do have control of and it’s determining what type of person I want to be in the future. So that- that’s more so my response from where I want to be twenty five years from now, I suppose, isn’t being responded through like a professional avenue, but more so a personal avenue. And it’s just like hopefully one day the best person that I can be. And I know it’s very cliche and cheesy, but you know, somebody who would come home and inspire their kids and their- and their wife or, you know, everybody around them, their family and whatnot, just like go to sleep and be happy with yourself because you make ethical choices and ethical decisions. And I know it seems extremely appealing to be making a six- six figure wage, but like working 100 hours a week and not being able to see your family. It just doesn’t seem very fulfilling to me.

Lesley [00:20:39] Yeah, it’s definitely a sacrifice that some people are OK making and other people, it’s just not for them.

Hamza [00:20:46] Yeah.

Lesley [00:20:46] So. I mean, that makes sense. I don’t- I also I don’t think that’s a cheesy mindset at all. I think that’s really positive. I think that, you know, who you are reflects more than how much money you make or what job you have. So I think that’s definitely a positive outlook to have. And I think I would be- if I was an interviewer, I think I would be impressed by that answer if I was a law school, I don’t know, administrator?

Hamza [00:21:17] Admissions officer, yeah.

Lesley [00:21:18] Yeah, admissions officer. So, yeah. And I guess we’ll see how it goes. You mentioned before that you were involved in charity work and extra- extracurriculars in school. What kind of work did that involve? What did you do for that?

Hamza [00:21:37] So in my first year, actually, not a whole lot. I think I was still trying to get the grasp of everything and feel what university life is like. In my second year is when I really started to jumpstart things. I ended up working at the Legislative Assembly in the Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations Branch. That was a big step for me. And then also I started work towards Love146. I’m working on- I’m working on incorporating a charity right now. It’s like a family thing. My dad and his friends have been working on COVID relief in Pakistan.

Lesley [00:22:15] Oh, really?

Hamza [00:22:15] Yeah. So right now we have the privilege and the benefit of getting CERB, CSB as Canadian citizens, right?

Lesley [00:22:20] Right. Yeah.

Hamza [00:22:21] In Pakistan, there is no such thing as like that social safety net, right? So there’s people who must remain quarantined because it’s the law. But they also have no source of livelihood. So that’s become a huge issue in Pakistan. So my dad has been, and his friends, have just been collecting funds and then they’ve been creating ration packages and they’ve been sending it overseas. And I think they’ve fed about five hundred families as of now.

Lesley [00:22:43] Really?

Hamza [00:22:44] Yeah. So it’s a huge thing. And it lasts about- the package feeds a family of four for about a month.

Lesley [00:22:51] Oh, wow.

Hamza [00:22:51] Yeah. Yeah. So and it’s actually quite amazing how many people have mobilized to do this. There’s people from like Etobicoke who my dad hasn’t spoken to in years who are reaching out to him. And they’re like, you know, we want in and we want to support this. And they’ve raised almost twenty thousand dollars. I think it was about sixteen thousand dollars for this.

Lesley [00:23:09] Wow.

Hamza [00:23:10] To the point that we’re like, OK, we should start issuing tax receipts. So we should probably incorporate as charity, right?

Lesley [00:23:16] Yeah. So what’s that- what is the- do you have a name for that organization? Obviously if you’re incorporating it you do.

Hamza [00:23:24] Yes. It’s called A Global Identity. So we’ve actually also applied for a research grant with the University of Toronto. So trying to do a research project associated with this. And the premise is basically that when people- there- there’s a dehumanization with poverty initially. But then when those people who are impoverished or overseas, that tends to dehumanize them or even like disconnect that level of empathy across borders. And it’s a common, a very common ideology that I see. Whether it’s like, you know, just in word of mouth or on social media, that people are like, you know, let’s help the people who are around us first. And yes, we should most certainly help the people who are around us. This organization also has been providing food for the homeless in Oshawa every Sunday for the past, like year and a half at this point. But I also think that just because there is one hundred miles, two hundred miles, a thousand miles between you and somebody who else- and somebody else who needs food doesn’t mean that the obligation lessens because of that geographic distance. And so what this organization is trying to do is encourage empathy across borders. And the way that we plan on doing so is by re-humanize them- re-humanizing the people who need help by allowing them a platform to tell their stories. So we’re trying to create a website, an Instagram, an Instagram page, where if somebody is willing and consenting after we give them the ration package, they can explain who they are. Just- just a narrative of who they are. Like, my name is Hamza. I have a sister, two parents. I live in Ajax. And, you know, whatever I think defines me as a person. And just reminding everybody that, you know, I know this person’s across the border, and you might not be able to physically see them, but they need your help. And they are somebody else who you could directly empathize with.

