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Refugee Support Network

For me, education is freedom. It opens doors and clears your way. It’s like walking from darkness into light. When you are educated you get knowledge, wisdom, understanding and a future.”

Aarash (whose name we’ve changed to protect his identity) has just come to the end of his first year at university. In many ways, his highs and lows have been just like those experienced by all new students: the joy of learning more about a subject he loves, the fun of meeting new people and finding a sense of belonging in his university community, the challenges of a whole new level of academic work.

But, in others ways, Aarash’s experience has been completely different. He is an asylum seeker who fled escaped conflict in his home country and arrived in the UK alone as a teenager.

Like many young adults seeking safety in the UK, he’s faced the trauma of fleeing war, the loss of family and a familiar environment, and a very broken experience of education. He’s had to learn English, navigate life in the care system and deal with a complex asylum process which has not only left him “hurting mentally” but made him ineligible for student finance. The barriers are such that globally just 1% of refugees make it to university.

Since arriving in the UK, Aarash has studied hard and demonstrated a humbling resilience and commitment to education. My team and I were overjoyed when he secured the scholarship which finally made university possible and, just last week, when he let me know that he’d passed his first year exams.

“Sometimes I’m scared and ashamed to tell people that I’m an asylum seeker because they don’t really understand what that means and might think I’m a ‘criminal’,” Aarash told me. “I think universities could find more ways for students to understand the reality of situations like mine. The past year hasn’t always been easy, but my teachers and the scholarship team were so good. They were on my side and they stood with me through difficult times”.

Refugee Support Network wants to make sure that young asylum seekers and refugees like Aarash are able to build more hopeful futures for themselves through education. If that’s you too, we’d love to help. Click here to find out how we can give you the specific information and support you need to reach and succeed at university through:

  • A national phone advice line for young people and those who support them
  • A range of practical toolkits and resources
  • Face-to-face advice sessions with our expert team
  • Scholarships for those who can’t access student finance
  • Training for university staff who want to grapple with the terminology, issues, eligibility and best practice in an engaging and informative way

Making the most of Freshers Week

Most universities put on a ton of events during freshers’ week before teaching officially starts, with loads of nights out, nights in, societies, and sports events to get involved with.

It’s a really exciting time and a great way to meet new people, but with so much to see and do it can also be a bit overwhelming. So, I thought I’d share my top six tips to make the most of freshers’ week.

1. Take time for yourself
With everything being new (new people, new room, new freedom etc.) freshers’ week can sometimes get a bit overwhelming. As someone who suffers with anxiety I definitely felt overwhelmed at times. It’s important to take some time out from all the cool events and make sure you leave some space for yourself. Whether that’s going for a walk, pinning up some pictures in your new room, or heading in to the city, it’s ok to just chill by yourself for a bit.

2. Get enough sleep
Freshers’ week is loads of fun, but going to so many awesome events is also quite tiring, so it’s important that you're well rested. If you're someone who likes going out, it might be worth taking a nap or two during the day so you can impress everyone with your moves on the dance floor later. But even if you’re not into clubbing, there’s also a range of equally awesome alternative events that will need you to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!

3. Eat and drink plenty
I know, I know, I sound like your mum, but if you're anything like me then not eating and drinking enough will have a massive impact on your mood. If you’re in catered halls you’re sorted, because you’ll have your meals provided for you. But if you’re in self-catered, just make sure you’re eating and drinking enough to get you through the week. (Pro tip, if nothing else there should be loads of free pizza at the freshers’ fair to keep you topped up...)

4. Talk to your student reps
Feeling worried about something? Not too sure what an event actually is? Can’t find that building you’re meant to go to? Most unis have a bunch of student volunteers to help you out if you’re not sure about anything. They’ve been through it all before, so will be happy to share their experiences with you, as well as offer you advice. Even if you think your question seems a bit silly, don’t be afraid to ask! No question is too big or too small, and chances are they probably wondered the same thing when they were freshers too.

