English Personal Statement

Nadia Tasneem is currently studying BA in English at University College London (UCL), and is graduating in 2021. This personal statement was part of her successful application to University College London (UCL), University of Warwick, Kings College London and University of Bristol for English.

I was not allowed to watch The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, or the Golden Compass until I had read the books. As a child, I could not understand why it was, but I complied anyway, and it was these books that encouraged my love of reading. Within three weeks I had finished all of His Dark Materials, and the entirety of the Chronicles within a month. Perhaps what I enjoyed most was not so much the books, but the discussions I had with my parents afterwards, in which they would ask me about beloved characters, hidden messages, highlights, and plotlines. It was these conversations which nurtured my curiosity and helped Literature become an integral part of my upbringing.

When I was just ten, I came across an article in the school library on the portrayal of
marriage in a Midsummer’s Night Dream. Although I was young, the dissection of social
norms seemed sharp and perceptive, especially as in Malaysia the roles in a marriage are
so rigidly defined. I fell in love with plays soon after, Shakespeare’s in particular, and I
quickly learned to appreciate the genius of Puck’s humorous quips. I felt especially excited at his appearances as his comic relief was primarily used as a plot device, meaning that when Robin appeared, so would another twist in the story. I also began to develop an interest in social commentary by reading material revolving around revolution in Les Miserables and the socialism found in Wilde’s Happy Prince, which became fast favourites of mine. The depiction of poverty in these books highlighted the privileges I have grown up with and nurtured a need to show compassion to those in need. As an impressionable young girl, the elements of feminism in Austen’s Emma and Alcott’s Little Women appealed greatly to me as well, but perhaps what affected me the most was Miller’s The Crucible. The rationality of society and courts being affected by religious beliefs terrified me, particularly because in Malaysia, Muslims follow Islamic, not secular, law. The prevalence of religion in my life is perhaps what inspired me to return to Lewis and Pullman’s books in my EPQ, which discusses the influence of religious messages in children’s literature. Lewis’s world depicts the four children as loyal subjects and Aslan as a Christ-like figure, standing in sharp contrast to the chaotic, upsetting child protagonists in Pullman’s trilogy: Lyra and Will, who enact the classic journey to the underworld, a mirror of Christian hell. Both authors deny any religious allegories in their works, yet numerous academic analyses have drawn similar conclusions about the implicit messages to children. More interestingly, only Pullman’s anti-religious books received criticism, whereas Lewis’ writing was universally praised.

Performance poetry provides me with an experimental platform for creative writing. I
regularly attend and compete in poetry slams, as well as recording poems for Malaysian
radio. I also wrote a triptych for the Commonwealth Essay Prize 2017, for which I won a
bronze award. In addition, in my free time, I volunteer for charity events and work in soup kitchens. I also founded a supplementary English program for aboriginal primary school children in Malaysia. The aim of the program was not only to improve the children’s language and encourage education, but also to qualify them for vocational school by helping them break out of the poverty cycle. Last summer, I went back to Malaysia for an internship at the Star newspaper and found the work in the investigative journalism department thrilling, particularly when I was able to cover the Fun With English program that remains so close to my heart.

I hold two grade 8 qualifications in piano and singing and run the performing arts club in college. Balancing my active involvement in music, voluntary work and academic obligations keeps me disciplined and focused, but also inspires me to remain open-minded and creative.

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