Lesley [00:25:17] Wow, that’s amazing. So they get to just, like, tell their their own story kind of thing.

Hamza [00:25:23] Yeah. Just just tell their own story. And that’s- that’s the goal of the research project, to- to find a way to re-humanize people and make people connect across borders despite not being able to be in direct contact.

Lesley [00:25:33] Wow, that’s really cool.

Hamza [00:25:35] Yeah. Yeah, I’m excited for it.

Lesley [00:25:36] Yeah. Because I was going to say, like people, like here in Canada, we don’t really think about that. Like with the with everything that’s going on with the pandemic, we don’t really think about the fact that we do have- we have the CERB. We have, you know, landlords who are willing to freeze rent for some- whoever needs that or, you know, like OSAP paused loan repayments for a couple of months. I can’t remember how long, but they froze that. But in other countries that have even more strictly enforced lockdown than we have don’t have any of that and you don’t- you kind of don’t really realize that because we’ve always had that kind of Social Security. But other countries don’t have that.

Hamza [00:26:24] Yeah, absolutely. And that’s one of the biggest concerns that we have. So hopefully we can break that barrier.

Lesley [00:26:29] Yeah. Hopefully, you guys, good luck with that. It sounds like an amazing, amazing project and hopefully you guys can get a lot more- it sounds like you’ve got a lot accomplished already, though.

Hamza [00:26:40] Thank you. Thanks.

Lesley [00:26:41] Hopefully that momentum keeps going for you.

Hamza [00:26:44] And you also asked about other charity work just for the sake of putting this charity out- out there. Love146. I was the president last year and I’ve worked with them for two years now. Really great organization. So what they work towards is the re- paying for funding the rehabilitative processes of victims of human trafficking. And this is- this is another issue that a lot of people think is extremely remote that we don’t have to worry about because it’s not within our direct purview. This is actually a total misconception. I’m sure you’ve seen in the news in Mississauga, in Toronto that there are human trafficking rings going around one right next to my school even. So this is something that, yeah, our- our charity effort this year raised over four thousand dollars. So that’s a huge accomplishment.

Lesley [00:27:30] Yeah.

Hamza [00:27:31] And even with the pandemic, right? So we ended up losing a good chunk of- about, like 30 percent of our school year. Right. So, yeah, if any listeners are interested in that, you know, you can just Google U of T Love146. There’s also the parent organization which you can also donate to.

Lesley [00:27:46] Yeah we’ll put a- it has a Web site, right?

Hamza [00:27:48] Yes.

Lesley [00:27:49] Okay, we’ll put a link to the website in the article that will go along with this. We’ll put a link to all of this in there. But yeah, that’s a- you’re so on point with that because a lot of people don’t realize that human trafficking happens here. Like I live in Niagara, so that’s where I am right now, and I think it was last year or the year before, there was this really big sting like right here in I think it was Niagara Falls. And there was this really big thing and a lot of people in the community were kind of shocked, like what? This- is this real? And it’s like yeah-.

Hamza [00:28:23] It’s happening right under our noses, right?

Lesley [00:28:25] It happens everywhere. And people don’t realize that. So that is really, really valuable work, too. Sounds like you’ve been doing a lot of very fulfilling things.

Hamza [00:28:36] Yeah, yeah. It’s been- it’s been an exciting year. And everybody who’s involved, I feel like is genuinely involved. And I’ve even gotten some if my, like, guy friends into this because this- this does impact women disproportionately, although it does impact men as well in some instances but I think there’s a huge lack of a male presence within these issues. Right?

Lesley [00:28:57] Totally.

Hamza [00:28:58] There were a couple of executives last year who were males, but our events were predominantly filled with females, especially like our education awareness events. Those were always women who were attending because they recognized how serious the problem is getting. We’re trying to mobilize a lot more men to get involved.

Lesley [00:29:13] Yeah, that’s a great angle to do, too. I think obviously the more awareness in general. But yeah, like obviously as a female, I’m- I understand exactly where you’re coming from because we are I think that females are just more trained to think like that automatically. And are more, I guess, more aware of the threat of the problem. I guess you could say.

Hamza [00:29:37] Yeah.

Lesley [00:29:38] So, yeah, that makes sense. And you said you worked- you work part time.

