Support for Estranged Students at Swansea University

So here at Swansea Uni, we recently successfully received the StandAlone pledge for our support to estranged students. This means that we pledge not only to support estranged students best we can, but also to commit to build the support available to ensure its improved in future.

But what does this mean?

Let’s start by talking about what being estranged actually means – the technical bit!

The term “estranged student” is used to refer to young people who do not have any form of relationship or contact with either of their biological parents and are therefore studying without the support of a family network.

This can obviously be difficult and can cause additional issues in the student journey.

For a start, Student Finance do recognise estranged students and class them as independent students when calculating their student finance. This means that they can be assessed on their own income and not the household income of their parents.

Without this, estranged students would likely only receive the minimum amount of funding available – which would be a struggle for any student without further parental support.

Unfortunately, this is not always as easy as it sounds!

In order to grant Independent status, Student finance need documentation to show you are estranged.

Got the documentation or know where you can get it from? Great!

But what if you don’t?

What if you’ve never talked to anyone about the issues that have occurred?

How do you prove you don’t speak to people?

It’s not always easy but there is help available – Money@CampusLife within Swansea University have experienced advisers who can help!

We will need to discuss your circumstances further, but we will be able to narrow down the documentation you can provide to ensure student finance accept your estranged status.

We will keep working with you until it gets accepted and also have a specific team in student finance we can contact directly on your behalf – this usually speeds up the process considerably!

If you are struggling financially whilst resolving your student finance issues, once you are enrolled you can also apply to the Swansea University Opportunity Award also administered by Money@CampusLife. This ensures that money does not become a barrier to you accessing your University education.

Any other support available?

Yup! Quite a bit actually!

So as well as the specialised support to ensure you receive your Student Finance, the Money@CampusLife team will also provide you with a named contact.

The idea of the named contact is that you have someone to go to ask questions or if you have any issues. They can’t solve every problem you have, but will at least be able to point you in the right direction of someone who can.

You will also have a specific named contact in the library and GoWales – this will ensure you can obtain support with your career planning. They can also support you if you wish to undertake work experience, paid and unpaid work placements to further your experience and build up your CV.

Finally, we can also sort you out with 52 week a year accommodation – so you always have somewhere to go, and you can apply to the Swansea University Opportunity Award to help towards the extra costs incurred over the summer.

If you want to get in touch with the Money@CampusLife team, our contact details are here: www.swansea.ac.uk/money-campuslife/contactus/

Remember, we are here to help you as and when you need it. We don’t chase you or treat you differently to any other student, but if you need help and support – that’s what we are here for.

 

Books, babies and brain training: the best bits of being a mature student.

This time 10 years ago, at the grand old age of 38, with a young family to support and 5 O’ levels to my name, I decided to go to University. It was the most terrifying decision I have ever made – but also one of the best. Without question, giving up my job, my salary and, in some ways, my ‘old life’, and jumping head first into the world of Higher Education as a mature student proved to be a fantastically positive and rewarding experience. Here’s why.

Excited as I was about starting my student journey, my responsibilities as a parent loomed large and initially threatened to overwhelm my enthusiasm.  Being honest with my tutors about the need for me to have some flexibility helped to create a dialogue in which I was able to explain any absences or an early finish here and there without concerns being raised. Truth to be told – I didn’t want to miss a class or seminar if I could possibly help it – I started to love the sense of comradery with my fellow students and didn’t want to miss a thing. I may have been (just about) old enough to be their mum, I was by far the oldest student in my cohort, but I was welcomed by the people on my course and even now, the snippets I hear about how they’re getting on fills me with delight at what they have achieved.

OK, so I wasn’t dancing down Wind Street on a Wednesday night – but there were certainly a few memorable evenings out and many stories shared over a coffee. The enthusiasm and energy of these young people on the cusp of their adult life was infectious and they accepted my quirks of espousing the joys of 9am lectures, bemoaning their reliance on technology and my love of the library. Oh how I loved the library – the utter joy of being free to read, indeed of being required to read, to peruse the library aisles unfettered by parental guilt.

maturestudentmug_9m10

Completing my course became about far more than the hope that I might get a better job at the end of it. In fact, employability wasn’t really in the picture at that time – it was more a sense that I would, by improving my education and raising my awareness about societal issues, find the right path for me. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t need to get a job after I graduated (I would really need to get a job) but my new found confidence in my academic abilities opened up a world of possibility that I simply hadn’t contemplated before.