5. Don’t try to do everything
Freshers’ week is packed with a ton of amazing events, and there’s literally something for everyone. But just remember, you don’t have to go to all of them. Pace yourself and don’t feel pressure to go to things you don’t want to. I personally flipped through the list of events for a few minutes each morning to pick the things I wanted to go to that day. I found this was a pretty good way to make friends, as I could suggest these events to people I’d met in my hall, and then met other people who had the same interests as me when I got there.

6. Have fun!
Most importantly, just enjoy yourself! I defo spent way too much of freshers’ week worrying, and not enough time actually enjoying it.

I hope my tips have given you a better idea of what to expect during freshers’ week and will help you to really make the most of it. Good luck, I’m sure you’re going to love it!

Laura, 3rd year classics at the University of Nottingham
 

What to pack, and settling in

The main thing to look out for is checking what is provided in your accommodation, as you don’t want to duplicate items! Also, trying to find Facebook groups and chats for your halls can be a great way of finding out who your flatmates will be in advance.

Settling in
The start of university can be a daunting prospect, as you will be living with people you have never met before! Fortunately, everyone is in the same situation, so most people will be trying their hardest to make new friends, which makes it a really friendly and fun atmosphere from day one. Meeting people in your halls is one way to settle in and make friends, but you can expand on this by meeting people at sports and societies you may be interested in, as well as students on your course.

The essentials
Bedding is quite often forgotten or overlooked when going to university, and I remember a few people who had to panic buy some bedding on their first night in accommodation! Other essentials, such as kitchenware for self-catered students, seem straightforward, but are best to get in advance. Some tips I found useful were bringing a few mementos from home, as well as bringing posters and photos to help personalise your room, and help you settle in.
 

Getting the most out of freshers’ week

Here are some tips I found really useful in getting the most out of freshers’ week/fortnight.

Bring a door stop
This makes you instantly more approachable in your halls of accommodation or private house, and I found people were far more likely to just walk in and say hi after I left my door open.

Try everything
The more you put into freshers and university, the more you get out of it! Signing up to a large variety of clubs and societies is a great way to try new things and meet people you may otherwise not have come into contact with. Job and activities fairs are common in freshers, and attending them is the best way to get involved with part-time work early on, or to sign up to your favourite sport as soon as you can. 

Don’t forget your degree
It’s easy to forget you’re here for a degree in the hustle and bustle of freshers, however, there are some critical activities related to your academic life that occur during this time. Tutor meetings, course and library inductions, and campus tours all help you settle into studying with no issues.
 

How to survive your first week at art college

Before we know it, the summer will draw to a close, and we’ll be getting ready to welcome a new wave of creative talent to the college. Plymouth College of Art’s Students Union President, Rowena Murphy shares her five top tips for tackling freshers’ week and beyond, helping to ensure you start your university career as you mean to go on...

1. First stop – find your local inexpensive food shop! It’s very likely you’ll have an Aldi or Lidl close to you. If not, then consider ones that offer point card systems, such as Tesco or Sainsbury. Moving into shared accommodation? You can also club together with your housemates and do joint food shops to save money.

2. Check out what freshers events are planned, and attend as many as you can. There will be a mix of ticketed and free events, to suit every budget. These allow you to make friends and maybe try something that you wouldn't have before – this is just the start of so many new experiences!

3. During your first week, set a personal goal to talk to at least one new person a day – this is a great way to introduce yourself to others and build potential friendships. Building a network of people who work in all different disciplines opens the door to collaborations – imagine being a fashion student who knows a crafts student to make props for their collections, a photography student to take amazing snaps of their garments, and a film student friend to help them promote their work!

4. Keep on top of your work. Get into the swing of being on top of things from the start – time management and prioritising deadlines are key. This way, tackling coursework in your second and third years will be a breeze.

5. Make the most of every opportunity, have fun, and enjoy yourself. After all, you’ll only be a fresher once!
 

Accommodation tips from the Plymouth College of Art

Choosing where to live while studying is a big decision, but it’s the weeks before you make the move that all those worries start to build up, and it can begin to feel a little overwhelming. 

So, we asked the team from Plymouth College of Art’s accommodation provider Clever Student Lets for their top ten tips on moving in...