Hamza [00:29:44] Yeah.

Lesley [00:29:45] Or you did. How did you balance all of that?

Hamza [00:29:50] It was terrible. It was absolutely awful on some days, especially somebody who commutes, which, it’s an hour by drive from Ajax to Toronto but on a busy day when, you know, not everybody’s quarantined and you’re taking public transportation, it could take about an hour and a half each way. And so when somebody is playing, I was playing tri campus hockey, which is the level right below varsity hockey at U of T. And I would have practices that would start at 10 p.m. and finish at 11 or games that would start at 9:30 and finish at 11. And I would have, I suppose, a class that starts at 8:00 a.m. even. And so I’m leaving my house to make it to a test that starts at 8:00 a.m. So I’m leaving at like 5:30 in the morning.

Lesley [00:30:36] Oh my gosh.

Hamza [00:30:37] Right. And then I arrive to my test, write my test, suppose. There is- there’s actually this one- one photo, actually there’s multiple photos of this one instance in my political science class at Convocation Hall. It’s one of the biggest lecture halls in University of Toronto. And it’s me falling asleep in the first row. Right, like right in front of the professor. And it’s like pictures from all angles because like, everybody saw this.

Lesley [00:31:01] And obviously everyone thought it was hilarious.

Hamza [00:31:02] Yeah, everybody thought it was hilarious. And I really did enjoy the class. It wasn’t for lack of, like, interest. I was just purely exhausted. And sometimes I think that that university isn’t like an aptitude test for four years but it’s just like who can endure the most suffering. Like, it’s like who can stay up the most, who can, if they’re tired, can they still pursue something if they’re you know, if they’re… Even like mental health issues, right? That stuff goes rampant.

Lesley [00:31:32] Of course.

Hamza [00:31:32] Were they able to seek help, like get back on the horse? They have, like, proper social system surrounding them to support them when they do fall, right? Like, it’s not- it’s not just like an uphill incline. And I think people always need to remember that, that you know, you’re going up and then you drop and it’s like- it’s an absolute rollercoaster. And that’s what my degree was like. There are some days where I would leave my house at like 7:00 in the morning and I wouldn’t arrive to my home until like 1:00 in the morning.

Lesley [00:31:59] Oh, my gosh.

Hamza [00:32:00] Because it would be like filled with class. I used to work in between classes.

Lesley [00:32:03] OK.

Hamza [00:32:05] So I would have my 10 a.m. to 12, from 12 to 12:30 I would eat my lunch and get changed. You had to wear a suit. And then from 12:30 to 6:00 I’d work, I’d have a class at 6:10 that I would usually be running late to, to 8:00 and then a tutorial from 8 to 9, eat dinner, and then from- that would be from 9 to 10, and then at 10:00 I’d be on the ice. Up until 11. And drive home afterwards.

Lesley [00:32:29] Wow.

Hamza [00:32:30] Yeah. So, yeah it was ridiculous. But at the same time, like it’s extremely fulfilling. Like you had to- I made the most out of my degree.

Lesley [00:32:37] It sounds like it. It sounds like also, too, there’s not a lot of time to be- like to get bored.

Hamza [00:32:43] Yeah.

Lesley [00:32:44] Or sit around wondering what to do.

Hamza [00:32:46] And you’re always socializing, right?

Lesley [00:32:47] Yeah.

Hamza [00:32:48] In a sense, like you always- there are friends- in the peace conflict and justice studies program, it was exceptionally difficult in its second year, there was a huge learning curve. And just like because we’re marked almost like on a bell curve.

Lesley [00:33:02] OK.

Hamza [00:33:02] And so the nature of entry for the program is quite stringent. And then once you’ve entered, now you have to at least try to aim for the top of the class. And when everybody’s, you know, always accomplished quite a bit, it’s difficult to land within that top 20 percent threshold. But you’re studying with this group of kids and you’re basically like- I remember there was two days that we scheduled our sleep around one another so that we’d be working on this document together at all times.

Lesley [00:33:32] Wow.

Hamza [00:33:33] Yeah. So round the clock, we were just working together. It was- and like, I mean, how- how much closer can you make friends, like with- with that type of experience? Like, I’ve never worked with anybody like that in my life.

Lesley [00:33:44] Well, you already have matching sleep schedules. I mean, you’re a pretty good head start.

Hamza [00:33:49] Yeah. You must think I’m crazy, holy smokes.

Lesley [00:33:53] No, I don’t. So with all that, how did you- I was going to say, how did you manage to fit studying into all that? But I guess you kind of just answered that when you were- you had to study, did you rely a lot on study groups being so?

