Success against the odds
For many, ten years of studying in foreign lands away from family, and sometimes on the receiving end of racism, would break their spirit.
But Rachel Boyce was determined to conquer the odds.
Raised by a single mother, the former Queen’s College student left Barbados when she was 18 to pursue her first degree in international relations, criminology and Spanish at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.
She went on to do a master’s programme, and when she was about to begin her second year, she was selected for an internship programme at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington, DC, for three months.
“They were really pleased with my work, and I was offered a longer consultancy. I ended up requesting to be allowed to write my thesis from there,” she said, adding she spent six or seven years in Washington.
After that stint, she moved on to Organisation of American States (OAS) and then the World Bank. She admits she was not entirely happy at this point in her career.
“One of the things that drove me in a different direction was because while it was a great opportunity to be there, I wasn’t entirely happy.
“I was dealing with racism, and feeling very undermined and unappreciated. I decided it was probably time for me to find the type of career that even though people mistreat you, you can hold on to something, and despite what they say I would still be a lawyer,” she told the DAILY NATION during a trip home over the holidays.
In 2013 while all this was happening, she got accepted into a PhD programme at Howard University and the LLB programme at the University of London.
“I spent the entire summer trying to figure out what to do; it was either progress and do a PhD or start all over again. I thought law made more sense at the time, and I was young so I went for it,” she beamed.
However, she readily admitted that it was no easy feat.
“I opted for the blended programme where I could work and study at the same time. It was extremely difficult. A regular day for me started at 7 a.m., and I worked till about 6 p.m. in the evening when I closed my work computer, and opened up my personal computer.
“Initially I didn’t tell [my employer] I was studying for obvious reasons. I remember working in DC and there was a snowstorm, so the entire office had closed.
“I got to work the next day extremely tired. When my boss enquired, although I felt stuck I admitted to him that I was studying.
“He was very considerate, and began to give me different types of work arrangements to allow me to finish study,” she said of the three-year programme which she completed in two years.
She worked with the IDB for one year after graduating, and began school at the University of California Berkeley in August 2016.
“Going back to school to do the LLM was a sacrifice; both professionally and financially. I was now removed from work, removed from making money, and removed from a year of work experience. But my end goal was to be an associate on track for a big law firm, and I had to align myself with what would have made that possible,” she said.
Now 29 years old, after successfully passing the California Bar, she is an associate at Holland and Knight LLP, where she is the only Caribbean woman and black attorney at the San Francisco office.
“They first hired me as a staff attorney for six months, but after four months they offered me a more permanent position . . . . It’s quite an achievement to get in a place where people like me don’t usually get in,” she said beaming proudly.
As for the future, she said she had officially hung up her studying boots as she intended to focus on her career.
“It’s been an interesting journey. I did ten years of studying because I always craved for more . . . . One master’s turned out not to be enough, so I kept going . . . . I cannot imagine myself going back to school again. Right now, I work a good ten to 12 hours a day, so I want to spend the next ten years building my professional life . . . . I just want to focus on being great at what I do professionally,”she said. (RA)