And it wasn’t that I didn’t sometimes have sleepless nights about the myriad of ways that my crazy decision could backfire and leave my family destitute (I did – so many of them) but rather that, every new friendship made, every deadline hit, every mark that came back that was better than the last, contributed to an emerging picture of myself that I didn’t recognise. My experience of education in a rough and tumble comprehensive had left me wary of testing my academic abilities, too ready to dismiss my inherent love of books and knowledge as something only ‘clever’ people got to pursue full time.

By the end of the first year my brain felt as though it had expanded. Trained to think critically – I engaged with the world around me on a different level; not a news article or TV programme went unevaluated (I must have been a joy to live with!). By the end of the second year, I was starting to get over my fear of exams, by year three I didn’t want it to end but consoled myself with the knowledge that I was working hard to get the best possible grades. Writing my dissertation whilst simultaneously looking after kids and doing up a house whilst my partner worked two jobs was tough for all four of us – but we got there.

For some, going to Uni may be something to get out of the way before ‘real life’ can begin. For me, it was a wonderful hiatus, a space in which I could re-evaluate what I wanted for myself and my family and discover what my ‘real life’ could look like.

And, Reader…I got a first (and won a sports car, but that’s another story…)

If you want to find out about support available for student parents, please get in touch with Money@CampusLife. 

Support For Student Carers

 

Money@CampusLife and Welfare@CampusLife are teaming up to provide a new support package aimed at student carers.

Our definition of a carer is:

“A student who cares, unpaid, for a family member or a friend who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction cannot cope without their support.”

It doesn’t matter what your age or gender is, or what course you are studying, if you are a student carer, there is help at hand.

Why are we doing this? Well studying whilst having caring responsibilities can be extremely difficult. Commitments may clash and finding enough time in the day to do everything required may also be challenging. We therefore want to provide appropriate support to this group of students, helping to ensure that they have an opportunity to achieve their maximum potential.

So what’s going to be available I hear you ask? Well, we will be offering a bursary of £500, provision of a named contact, and information and support to link up with local specialised services. There will also be personalised access to other support services on campus. Students may not need everything on offer, but each will have the opportunity to discuss their requirements when meeting their named contact to ensure the support is tailored to their needs and circumstances.

Sign me up – what do i need to do? Well if you meet all of the eligibility criteria, you will need to provide us with evidence of your carer status. This could be a letter from a medical professional or your school/college, or perhaps evidence or a previous claim for Carer’s Allowance. That’s it! We’ll talk you through the simple process of applying for the bursary and how to access further support.

If you’d like to know more – please do get in touch with Money@CampusLife or Welfare@CampusLife and speak to one of our advisors.

So if you are, or will be, a student carer studying at Swansea University, get in touch to ensure you get the information and support available to you.

More information can be found here.

A challenging story about overcoming life’s obstacles

Laura blogWe recently asked one of our former graduates if they would like to write a blog post for us. The response was a heartfelt, brave and honest account of the challenges she faced whilst studying, and the transformative effect coming to terms with one’s past can have.  

You may find the contents and themes of this entry upsetting, however the story told is powerful and moving, and very much deserves to be heard. Please be aware of this before reading on. 

The Money@CampusLife Team

 

I just found out the starting piece of my puzzle, on fathers day, a fitting time.I was a rape baby. A baby made in fear, guilt and shame and its followed the theme of my life. The feeling of being unloveable. I believed nobody loved me. I had good reason.

At age 5, i was sexually abused by my grandfather.
At age 10, I was placed in a foster home.
At age 18, my partner committed suicide.

I saw these events as a reflection of me. Life just kept giving me more and more evidence and the voice inside me grew darker everyday.

“Your own mother doesn’t even want you”
“These people are being paid to care”
“I deserve to be beaten because i’m bad”
“If I wasn’t here, everything would have been alright”

For years and years I let these thoughts fester inside my head. They permeated all my relationships with people, the world and with myself. I started on a mission to be loved by everyone but fell at disappointment each time. Nobody could love me the way I wanted to be loved.

I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t loveable. Everybody else around me had loving parents, friends and support networks. While I raged a one woman mission against the world and everything in it. I hated being told what to do, I hated anybody pretending to care or show affection. I hated being influenced. I plainly, just hated the world.