Hamza [00:34:09] I think so. It depends on the study group. I think there’s something that’s always emphasized within IOR is the tragedy of the commons. Environmental law, international relations, peace, conflict and justice studies, tragedy of commons, if you’re familiar with it, is- or even it’s a free rider problem. So, you know, you see something that’s getting done and you allow it to happen as opposed to contributing, because you know that you’re going to benefit from it.

Lesley [00:34:35] Right.

Hamza [00:34:35] But there’s no reason to contribute. So a lot of those large study groups, the large documents on the Facebook groups were so futile because there would be like 300 people on this document, all waiting for one another to fill it up.

Lesley [00:34:49] Right.

Hamza [00:34:49] And so, I think a huge part of it was having that direct social connection. I tended to make those- those documents with a group of four and generally not larger than that. And usually exclusive. We just keep it to ourselves because we don’t want to, like, offend anybody for not reaching out to them or whatnot. But I think there’s an element of accountability in having a small group and seeing everybody every single day and delegating work prior to it being put out, because that way you ensure that people actually get their work done and, you know, everybody’s rewarded to the same degree and everybody puts in the same amount of effort.

Lesley [00:35:24] That makes sense. That also makes sense to do it in those smaller groups, too, because everyone is kind of- with a smaller group, you can hold each other accountable and directly be like, hey, how come so-and-so hasn’t shared anything or haven’t contributed because you can see a lot easier who’s being- who’s actually being involved.

Hamza [00:35:42] Yeah. Yeah. And there’s a level of trust, right? Like, there is- the way the system worked was, it’s almost like Machiavellian when you think about it. There was one girl who used to always organize it and she was just great for organizing things, like she was always on top of everything and she would reach out to all of us individually and then she would make the- make the doc and she’d be the one responsible for putting all of this, like the culmination of it together, a final product. And yeah, so she would be reaching out based on how well she knew the person, whether she knew that they were like academically successful, whether she knew that they were reliable and whatnot. So everybody within the group had a level of trust for one another. So there was never at least the stress of not being able to complete the study document.

Lesley [00:36:24] I mean, that’s good, that’s always- I know there’s a lot of people out there who just dread doing things in groups and just cannot- like, I always hated doing things in groups because I hated relying on other people because I just would just get anxiety, trying to wait for things from people. And so it never works for me. But if it does work for you, I think that’s a really great tool to use.

Hamza [00:36:49] Yeah, that that definitely can’t be the case. I’ve had- I’ve had instances where, you know, I’m like, okay, I guess it’s time to, like, put everybody on my back, right?

Lesley [00:36:57] Yeah.

Hamza [00:36:58] But, you know, as long as you know who you’re getting in with and what this, like, social contract needs to entail, I think you should be fine.

Lesley [00:37:08] Yeah.

Hamza [00:37:08] That’s- that’s definitely a recommendation for me if you’re in a small program. Definitely see who you could- who you can meet up with, who you work well with. You’ll have ample opportunity to do so. And it’s just a huge asset, honestly.

Lesley [00:37:20] Yeah. And, like, it is- I can see why it can be. Are there any- so when you were saying how that crazy demanding schedule was really just chaotic for you, was there anything that- any kind of little tricks or anything you did to try to get through that? Like, did you stick to a schedule or did you try to use, like a plan or anything, or did you just kind of go with the flow?

Hamza [00:37:51] If- I would recommend that people use planners. It works for a lot of people. It doesn’t work for me, unfortunately, because the average person forgets to do something. I forget to look at my planner. So as- as it may be recorded, I just- it’s not within my nature to go and check it on written paper. I would first and foremost, say keep in contact with good people and I think that’s the most important thing to get you through it. I have friends from high school who I still cherish to this day. And during my degree, we used to see each other whenever, whenever we were available, right? And I think that’s the most important thing to have, somebody who is there to support you. I think also living at home was quite helpful because I had my family at all times to be like, if you’re- you know, if you’re slacking, they’re like, hey, pick it up. Like, what are you doing? Or additionally, also, you know, they were there for my triumphs, for my failures. So if I was ever failing at something, they were there to pick me up emotionally and support me and be like, you know, this isn’t the end of the world. You can always recover from this. And having them there was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.

Lesley [00:38:55] Yeah, yeah because then they can see you. Hey, you’re burnt out. They’re not afraid to tell you, hey, you’re burnt out. Maybe you should just chill today.