1. Make the room feel like your home – you’ll be surprised how amazing buying a new set of bedding feels!
2. Get to know each other – nights in or out are a great way to build those bonds with your housemates.
3. Cleaning schedule – it sounds like common sense, but don’t leave the cleaning all up to one person. Implement a schedule so that everyone does their fair share, and you’ll have a happy house.
4. Start a little house fund for shared items – things like washing up liquid, sponges, and toilet roll aren’t very expensive, and are even cheaper if they’re split six ways.
5. Don’t bring too much with you – it’s always worth a chat with your future housemates so you don’t have six irons, nine, woks, and 32 pans!
6. Don’t be afraid to be that person – start the conversation – remember, everyone is just as nervous as you are.
7. Get to know people in the building, not just your flat – never feel like you have to restrict yourself to only socialising with your housemates, there’s a whole world of friends out there.
8. Never leave a pan ‘to soak’ – on behalf of everyone… just don’t be that person!
9. House meetings – these really work when resolving any issues, but if you’re not making progress, don’t be afraid to use your agencies.
10. Keep an open mind – not everyone will be having the same experience as you. Just be kind, a smile goes a long way, and enjoy the ride that is university life.
 

Top tips for new students

We asked current students, graduates, lecturers, and key guest lecturers at Plymouth College of Art for the advice they would give to a creative starting their studies at art college this year. 

From sticking to your passions and staying creative, to finding your niche – we’ve got tips for new students across all disciplines...

‘Never be afraid to fail, learn from every experience.’ — Ben Wright, BA (Hons) Illustration lecturer
‘Buy a watch! Time management is really important.’ – Lan Chen BA (Hons) Fashion

‘Pick a course that allows you to practice, study, and perfect what you love, whether it fits the job title you envision or not.’ — Nadine Proost, BA (Hons) Fashion

‘I truly believe that if you want to be great at something, then you must focus on that particular thing, giving it all your time. As soon as I tried glass-blowing, I immediately fell in love with the process.’ – Renovat Moody, BA (HONS) 3D Design Crafts

‘Take every opportunity. In my first year, I did everything that was on offer, all the workshops and trips. If you’re in a position where you’re not sure what you want to do, just use the opportunity to try out everything and find your speciality.’ – Daisy Lancaster, Ed Art & Design (Fashion & Textiles)

‘The best advice anyone gave to me was be prepared for a few detours before getting to where you want to be.’ – Joe Winstone, BA (Hons) Film

‘Be yourself – agencies hire on personality, as well as portfolio. Also, go to events, talk to people! You never know who you’ll meet.’ – Charlotte Hugh, Young Creative Council & Digitas

‘Thinking of studying film? Do it! Flick through your phone right now and you can see that video is already dominating communication.’ – Lewis Rhodes, BA (Hons) Film

‘Be flexible about moving into a niche role in the industry, or if you’re going for the most competitive areas, then be prepared to specialise early and practice every day.’ – Tim Nguyen, BA (Hons) Game Arts

‘We’ve got two eyes, two ears, and one mouth, and they should be used in that proportion. So listen to people and look at what’s around you before you make your move.’ – Alex Dudson, Intern Mag
‘I would recommend Erasmus+ to every student – travelling and living abroad in general is a great experience, but the opportunity is one of a kind. It's not just about the travel itself, it's also about learning your true self.’ – Constantinos Christou, Erasmus, BA (Hons) Film

‘Never stop learning… technology is always changing, often at a very fast rate.’ – David Mattock, BA (Hons) Graphic Design

‘Reach out to a company or artist that you want to work with – it’s good to be proactive and shows you’re interested!’ – Florence Moore, BA (Hons) 3D Design Crafts

‘Don’t say no to anything, take all the opportunities that are offered to you’ – Rowena Murphy, Student Union President

‘Don’t compare yourself to other people. Since I started focusing on myself and collaborating with the people whose work I admire, my work has improved massively. Be your own person, and don’t be afraid to experiment.’ – Thyra Banks, BA (Hons) Graphic Design
 

Managing your money tips from Plymouth College of Art

Finance issues when you are studying often cause unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Plymouth College of Art’s Student Support team have put together a few top tips for managing your cash at uni.