When I was 18 I decided to run away, being an adult there wasn’t much running that needed to be done. I was free to go where I pleased. So i packed my suitcase and headed away from my home town, where all the old memories walked around the streets like ghosts.

I went on a journey that I wasn’t sure I was going to finish. I wanted to know:

Who am I?
Why me?
When will the pain end?

I felt that if I wasn’t seeing all the people who had turned my life into this nightmare then maybe I could just forget it all. For a while I did, I purposefully withheld details of my life. I pretended I was like everyone else. I had a mum , a dad , a happy family and they all supported me in my decisions.

The further I ran, the more distracted I became from my thoughts. The constant moving and changing meant my thoughts didn’t have time to catch up with me. When they did, there was always a bottle of vodka or a joint to help obliterate them back to where they belonged 3,000 miles away.

I didn’t find happiness in my achievements. I didn’t find happiness in my relationships. I didn’t find happiness in my holidays. It was always a surface level feeling. A resigned “ Well, this is better than the pain” but never a “wow, my life is fucking awesome” I kept this inside me. I felt if I was to ever tell people how I really viewed life, then i’d be carted of to a mental institute and they would throw away the key.

I started proving things. If I could prove to everyone I was amazing, THEN they would love me for sure. If I could prove I was intelligent, then the love would pore in. If I could prove I was fun, there would be no reason to think I was anything else. It was exhausting. Always doing things to prove something.

“Look, I can do it.”
“Look at me.”
“Love me.“

There have been moments in my life of extreme suffering, the type of suffering where you just think, i’m done. Im truly done with this life and it has nothing to offer me. Pain has a way of doing that to you. Pain has a way of getting right into the corners of your mind and turning them inside out. Everything you once knew and thought doesn’t matter anymore when the pain is unbearable.

One night, I surrendered to the pain. Instead of being angry with myself for crying and being weak. I sat with the feeling and let it completely flood my whole being. I felt my pain and I didn’t run, i didn’t distract myself and I didn’t try and intellectually reason my way out of it. I sat there, crying to the moon. I was done living my life in pain. I couldn’t take anymore. I bundled up all of my problems and handed them over to whatever or whoever was in the sky. From now on, they could deal with it, because I couldn’t anymore.

Shortly after, a series of unexplainable events happened. People started coming into my life with a message for me. Something I really needed to hear. Something I had to listen to. Strange coincidences started occurring that catapulted me onto a different path. I started learning things I never knew about, knowledge I hadn’t come across before, wisdom I had never heard spoken.

My life changed when I looked into the mirror and I said “ I love you. “ It was such an awkwardly terrifying experience that I shocked myself at my own resistance to this simple phrase. I could barely do it, I could barely look at myself and I could barely meet my own eye. I started repeating this every time I looked in a mirror and it got easier, less resistance and more believable.

Then one day, just like that, I fell in love with myself. I fell in love with my life. I fell in love with the world and all its magnificent glory. I had turned a tap and the love gushed out of me. I couldn’t stop. I even started loving complete strangers. I loved the good , the bad and everything else. I started sitting in deep gratitude for everyone and everything. I began understanding that my life was a blessing, a gift, a present and that I hadn’t been put here for pain, suffering and torture.

I began to believe I am truly blessed, that I am a miracle and most importantly that I am love.
I went back through my old belief system and began ripping up beliefs that no longer served me. That no longer helped me be the best I could be. That didn’t come from my highest self. I did this with a level of tenaciousness that I’ve never seen before. I had been living with a host of limiting beliefs that actually weren’t mine. They had been passed on, taught or copied.

I started to answer my questions one by one:
“Who am I ?”
I am not a label, I am not my job, I am not my status. I am love. I am pure creative energy. I am a miracle. I am powerful. I am a creator. I am enough. The state of joy, bliss and happiness is our true state, our natural state. Hate, pain and suffering are caused by our own thinking.

“Why me?”
A victim will use this line of thinking to justify their beliefs in thinking the world is against them. The world is against nobody. It is you against you. I believe I experienced these challenges in life because I needed to. That in fact, the things I once considered to be the worst things that have ever happened to me are now actually my biggest gifts. I developed empathy, compassion and forgiveness. These lessons are what have shaped me today. It is because of these events that I can now help people. I can listen to them and say I understand you, I feel you, I know because I actually do. I can bring light into peoples darkness because I once too was swallowed by darkness

“When will the pain end?”
The pain will only end when you decide to change your thinking. Its a choice we all have. You are telling the story of your life, you have the power to tell a different one. You choose everyday how you interpret others actions, how you interpret events and how you interpret the world around you. You and only you have the power to change this. Change the script!