Hamza [00:39:02] Yeah. Yeah. It was- it was quite helpful.

Lesley [00:39:05] Yeah, it sounds like it. What is one of your favorite memories so far in your school academic career?

Hamza [00:39:16] Hmm. Uh. I have one that’s socially and then one that’s also just like purely academically is talking about the grind. I- I like to color code my cue cards whenever I’m studying. And so I had a test where they told us that we would have identification materials, which is they would give us a concept within one of the readings, we calculated it was about like seventeen hundred pages that we would have to find a concept from. She didn’t give us like a list. She was just like, they’re not going to be too big and they’re not going to be too small. So that practically means anything. So, so, so we’re- we’re detailing this document and now I’m like recording everything off of Google. Google Docs to hand. Yeah, I ended up making this entire collection of cue cards that were covered all over the floor of my room, on the walls and everything. I don’t know if you if you watched Spider-Man when he is trying to figure out, like, what happened to his parents. The Amazing Spider-Man. And he had like all these diagrams all over the walls and everything. And my mom entering the room and she’s like, oh, my God, what’s gone on with this kid? I think that was the funniest based on, like, the grind academically. And that’s one of the weekends that we actually ended up like coordinating our sleeping schedules and stuff. It was one of the most difficult tests I’ve ever done. The final question was solve the Israel Palestine conflict.

Lesley [00:40:42] Was that on your cue cards?

Hamza [00:40:44] No, it was not. Absolutely not.

Lesley [00:40:47] Oh.

Hamza [00:40:47] I never imagined something like that would be on a final exam. So- and we had 30 minutes to answer that question. Oh, yeah. It was a big deal. And then the second one was after we finished up an exam and we all went to this pub that we always go to. It’s- they just like, sell like decent food for- for the price that it’s at right across from campus. And we always go there. And there’s also the Maddy, which I think a lot of U of T students would be familiar with. Yeah, and all of us just like recounting the end of the semester, because that was our final exam. And it was like the end of our third year. And we- we sat there for like hours just talking about not only how things went, I guess everybody always has that discussion afterwards, but just enjoying each other’s presence for like the first time non academically and getting to know each other, I think was a huge step for us.

Lesley [00:41:40] Yeah. So it’s a lot of that- goes back to that social element, I guess, for you was probably a highlight, or it seems like that the whole social aspect is something that you really valued probably and still do, obviously. But.

Hamza [00:41:57] Yeah. I cherish it. And I think one of my biggest regrets in some instances was I came from a different background from a lot of these students. And being in this new environment where I’m coming to class in sweat pants, quite generally, pretty much every single day of the year and seeing kids who are dressed really nicely, like in blazers and suits and whatnot. And some of them were like, you know, my parents- my- my parent is a judge or my parent is a lawyer. And they have, like, this type of background, I think was quite intimidating for me initially. And then you think you’re not going to find your clique. And so that was a bit of a barrier initially. And one of my regrets is like, maybe putting up those walls initially because you didn’t actually get to know a lot of people who you might be stoked to know afterwards. And a lot of people within my program actually got into University of Toronto law. So on the orientation day, I got to meet students who were in my class for four years, that I just never spoke to and realized that they were amazing people.

Lesley [00:43:01] Yeah, you had to- just had to look past the suit.

Hamza [00:43:04] Yeah, yeah.

Lesley [00:43:06] And that’s- that’s- that’s funny. Most of the- most of the people I went to school with didn’t- just wear pajama pants to class half the time. So I can’t imagine someone showing up into- what I would have done if someone had shown up to one of my classes in, like, a suit. Yeah. I guess in journalism, no one really has- comes from that background, so.

Hamza [00:43:28] Yeah, I guess that’s also the nature of the program, right? Because it’s kids who are go getters. And they’re excited to, like, be networking or whatever job they have on the side or I’m not exactly sure what they were doing at that time. But I personally was just trying to get by.

Lesley [00:43:42] I get that. On the flip side of that, what- what are some of the struggles or challenges that you faced as a student? Probably, I’m assuming that the whole managing that chaotic schedule was probably a pretty big challenge for you.

Hamza [00:44:02] Yeah. So time. Time. Time, and I think also commuting was quite difficult for me. If you have the means to, you probably shouldn’t if it’s not very- if it’s a short distance, maybe fine. But an hour and a half I think was a little excessive. And that’s why next year I might- I think I’m gonna have to draw the line, although now it might be online schooling so who knows.

Lesley [00:44:26] Yeah.

