It was almost 8 months ago now since I took that brave step onto the plane. COVID-19 would not be declared a pandemic for a while yet, so the only nerves around were if I was going to ‘fit in’ or enjoy myself. I had put a lot of work into getting this far that had exhausted me mentally and physically, so a lot of expectation obviously built in regards to wanting a fabulous lifetime experience. The thought of this filled me with excitement and nerves all at the same time for my months studying abroad in Sweden. I was there much longer than planned but I have been back in the UK for almost a week now and I wanted to update you with what is happening for me.
I am now self-isolating in my university accommodation because of travellers quarantine. It has been a strange week from having a fantastic summer filled with freedom in Sweden to being ‘locked inside’ for two weeks. I suppose it is not ideal but I guess that is the price I paid for not returning before stricter travel rules were applied. To be even more honest though and what may appear strange to many is, that I am pretty much fine with this isolation period.
YES! You must think I am extremely peculiar. But after such a busy and tiring yet enjoyable summer, even the best of us need a little time to recharge. This is just natural and healthy. I was flying from Denmark but of course, the majority of my time was spent in Sweden so that is the reason why I have to isolate. I had the most wonderful and unforgettable experience, but, now it is time to get back to and readjust to my life back home in England.
As you probably know already, I was living in Sweden to study abroad since I am a university student. I believe this is generally something that is offered in the second year of your studies, so now I have a busy third and final year ahead of me. I do not think studying in the middle of a pandemic is ideal. I am worried about readjusting to a greater workload and probably a lot more face-to-face interaction than I had in the spring. We are in a period of uncertainty and it seems like I continue to face struggles, but I am determined to persevere in the face of adversity and finish my degree.
University can be the first real sign of independence a young eighteen or so year old may get in their life. With lots of exciting opportunities and experiences to be had, it can make managing money extremely difficulty. I am not saying that you have to plan out every single penny or turn into Alan Sugar over night, but start to think what purchases are necessary and even budgeting. Can really eat dominoes three times in a week? Maybe you can, but your wallet may not digest the news as well as you. Also see if your accommodation is paid automatically and have your student loan installments paid in smaller more frequent periods. This will encourage you from over spending so you have money for common necessities!
Fitting in is overrated
Everyone talks about university and that making friends is so easy and important. This is not always the case in my opinion, especially if you have a disability. If you have this and issues of self-esteem it can make it difficult to make good friends, or many at all. Do not worry if you do not hit it off with people straight away. The people you meet instantly at freshers events are not always the people you will find yourself around afterwards. You will have 3+ years to meet people, so be patient and be yourself… The right people for you will come along eventually, if you stay true to yourself.
Homesickness is normal
Almost everyone will feel homesickness at some point. This may happen a lot more in your first year as you get used to living away from home and being more independent. For me having autism means that I require more time than the average person to get familiar with my surroundings. But I promise you that it gets easier over time. Disability or not, you will need time to adapt and that is perfectly okay. I recommend exposing yourself to the independence more by staying at university during the weekends – maybe even explore your new home. I notice that first years especially are quick to go home for the weekend as soon as their classes finish. I feel that this makes it easy to get used to your surroundings and truly become independent.
Get into a good routine
Freshers events are generally every night and although they may be tempting, they will soon take the energy out of you. I see people going to every event and wonder, where do they get this energy from? This I feel can get you into a bad routine and bad habits. Start as you mean to continue I say. Have your fun but also organise and prepare yourself. Go to all your classes as it will give you the best chance of passing your course. Do not miss out on valuable classes and do not get your head into thinking ‘this lecture is not important’. They will all serve some kind of purpose at some point, and you can learn new things even if they are not particularly relevant to your assignment at the time.
The term ‘Mature’ student makes me laugh sometimes, as I am probably only two years older than most of my compadres but it is what I am, nonetheless. In the UK most people start University at 17 or 18 but many also may starter later for various reasons such as having gap years for travelling. Whilst others may just have a change of heart in adulthood and want to study a degree. Whatever their reasons though, the mature student can still engage just as any other aged student would normally. I will discuss the life of a mature student with often examples from my personal experiences.
