For Volunteers’ Week 2023, we’re celebrating our incredible Bristol Volunteers who give their experience, advice and time to support our students and alumni community.
Sarauniya Shehu (LLB 2016) studied Law and is now Public Affairs Manager at the National Housing Federation. As a volunteer for the Bristol Mentors programme, she reflects on the value of mentoring and why she finds it so rewarding.
What was it like being a student at Bristol?
Initially I got a bit of a culture shock. I’d been to a comprehensive school in south London, and I didn’t know anyone who had been to private school. Suddenly I was surrounded by people who had gone to brilliant schools and whose parents worked in the legal sector. By the end of my first month, I was experiencing imposter syndrome and I was ready to quit my course.
It took some adjusting, but over time I started to learn how to navigate these differences. I learnt how to adapt to different circumstances and people, and that became an invaluable lesson for my career. I ended up loving my course and my time at Bristol – it challenged me at times, but it also expanded my view of the world.
How did being at university inform your career choices?
When I started university, I thought I was going to become a barrister. I even did some internships in barrister’s chambers in my second year and while I learnt a lot from the experience, it didn’t strike the spark I was looking for. It was while I was on my year abroad in Japan that I started to think about other career options – people were talking about becoming diplomats or politicians, and I was able to take classes in Politics and International Relations. It opened my eyes to alternative career paths.
I lived in a small town in northwest Japan called Niigata. I had intensive Japanese classes every day and I would walk through rice fields to get to campus. I said to myself I’m going to go out there, be bold, and speak to everyone – it became the year I said yes to everything. It boosted my confidence and made me realise if I can move halfway across the world, I can change my trajectory in other ways too.
Why did you become a Bristol Mentor?
In my final year, I was a law student who knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Even though I was open to the uncertainty, it would have been helpful to have a role model to turn to. I was reflecting on this at an alumni event, and they suggested I join as a mentor on the Bristol Mentors programme, to support current students who might be in a similar position.
If you didn’t have an amazing experience at university, being a mentor can be your chance to shape and improve those experiences for someone else. Bristol is a world leading university and it’s opened a lot of doors for me, and I want to make sure that’s available to everyone else.
I love being a mentor. It’s so rewarding to see people progress and evolve and I love staying connected to Bristol. Sometimes when I’m sharing insights or advice, I can apply it to my own life as well.
What type of things do you and your student mentee do together?
I invited my student mentee to events to meet other people, practice networking skills and expand her network. I also suggested she apply to the Patchwork Foundation Masterclass programme – I supported her with the application and we practised interview scenarios together and when she was offered a place, she was told her interview was the best they’d seen so far!
We do an exercise together where we brainstorm what her dream career looks like – not specific roles, but the different elements she wants from her professional life. While she doesn’t know her exact route, this helped us come up with a few options so she has a good starting point for when she graduates.