Hamza [00:44:27] But yeah. So- so it was time, but also, I think when I made that sacrifice, I also have to recognize that was coming from a position of privilege, that I had somebody who was like an hour and a half away. And, you know, there’s plenty of people who would like die for a place to live during an undergraduate because now they’re incurring all this debt, right? So at the end of the four years, like, I was like, wow, that was a rough time. But now that I’m thinking about it, perhaps it wasn’t terrible.

Lesley [00:44:54] I guess that’s a good way to come out of all of that, because instead of, like, struggling under all that student debt, especially if you’re I mean, if you’re living in Toronto, that’s expensive.

Hamza [00:45:03] Yeah, it is expensive.

Lesley [00:45:05] It’s nice to avoid it.

Hamza [00:45:06] And then you have to pick up extra hours and stuff as well to make up for that if, you know, if you’re paying it through your own means. So, like, I mean, maybe there’s a cost benefit to it. Maybe it is beneficial. But you’re the person who has to make that deliberation, right?

Lesley [00:45:21] Yeah. Because yeah, commuting is not for everyone, but not everyone can afford those living expenses. So I guess it’s kind of a two way street.

Hamza [00:45:31] Yeah.

Lesley [00:45:32] Definitely. So in your opinion, how is university different from high school? And I know most people say it’s completely different, but what changed the most from high school to university for you?

Hamza [00:45:46] That’s actually a funny story. In my first year, I thought there was absolutely nothing different. In my first year, I took five full year courses. The way it works at the University of Toronto is you could take a half year or full year. And generally it’s characterized- your timeline will be characterized by both. I took five full credits, so that meant that all my final papers, all my final exams were at the very end of the year, so around March April. Up until then, my degree, the first year of my degree wasn’t extremely onerous. So I thought it was a breeze. Like, I’m like, oh, okay. There’s readings that I didn’t do that often. And I would show up to classes that were extremely interesting. I was meeting new people. I’m like, this is the life. Like, I’m- I’m loving this, right? And then later on, I was up for a rude awakening around February when they’re like all the readings will be on the exam and I’m like, whoa, I’m way behind. And that’s when I started having to catch up. And that brings me precisely to my point. The difference is that you need to have a lot of self-discipline. In high school, you would have a teacher who would be like, don’t forget, this is due tomorrow. Don’t forget, this is due next week. Or you should have already started your ISU, your independent study. That was all pretty much prescribed to you. Now, in university, it’s like you have three deadlines on the syllabus. Figure it out. And it seems like it’s very low stress initially because there’s nobody reminding you that all this thing- that all these things are due. But if you lack self discipline, this could be extremely challenging for you. And I think that was a big jump for me.

Lesley [00:47:23] Yeah, I think that’s a big thing a lot of people tend to struggle with. A lot of the people that we talk to, that’s kind of one of the biggest things is like, I’m- I’m accountable for myself and no one’s going to tell me when to study because I have to know that.

Hamza [00:47:36] Yeah. And also, socially, there’s differences, right?

Lesley [00:47:38] Yes.

Hamza [00:47:40] Now, I think once you hit university, you start to decide who your friends are. I feel like you to an extent in high school, you’re in a level of captivity where you’re in a class of 30 people and you know, it’s just in your best interest to get along with people and you see somebody everyday and you’re friends. But at this point, it’s not effortless. You have to reach out to your friends if you want to maintain that relationship. And which I think also is like something that speaks volume in a way. If somebody is messaging me at this point, it means a lot more than it was four years ago.

Lesley [00:48:12] Yeah, I think I agree with that, too. I think it definitely has a different meaning now, too, especially when, yeah, when people are taking their time out of their day to talk to you. And just to check in on you, it means a lot more now.

Hamza [00:48:29] Yeah.

Lesley [00:48:32] On that note, if you could go back and talk to your high school self, let’s say, like your 15 year old self, what would you tell yourself?

Hamza [00:48:42] Stop goofing off. No, I’m kidding. I would do everything the exact same way that I did. I know- I- I applied myself in high school to an extent, but just not to the maximum extent, which I think is when I started university late first year, when I really started to to apply myself. I think in high school I was somebody who would go with the flow. Maybe you had your daily math homework. I would do it on occasion. I would be deeply socially involved. I’d play a lot of sports. I was- I was having a great time. Sorry, my Internet connection says it’s unstable. Can you still hear me?

Lesley [00:49:21] Yeah, I’m- it glitched for like a second. But you’re still good.

