What I learned during my year as a student

Written by Jake Plenderleith on Monday October 29, 2018

At International Compliance Association we try always to underline the virtues of learning. To show you that we practice what we preach, and understand what it is like to study, I want to share my own experience as a student over the last twelve months.  

Last September I began studying for an MA in Classics at the University of Birmingham.

I had never studied classics at any level – everything I knew about the Romans and Greeks came from study in my personal time. I knew no Latin or Greek, had never been a student at this university and knew nobody connected with the subject. What I did possess, I think, was a sincere desire to learn, some basic knowledge and a vague, intangible sense of optimism.

Last week I got my final mark back, wrapping up an intense eighteen months of learning during which time I also undertook an Advanced Certificate in Anti Money Laundering.   


What did I discover about being a student during my spell at university?

That it is hard striking the right balance between work, study and leisure time; that your motivation for studying, no matter how robust to begin with, will inevitably flag during a difficult period, and will need reinforcing; that a passion for the subject of study is a prerequisite and will help you during times of low confidence; that the amount of effort you put in will be reflected in your final mark; that some form of sacrifice is likely to be involved, whether it is your free time or foregoing other, less important, commitments; that there is no set formula for how best to absorb what you are being taught; and ultimately – and this was perhaps the most unwelcome one to face – that you have to actually face assignments alone.

The big pay-off for accepting these challenges is the immense sense of achievement and gratification that follows successful completion, and the awareness that you have set yourself a target and it has been reached. This, in addition to the fact that you have obtained a qualification that cannot be taken away from you, is immensely rewarding. One other valuable but often overlooked result is that by taking a qualification and completing it you have expanded your scope of what you thought possible, making further study – or any other kind of development – a possibility rather than a dream. Finally, you will have actually learned something – always a welcome outcome in life.   

There were other, slow-dawning but very important realisations that came to me, the primary one being that it is near impossible to study successfully in isolation; by that I don’t mean that you have to study with others, but that you will need to rely on friends, family, fellow students, colleagues and tutors to occasionally push you forward with encouragement. You can feel very lonely confronting an assignment and even the most perfunctory enquiry into how you’re doing, or that little bit of reassurance, can mean a great deal.  

One thing I am now conscious of is that no matter how enamored you are with your chosen subject there will be times when you simply do not want to sit and study. At this moment, your mind is going to try all sorts of nefarious methods to get you to get up and walk away from your work – including so-called productive procrastination. All you need to remember is that at this point, when you have never felt less like learning, you should do exactly the opposite of what you brain is telling you to do (which is to do something, anything, but study).


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Now, you might consider any connection between ancient Greece and International Compliance Association to be tenuous. But that would overlook clear evidence to the contrary: bribery and corruption was a problem faced by the ancients – the clue is in the language. Take the Greek word origin from which so much of our current language derives:



Demos (δῆμος) people  +  krátos (κράτος) power/rule



kléptō (κλέπτω) I steal  +  krátos (κράτος) power/rule


Police, polity, policy, politics 

Polis (πόλις) city


The language we use today to discuss civic and legal institutions is Roman and Greek in origin. Political corruption was a perpetual fear of the Greeks, particularly in the city states that were democracies. The world’s first, set up at Athens in 507 BC, was an intricate web of levers and pulleys designed to suffocate any potential for corruption. One of the ways this was achieved was for instance anonymous voting for the election of civic duties (the voting machines that facilitated this were discovered twenty-four centuries later in Athens’ ancient market square, the agora).


Less prosaically, Greece’s most enduring artistic and architectural legacy the Parthenon, that rests on top of the Acropolis rock in central Athens, was at the centre of a corruption scandal during its construction. The individual who conceived the building, Pericles, was the leading statesman of Athens and the intellectual driving force behind the project. His political opponents accused his close friend, and the building’s designer, Phidias of embezzling money from the project’s funds – a grave and impious offence that Phidias successfully defended himself from by having the gold removed from the statue of Athena at the temple’s centre and having it weighed to prove none was missing. That’s a novel method of proving your anti-corruption credentials we have not witnessed since.



This article forms part of the #BigCompConvo - Join us as we explore and debate the latest challenges and issues facing you and regulatory and financial crime compliance professionals all over the world. If you’d like to contribute an article as part of the Big Compliance Conversation get in touch with us at



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