I know there is more than one person on Facebook today that needs to hear this message. I know there is someone right now sitting there with pain in their heart, with suffering in their mind and doesn’t know when it will end. I’m here to tell you, pain doesn’t last forever. No matter how bad it gets or it has been, you can change it around. Right here, right now. You can start living a different story. You have the power and you can do it.

Do you know how I know? because I was you.

If this powerful and moving account of one students experience has raised any issues for you and you would like to seek support confidential, professional support please get in touch with a member of the Campus Life team. Details of which can be found below:

 

Contact Campus Life, Telephone: 01792 602000   Email: Campuslife@swansea.ac.uk 

 

 

Experience of a Care Leaver

We asked one of our current Care Leavers, a series of questions about how they have found studying at Swansea University.

  1. Why did you decide to apply to University?

I decided to apply to university because it was something that I had always aspired to do as child, I kind of lost sight of that dream after finishing school and dropping out of my first attempt at college. I just wanted to improve myself and my life, to become somebody that my ten-year-old self would have been proud of.

  1. What attracted you to study at Swansea University?

The beach. No, in all seriousness I thoroughly researched all the universities that I applied to and Swansea University was among the most highly rated for my course and the support available to care leavers. Extra points were given because of the location though.

  1. What were your reasons for choosing your particular degree course?

I chose American Studies quite simply because it was what interested me. I wanted to do something interdisciplinary but I was not interested in joint honours, this degree gives me the freedom to study one of the most powerful countries in the world through a variety of avenues.

  1. What have been your favourite things about studying at Swansea University?

Again, the beach. Seriously, I love being so close to the beach, it is the perfect place to chill out with all your new friends. The friends that I have made since I got here are also some of my favourite things about studying at Swansea. Joining societies leads you to meet so many people from all over the world, which is why going to socials is so great! I would have to say that university/student life in general is one of my favourite things about being here, there are so many ways to socialise and have fun, different places to study and activities to get involved in. You can do as much or as little as you want and it is so inclusive.

  1. Have you found the university to be a supportive and motivating environment?

My personal experience is that the university, staff and students alike, are very supportive. Everybody wants you to succeed in what you are doing, even when you feel like giving up. One of the struggles of being a care leaver, for myself at least, is that you don’t have the same support network that many of your fellow students do. The staff at Swansea University have been fantastic in the absence of such a system, they are constantly there to give you a boost of motivation when you need it, or just have a coffee and a catch up.

  1. What challenges, if any, have you faced as a student? How did you overcome your challenges?

One challenge that I have encountered since becoming a student here is trying to attain the right balance between my work life and my social life. Contact hours, the amount of time spent in lectures and seminars, for my course average out at around nine hours a week. It can be very easy to forget exactly how many hours you should be working outside of this. I am still working on getting the balance correct but my current method is to treat it like a full work day: if you work from nine until five a few days out of the week then you have the rest of the week to do what you want. In theory.

  1. What one thing do you wish you’d known before starting university?

It is difficult to pick just one piece of information that I wish I had known. However, it would probably be this: you are going to miss home. In one shape or another, even if you never considered it home before, or you don’t have family there, it could be the tiniest, most boring town in the middle of nowhere but you will miss it to a certain degree. I have yet to meet one student who does not miss the place that they came from. The real plot-twist to this story though, is that when you go back home- you end up missing university! I think this a good thing, you learn to appreciate what both places give you and you never regret the times you spend there. Also, you should know that if you enjoy going to the beach you will get sand in everything you own. Genuinely, I have three pairs of shoes that I can only wear on the beach now.

  1. What top tip would you give to new students starting their courses this academic year?

To new students I would say this; try not to worry too much. I know it is difficult not to but it will all work out in the end. You will make friends, and catch up with the rest of the class and one day you will finally remember where that building is that you need to be in. These things take time and there is not much we can do about that, just try to have fun with it.

  1. How would you sum up your experiences at the university so far, in one sentence?!

My experience of university so far has been mind-blowing, slightly scary, and eye-opening, exciting, new and just wonderful. I could not possibly hope to contain all of it within once sentence, except to say that it has been completely worth the effort it has taken to get here.