Hamza [00:49:25] OK. Yeah. So I think that- that was a very vital point in my lifetime to enjoy. And if you say, in retrospect, that you should have started working harder in elementary schools so you could have done better in high school, so you could have been done better in university or been more equipped in the future. I think you’ll never actually get a point in your life where you will enjoy yourself. So I think if I were 15, if I were taught- talking to myself when I was 15 years old, I’d be like, keep doing what you’re doing. You’re having a good time. And, you know, there’s gonna be times to work. And right now, you definitely should be working to an extent. But I think, you know, you’re fifteen years old. Have a good time. Enjoy yourself.

Lesley [00:50:02] Plus everything you did, if you did it all differently, maybe you wouldn’t be where you are right now. Maybe you’d be somewhere else.

Hamza [00:50:08] Yeah. There’s people who get burned out by the time they get in university, right?

Lesley [00:50:12] Yeah, definitely. What advice would you give for someone who is starting university like this year? I know this year is kind of weird circumstances because everything’s online, but what kind of generic advice would you give for first time students?

Hamza [00:50:32] Definitely don’t judge a book by its cover. Again, another cliche phrase, but I think it’s pretty vital for somebody to reach out to new people to expand their social horizons. And for me, I had a quite like a generic friend or like an archetype that I would be compelled to look for. So there are certain individuals that I would be really attracted to as my friends. And then I was meeting a whole host of, like, diverse people. And I’m like, I don’t know if I would connect well with this person. And, you know, maybe their political views don’t align with me or maybe they’re too outspoken or maybe they’re too passive. And I think you start to realize that, especially in a group that’s so diverse, that maybe that’s just a consequence of my personality. But you- you get along with a lot more people than than you think you do in high school. And you should definitely expand your horizons and meet a lot more people because it- it helps you grow yourself in terms of character and also intellectually.

Lesley [00:51:32] Yeah, I think that’s a- that’s a really good thing that a lot of people should remember, because I know it’s completely- like, in high school you have this mentality where you’re like, oh, I don’t want to talk to those people. I don’t want to talk to those people. Like in my high school, they were the hallway kids. Those were all the kids that would eat their lunch in the hallway. And they were kind of like the misfits.

Hamza [00:51:56] Yeah.

Lesley [00:51:56] It was like, oh, the hallway kids. But now it’s like I, like, those people are just as successful as everyone else. And they probably could have been a really good friend to you if you just talked to them.

Hamza [00:52:07] Yeah. Absolutely. We had- we had a hallway where I think there were kids. It was called the library hall is what we pegged it, library hall kids. And they used to play like Pokemon or Yugio or something. And so everybody’s like, you know, stay away from that. That’s a social catastrophe. We don’t want to be around that. And and like lo and behold, two years later, I am on my virtual reality set playing Skyrim for like 13 hours a day. And you’re like, wow, who are you? I don’t even know. Like, you develop in weird ways and I feel like discounting somebody else for their interests kind of hinders your own development. So just embrace it.

Lesley [00:52:44] Totally. Hundred percent, I agree with you on that. So, lastly, I just have a couple more questions here. One of the things that we always ask in our interviews is if you can share any favourite motivational quotes you might have or just any favourite quotes in general that might be- that inspire you.

Hamza [00:53:05] Yeah, that’s a tough one. I honestly, I was thinking about it, I’m like, I don’t know which one. Because when you think about those famous motivational quotes, you think about, like a lot of people who you would be compelled to believe in because of their accomplishments and what not. But then there’s other people who also contradict them where you’re also compelled to believe. I think there’s one that- that I believe is quite neutral in terms of what it tells you. And it’s by Heraclitus. And it’s the only thing that is constant is change. And I think that is quite ubiquitously correct. Like, that’s unequivocally correct. Because we all know that the world’s changing, especially given our circumstance right now. But even with, like, technological improvements, changes, the social climate changing, the political climate changing, and we have to recognize that we have to adapt. And I think within my past four years, within my undergraduate degree, I have changed drastically. Like I- I don’t know how I would even recognize the person that I was when I graduated from grade twelve from high school. So I think recognizing that growth doesn’t necessarily… Yeah, so recognizing that the change is necessary and the growth is necessary and that you’re never in a point in your life where you shouldn’t be growing or where you shouldn’t be changing. And there’s even people like within in their 50s where, who I’ve seen within my courses taking their undergraduate degree course. It’s just for the sake of personal growth, right? And I think that those people are actually always the most interesting and that, you know, typically there are students who are like, I’m 21, I’m going to sit with somebody who’s 21 and I like to be surrounded by those people because they offer a very different perspective. Like Shirley from the Community. From Community. You know that show?

