- Kirsty Chan

Going to university was my opportunity to reinvent myself. I used this as an opportunity to take control of my destiny and build on my identity. I noticed that university is a place of opportunity; there are certain activities that are exclusive to this space, from academic development, to study abroad programmes, running societies, and importantly, mixing with people across social and economic classes. I focused a lot on experiencing and getting involved with these activities, knowing that university is the only time and space where I could fully indulge in these things. There were many things I was eager to try. I was so excited by the new knowledge and attractions around me.

Before going to uni, I attended the Sutton Trust programme where I made friends at the one week stay at the University of St Andrews. Being on this programme empowered me and reminded me that I deserve to be at university as much as anyone else. It gave me a sense of hope and made me look forward to being at university and what it could offer.

During my undergraduate degree, I spent most of the time feeling like being at university was a dream. I enjoyed myself, but at the same time university was such a different environment to what I was accustomed to. It felt like it was not real, like it could disappear or be taken away if I awakened to my double life. I felt like an imposter until the first term of my second year finished. That’s when I realised that I have finished half of my degree, yet I was unsure where to attribute or find my sense of belonging. My struggles with these thoughts surrounding my lack of belonging and my future had led me to focusing on busying myself and neglecting self-care in terms of checking in on my energy and resting. What started off as involvement out of curiosity for what the university has to offer, soon changed into something more damaging to me. I still struggle with these thoughts today even as a Masters student, and as someone who holds multiple scholarships and awards.

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Advice I would’ve given to my younger self is to pay more attention to health: the physical and the mental. This is so that I can build a sustainable lifestyle, a lifestyle that involves incorporating enough breaks for reflections and planning so that I can be in the front drive to gear myself towards building my career and a life where I can do activities that recharge me, over doing things to meet social expectations and pressures from family and friends. I realised that my own upbringing and my personal circumstances meant that I was more accustomed to keeping busy. I can now appreciate that taking regular breaks would have helped make things easier for me, as I would have done more research around support that’s available to me at university, and in my local community. I now recognise that this would have helped me at times of personal issues and crises.