This is a huge one for many students but mature students also have the added weight of being older than their peers. This does not necessarily but generally means different interests as they are in different periods of their life. They might have a family of their own or a business on the side so they don’t have the time or interest to ‘party’. I have neither of these things but fitting in hasn’t overly bothered me, as I would prefer a small circle of friends with passions similar to mine. Partying is not my passion. I had a year or two of that which got boring for me as it is not in my introvert personality. I choose to ostracize myself on purpose so that I am not questioning my self-identity. I feel that as a mature student you are better equipped to deal with this concern, as you are not as impressionable as most teenagers.
Life isn’t just a party
There are many other clubs and societies where you can play sports or engage in fun and intellectual conversations. Sure they may have partying on the side but you are an adult who can choose whether or not to go. Maybe you’ve already done your fair share of waking up at 7 am hungover on someone’s bathroom floor? In that case, clubs and societies are a great way at any age for meeting people, as you already have one common interest with the potential to explore more of them. Also, I feel that it provides a stress-free environment for getting to know someone properly so that you can find out if you want to hang out with them more often.
A great opportunity to learn something new with a fresh mindset
At a young age people are often pressurized with “What do you want to be when you’re older?” or “Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years”. How on earth are we supposed to know this when the brain is constantly developing and we are undergoing a process of self-discovery? At least as a mature student, you have less stress put on you and instead have many experiences that can help you to choose an area of interest. From there you will have a better idea of what you want to study as you have had time out in the real world to experience it. Also for me, having had no gap years it is very exhausting to be in education for so long. I feel that we as individuals can either do our best work with some time off, or in a gap year we may learn it is not for us. Either way, you can come back the next year with a fresh mindset and challenge yourself in whatever adventure your life takes next.
So… It’s been a while. I am now studying in Sweden (Malmö to be specific) and it has been an interesting experience so far. It has not come without its challenges but I am trying to embrace them. It has been almost a month so far and I am yet to freeze to death. Weirdly enough it was not until two or so weeks in that I really felt the cold… Malmo is extremely windy and grey like all the time… So not too dissimilar to the UK really.. The cold is worth it though to be out and to appreciate the architecture and bask in the nature Sweden has to offer.
There is a significant emphasis on outdoor life/activities or ‘friluftsliv’ as its roughly known here. The large selection of accessible parks offers great scenery in a peaceful environment – a lovely escape so close to the city. My favourite so far is Kungsparken, which is actually the oldest park in Malmo and was formed on the area previously belonging to Malmohus castle. The park is spacious and is occupied with lakes and the park itself is really well maintained, which makes for a fabulous time in the sunshine. There are also tons of birds, ducks and swans which makes for some interesting sounds! But it is great for zoning out and listening to the nature, to truly indulge in it.
It is often grey and ‘miserable’ so despite the cold weather, it is important to appreciate the blue sky and sun when it does come. I think everyone else has a similar mentality, with many people located in the parks even if it’s only 4 or 5 degrees celsius. Children are often outside and playing in parks and people are cycling… There is a very relaxed environment in Malmo and I for one am really enjoying it so far.
My studies and settling in have kept me busy and the weather has kept me inside, so apart from one school visit I am yet to venture outside of Malmo (and get one of those yellow, regional buses!). I cannot wait to get around when its a little warmer but for now, I am really enjoying my course. I am studying near enough the same thing as I would back home, but from a Swedish perspective.. hence the Swedish school experiences I am gaining. It has been fantastic seeing different PE lessons take place and see how my favourite subject is taught in another country. Here there is a significant emphasis on health over competition which I think is fascinating.
I will to keep this updated better… I have so much more to say!
I must start by apologising for my inactivity in recent times. It has been a while since my last post so I figured I should begin to explain how I’ve been spending my summer away from University.
After finishing my first year which was a huge milestone for me, I dove straight into an incredibly unique and out of this world experience. This involved my two-week summer school trip to Taiwan. Baring in mind that I had never been abroad or on a plane before, yet I was about to embark on a 12,000 mile round trip by myself. Some would call me courageous whilst most would think I was ABSOLUTELY bonkers.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect and I think that is what helped benefit my experience. I was deeply out of my comfort zone (such as taking a week to pluck up the courage to use chopsticks) but oddly enough, that was okay. Everyone that I met was so friendly and welcoming which was reassuring at this point. I felt that I could be more involved than I normally would be, in which was a very busy two weeks.
The two weeks ultimately flew by, with it taking a week for me to adjust to the dreaded jet lag and coping with the humid climate.I remember climbing Huoyan mountain and being so dehydrated I could not eat. Which for me, who nonstop eats is obviously very significant! But once I had adapted and stumbled onto Super Supau (an AMAZING Taiwaneese isotonic sports drink) I seemed set for the second week.