Lesley [00:54:52] Yeah.

Hamza [00:54:53] Yeah. Somebody who is interesting offers a very different perspective. Yeah. And I- yeah. I think always changing, remembering that you’re in a position to grow is the most important thing that you should be striving towards. Even if it’s like law school or med school, it doesn’t even have to be any of that stuff. But just grow for yourself, grow for your own purposes.

Lesley [00:55:11] That makes total sense. I had a couple of people like those, like the mature students. They were called at my school. I had a couple people like that in my classes too and everyone was kind of like, this person doesn’t really fit in here, but they were really nice. Like, really interesting people who obviously they have so much more to share, so, it’s so much worth it to talk to them.

Hamza [00:55:32] Yeah, I think an undergraduate degrees, it’s a little bit more peculiar because they’re- they’re not like the typical student. In degrees like, like your M.D. or your J.D., it’s a little bit more common because those are the types of people you actually see, right? Like, it’s not uncommon to find a mature student. In fact, U of T offers family housing. So it’s like for spouses, for children as well, for- for their J.D. students. So, like, I mean, it’s- it’s not ucommon for you to see that. But in spaces like a bachelor’s degree, I guess people tend to be a lot more close minded. And they’re like this is the type of student that I’m used to seeing and this is abnormal to me almost. And yeah, I would definitely say reach out to those people. Make them feel at home, like not only for yourself but also for them. Like, you know, maybe they also want to experience what college is like and expand their social horizons as well.

Lesley [00:56:22] And they’re bettering their lives. Like you said. So you’ve got to admire them for doing that. It’s pretty brave.

Hamza [00:56:28] Yeah.

Lesley [00:56:29] So. The last- one was the last few questions we always kind of end with a question that’s more on the fun side and that would be what is your favorite social media platform and why?

Hamza [00:56:44] So this is a- a guilty pleasure. I’ve been trying to get rid of social media for like a long time in terms of-.

Lesley [00:56:49] Fair enough.

Hamza [00:56:49] And like, I recognize it’s- its merit and having like a presence there. But personal- with my personal engagement, I’ve been trying to reduce it as much as possible and my guilty pleasure is one hundred percent Instagram. My I- I especially when the amount that I am required to read for school or required to read for by additional, you know, extracurricular tasks and whatnot. The internships that I’ve done have been like purely research based. You’re talking to clients and correspondents and whatnot. And Instagram is just one of those places where you can, it’s like a narrative in a picture, right?

Lesley [00:57:23] Mhmm.

Hamza [00:57:24] And- and just being able to see that with like how- how low the, like the mental requirement is to be on Instagram, I think is quite nice. And that’s why it’s so captivating to a lot of people. And also, I think it- in terms of me who’s eager to learn, I think is quite interesting in terms of how much you can see within Instagram. So if you go on like the Discover page, even if you- if you type in like a location, my friend and I used do this all the time and just like tag each other in pictures for different locations, you see what’s going on somewhere else in the world on a different continent. I think it’s just absolutely mesmerizing that you’re able to do that on a social media platform. Yeah, yeah, absolutely instagram. And then I’d say Facebook as well, because. But that’s just for more like news, engagement, political engagement. I think a lot of people for some reason find Facebook to be the place to post the political opinions, which I find interesting to read.

Lesley [00:58:17] I’ve noticed that a lot, too. That’s pretty much all- Facebook’s been pretty active lately with the pandemic and everything.

Hamza [00:58:26] Yeah, especially as the couple cases in the past few weeks right? Recently, which are tragic.

Lesley [00:58:34] Yeah. So I think that, yes, Facebook is still pretty valuable for the news and stuff. But yeah, that’s super interesting. Just before we wrap up, do you have any final insights that you want to share with our audience?

Hamza [00:58:50] No, no, I’m all set. I think I’ve spoken quite a bit already.

Lesley [00:58:54] Yeah, you’ve definitely given us so much to think about. So I just want to thank you for joining me today. Thanks for taking the time out of your day to talk to me today.

Hamza [00:59:06] Thank you for having me.

Lesley [00:59:07] We really appreciate it. No problem. And I will definitely keep in touch and see how it goes for you.

Hamza [00:59:16] OK. Absolutely. I’ll keep you updated on whatever happens.

Lesley [00:59:18] Perfect. Sounds good.

Hamza [00:59:20] Thank you.

Lesley [00:59:21] Thanks. Bye.

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