How a love for literature and Sherlock Holmes led this Pakistani student to London

sherlock holmes
How a student followed her love for Sherlock Holmes to London, UK. Source: Misha Khan/Study International

During a Grade six English class, Misha Khan couldn’t wait to turn the page on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “The Adventure of the Dancing Men.”

While other students sighed at the teacher’s instruction to continue with the book, Khan willfully read on, captivated by the main character.

“Sherlock Holmes (the protagonist) has exceptional mental faculties and his adventures take place on the grimy streets of 19th Century London, the perfect setting for crime-solving,” she said.

And so began a years-long fascination with the fictional detective — following all his quests, mimicking his exceptional resourcefulness and attention.

Khan said, “I watched almost all the TV adaptations too, so in a way I grew up soaking in London through ink, paper and film.” 

When the time came to leave her home country of Pakistan to study a Bachelor’s degree abroad, she knew where she wanted to go.

“’Universities in London’ was my first and instinctive Google search term,” said the 23-year-old graduate.

sherlock holmes

Khan followed her love of literature to the libraries of London. Source: Misha Khan/Study International

The story of self-discovery

Let hearts win over heads.

That’s how Khan chose to pursue an International Relations degree at King’s College London (KCL) — and she stands by her choice despite her critics.

“Many may chide my decision to follow my love for Sherlock Holmes to London as the ultimate impractical reason,” said Khan. 

“However, who decides what one’s reasons are for doing anything? At the end of the day, if your resolve is strong, you’ll come through.”

From her perspective, if the place you pick to study is the best suited to your practical requirements, but you aren’t enthusiastic about going there, then it’s already a step in the wrong direction. 

Similarly, if there is a particular city or country you want to visit, but there’s a lack of universities that offer what you are looking for, Khan believes you are likely to be missing out on a better academic opportunity somewhere else. 

“So while there are many practical reasons to choose the UK, such as its world-leading academic reputation, my heart just had one really big reason: Sherlock Holmes,” she said.

In London, Khan found a kindred spirit: a Ukrainian friend confessed to her that his affinity for Holmes drove him to pursue a course in London too. 

sherlock holmes

By following the story of Sherlock Holmes, Khan found her own in the UK. Source: Misha Khan/Study International

Appreciate the little things in life

Here’s another discovery Khan made while studying in the UK: never take anything for granted.

This resonates with a favourite Holmes quote of hers, “It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”

Take the visa process for example. Instead of obsessing over it negatively, she began appreciating the little steps, from receiving paperwork from her university to ticking off a list of student visa application documents one-by-one.

At school, she found reward in the simple tasks of completing writing assignments on time, listening to guidance from lectures and receiving small generosities from housemates.

“You never know what the little things amount to in life, except in hindsight, so make them count.”

sherlock holmes

After her UK experience, Khan is ready to plan her next study abroad venture. Source: Misha Khan/Study International

Following the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes

From winding canals to 14th-century churches, Khan and her friends loved exploring the UK’s capital city

“There’s no place quite like London,” said Khan.

“The architecture is so distinctive, tattered old buildings left to decay stand shoulder to shoulder with even older renovated buildings, which accompany modern structures of glass and steel that stand erect in cohesion and defiance of the old,” she said.

If you’re also interested in following the footsteps of Khan’s favourite detective, she recommends these tourist hotspots around London and gives her opinion of each:

  • The Sherlock Holmes museum on 221-B Baker Street — tailored to bibliophiles rather than those in love with the modern-day BBC adaptation.
  • The Simpson’s Hotel on Strand — frequented by Doyle’s fictitious lead and his dear friend Dr. Watson in the books. 
  • The Sherlock Holmes statue outside Baker Street station — you can take photos here.
  • The Sherlock Holmes Pub at Charing Cross — more so for the novelty of the name than anything else.
  • For fans of the new BBC adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch — you can visit anywhere in central London which allows you the view of the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament.

Alongside her admiration for Sherlock Holmes, Khan also chose the UK because it’s a multicultural hub which helped her to settle into a new study environment.

 “Moreover, my parents had a lot of relatives living in the UK, which for a Desi mother gives peace of mind!” she said.

Yet, choosing what to study wasn’t always easy. At first, Khan wanted to be an artist, an economist, a historian and finally a public servant. 

“Thus, I went with this dilemma to my school counsellor and history teacher, and they both suggested I do international relations as a degree,” she said.

Today, Khan is back in Pakistan and considering a master’s degree in Europe or Southeast Asia.

Since her graduation in 2019, she has worked as a Research Associate in the Climate and Energy Programme at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Pakistan).

She is also preparing for a competitive National Civil Service exam, which would land her a role in the Foreign Affairs department if successful.

“Once again, I am focused on the ‘little things’ I need to do to work towards my dreams. My education also made me a critical thinker who engages with the subject matter in a multi-dimensional manner. So far, this is a skill which has only paid off,” said Khan.

On a lasting note, the 23-year-old graduate advises international students considering London as their study abroad destination to “go for it”.

She said by making that jump, you’ll discover so many new things about yourself.

“And remember,” said Khan, “Stand on the right and walk on the left, they’re pretty serious about that in London!”

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