What I loved most about the trip was the amount of food and drink available at such a low cost. I remember getting a huge McDonalds breakfast the one morning for 99 Taiwan Dollars which roughly converts to £2.21. Whilst other mornings breakfast could cost as low as 62p. Because of this almost every meal I had was in a resturant of some sort, which was convenient and alleviated the worry about how I’d fuel myself each day.
The days involved a good mix of culture enrichment and adventure tourism. Rock climbing and bouldering seemed a popular choice there but for me it was river tracing and cliff jumping that captured my attention! Whilst it was also fantastic to experience another culture and well they look after public areas like parks and museums.
My days there were challenging in many different ways but I will never forget my experience in Taiwan. I couldn’t imagine a more positive first time experience abroad, where I was well looked after by the amazing people I met. Two weeks was simply not enough as there was so much more to explore. Visit if you ever get the chance!
No need to panic about friends on your first day jitters, as mostly everyone is in the same boat as you. Straight away you have your house mates before even meeting your course mates. You can also then branch out and meet new people through clubs and societies.
Your biggest concern about moving away may be ‘who is going to clean up my mess for me’? As much as we seek independance, some things never change.. Luckily a cleaner should come into your kitchen and clean communal areas. Those with ensuites will be expected to clean their own bathrooms however, so stock up on your polish and febreeze!
You don’t have to worry about your water being shut off, or your electricity when you’re half way through binge watching Brookline Nine Nine anymore. Everything in halls is included bill wise, so no need to worry if you’re in halls!
Appreciate home life more
Not being able to go home as often can make you appreciate your home and surroundings more. The less that you see your loved ones and the comforts you have at home, mean that it’ll be ever so sweet when you return back to memory lane.
Some people may not even get a maintenance loan that covers their accomodation. Some will be in accomodation that they cannot afford, whilst frantically running around chasing up employment opportunities just to get by. Whilst others will be living off left overs and 20p pasta. Make sure you know your financial situation and choose your halls wisely.
Some find it hard to study at university due to the amount of distractions that are available to them. Having people on your door step has its benefits but also can be detrimental to your progression, should you let it affect your commitment. Some might experience FOMO (fear of missing out) and feel that they have to be involved with everything. Be careful and try to balance this well so that you are putting yourself well and succeeding.
Walls are thinner than a gas stations toilet paper. You’ll be subject to noise at all hours, as the nocturnals and the drunks are awake come 4 am. Fire alarms will soon become your worst nightmare as well. The noise is horrendous and someone is bound to set it off from making toast in the early hours.
Time and money to go home
For those choosing to study in a long distance city, away from their home town then it can be very costly and time consuming to travel home. Whilst locals may be able to go home almost every weekend, you’re stuck in the flat by yourself. Your train ticket is £65 even with a railcard and you can’t bare to spend that amount of money, after burning it on a two day bender.. Not only money wise but also the time spent travelling when you could be studying or partying!
It is your first year at University. You may be away from your loved ones for the first time, which sounds daunting. But at the same time, you are enthusiastic about a completely new and exciting adventure. You can plan and get a rough idea of what University is like but speaking as a first year myself, there are just some things that you can’t forsee. Some of these points are covered here, which I am positive any university students reading this, may have come to terms with at some point.
Friendships are not always forever
You will potentially meet some of your best friends at University, but not everyone out there will be good for you, or as supportive as you think. It is too easy to latch onto the first person you meet and although this can develop into worthwhile friendships, other times it doesn’t. The pressure to make friendships so quickly with the likes of ‘freshers week’is immense, but don’t be fooled as there is no need to panic. The majority of us are here for three years which gives us plenty of time to develop the true friendships. Go to clubs, societies and events! You’ll be surprised how many fanstastic people you can meet with similar interests.
Dealing with drama
Drama is not worth it. You can’t get on with everyone on a true level, but you can be civil. We are all adults so to speak and sometimes you just have to ‘suck it up’ and tolerate others. Whilst other times admittedly, it can be much healthier to leave this person completely. If like me you prefer a much more relaxed environment, then it can be much better for you to distance yourself from drama. Of course though this can be difficult if you’re seeing this person regularly, so tred with caution. This is why I think being civil enough to get by can help, as things can get real awkward, real fast. This is not worth it at all!
You don’t need to ‘go out’ to make or maintain friendships
I’m a firm believer that there is someone out there for everyone, and that you don’t have to compromise your integrity or your individuality to fit in. You have your housemates and coursemates already, but you can also branch off into joining clubs and societies. Immediately you already share one common interest of what the club is all about, whether that be anything from harry potter to football. I can guarentee there is a society for almost anything. If not you have the option to find these people and create a new society. This can work a lot better for the more introverted of us or those with social anxiety, or even just people who prefer peace. If you like to meet in the middle then perhaps pubs, where alcohol is available yet in a more sociable environment.
Seek all the help you can get
All Universities should have an extensive range of support available for students, regardless of having a disability or not. No one there should be there trying to catch you out as everyone is there to support your learning. Personally I have been guilty of just getting on with things myself as I’m very self motivated and driven in that manner. I have generally been getting great grades so I never really thought about it. It wasn’t till roughly half way through first year that I truly understood what I needed help with and the benefits of seeking this assistance. Whether it be academically, mentally, socially or physically, there are things you can do to benefit yourself. Don’t bury your head in the sand. At the end of the day you’re here to get the best education possible, so ask questions and seek help at every opportunity.
Extra courses and qualifications
Despite different gradings, everyone will be finishing with a degree. You need something that will set you apart from the rest,to give you an advantage over the chasing pack. In reading or progression weeks, universities can offer courses and qualifications that can further your learning. I have taken part in a range of different sporting ones that are relevant to me, such as tennis and tri-golf. These courses are quite introductory in nature, whilst giving me a brief summary and insight into them. This has improved my confidence as well as experience for a CV. Studying abroad is also offered by universities, to develop experience and skills in your chosen field.
Don’t waste your money on books!
As shocking as this sub heading sounds, I can promise you it’s not contradictory. Universities have reading lists with exact books that they expect you to partially read from. Most of these academic sources are available online for free, whilst the others you can loan from the library. There is rarely if ever a need to experiment with flashy and expensive books. Look out at the start of the year for book sales, where books are sold for a miniscule price. I gained a lot of books for 50p each in a sale held by the University, which assisted me in getting an A grade in an assignment. Just be careful that the books are not too old as Universities prefer more up to date academic sources.
Mental health is an important aspect of an individuals well-being, that must be cared for thoroughly. Particularly throughout work and education, which I believe as a university student myself can fluctuate quite quickly. Therefore a lot of this will be based around that context, as I share five things (there are countless more options that work for different people) that personally help me or could help others in being healthy.
Exercise – Regardless of ability or fitness level, the intensity can be adapted to suit the indiviudal. It is easy to stress when caught up in a great workload, but even walking outside (in hopefully bright sunshine) can be enough to take your mind off of whats troubling you. This can also be done with a friend to offer a social aspect and motivation, so you avoid becoming buried in your textbooks experiencing burnout.
2. Diary / Mood tracker – If like me, you can struggle to see the positives of a day sometimes, then downloading an app such as ‘daylio’ can be an excellent method of logging and assessing your days. You can rate your days with one click of an emoji, click what activities you did in the day and write notes. It logs it all so anytime you’re questioning yourself, you can go back and view what you did well.
3. Music – Sometimes as much as we enjoy socialising, we just need to be on our own for a while to recover and recharge. This is perfectly okay and music can come in different genres to suit your different moods. When I’m in a good mood I tend to listen to indie rock or pop music, anything catchy enough to spark my attention. Whereas when you’re down in the dumps, perhaps ‘sad’ or uplifting songs can give you hope through relating to the lyrics.
4. Speak up – If you’re speaking to the right people then they will be happy to help you, but to do this you must help yourself first. It is okay not to be okay and the first step is communicating. This can be tough but relieving when you find that special person who understands you. Bottling up your feelings will lead to them eventually pouring out. So whenever it gets a little too much, take a step back and reflect, then reach out. You do not have to face anything alone.
5. Try new activities – Try not to get stuck in your comfort zone. We all love it for a reason! But it’s so healthy to branch out and try new things, you may even meet new people. I try to be as open minded but I do admit some things can be a stretch too far (such as me having to do Dance with absolutely no skill whatsoever), so it can help you if its in an area you are somewhat familiar with. For me this is sport and exercise, which has numerous societies where you can meet new people with a common interest. These societies also exist for non sport too, and I seriously joining at least one if you can.
A blog for documenting my personal life experiences and thoughts featuring a pun from my avid interest in sport.