1. Get an NUS card. Money off groceries (Co-op), and discounts for travel to interviews (National Express, Megabus, or railcards*) all add up. With money off entertainment (Thorpe Park anyone?) and eating out (Pizza Hut!), saving between 10 – 50% will always be welcome when there’s too much month for your money!
2. Keep your documents safe. We often find students experience issues with Student Finance during term, but don’t know their log in details. Keep a folder on your emails (or a literal folder somewhere safe) with this information in, so you can access your account, and Student Support can help where needed.
3. Get batch cooking. Websites like Love Food Hate Waste will help you become an expert in cooking and portioning meals. The site gives you recipes and encouragement from industry chefs, who can inspire a good cooking session, and help you save on your grocery bill. Buying a bunch of vegetables and/or meat and cooking it in different sauces for freezing can also save time on a dreary evening when you have deadlines to meet.
4. Keep track of your income and expenditure. Yes, we know. Nobody wants to know how much those new trainers were that you got when your student loan came in, but making sure you know what’s coming in and out of your bank account is essential to survive. For inspiration on budgets and how to save, visit Save the Student and join the forums for ideas and tips from other students. You could also try an app to keep track of spending – give Yolt a go.
 
5. Grants, scholarships, and other sources of income. Are you eligible for a £500 grant from The Vegetarian Society? Or maybe you’re the child or partner of a pharmacist, grocer, or commercial traveller? If so, the Leverhulme Charity offer a bursary of up to £3,000. Check out these other unusual bursaries and see if you’re eligible…
6. Cash only. Try it. For one night, take out a set amount of cash and don’t take your bank or credit card. You’ll save a fortune! And stick a spare £5 – £10 in a secret pocket for your travel home, or share a taxi home with friends to get back safely.
 

Are your events accessible? Freshers’ week prep for faculty staff

It’s that time of year when staff and students are thinking about the start of the university term and

fresher’s week. During this exciting time, it’s important to consider access needs, provide support for people with a range of abilities, and also think carefully about student and staff mental health.
While a lot of new starters, returning students, and staff are ready for a new challenge and may enjoy all that the university experience has to offer, for some, the university environment can be both challenging and overwhelming.

AbilityNet believe the learning environment should be as accessible as possible, so we’ve pulled together a list of top tips for faculty staff during freshers’ week:
  1. Have a friendly ‘go-to’ person available every day throughout fresher’s week. Someone who is able to meet and greet people and point them in the right direction, advise, listen, and help students feel at ease.
  2. Access needs – have you considered if everyone can access your freshers’ event areas? Accessible location tips from our experts include – find a wheelchair friendly location i.e. one with ramps, remove physical obstacles for those who may be visually impaired, and avoid overbearing and loud music.
  3. Share university support services information. Where can people go for additional support? Consider including advice on Disabled Students’ Allowances, and information on assistive technology. There are resources available for finding out if you’re eligible. 
  4. Student union information and societies can be the making of some people during their time at university. Provide easily accessed information on everything that is on offer at your provider.
  5. Suggest students sign up to their local GP, which will help them feel more relaxed, should they need an emergency appointment with any health concerns.
  6. Provide information on the NHS’ ‘5 steps to wellbeing’
  7. Provide links to useful platforms which can help students. We suggest including Student Minds, a UK student mental health charity, Campus Society, an advice platform where anyone can join the conversation and share any concerns they have, and AbilityNet, a UK charity which provides advice on technology and disability. We have a large range of free resources for students, including advice on apps and software, factsheets, webinars, videos, and assistive technology training days.
  8. Are your presentations accessible? Perhaps consider if your videos have subtitles or audio description. Include explanations of your slides as part of your presentation – this will prevent excluding anyone who can’t see the screen. If you’re sharing slides afterwards, consider doing an accessibility check before sharing
  9. The Whole University Approach is well worth a read. 
Freshers’ week is an exciting time for most people, and making a few simple adjustments means your event will be able to provide the maximum enjoyment for everyone involved.

If you’d like to contact us about how we may be able to support your students and staff during freshers’ week and beyond, call our free technology and disability helpline on 0800 269 545, or email us at enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk.

Find out more about our services at www.abilitynet.org.uk.

Getting to know your new town or city by Swansea University

Before you arrive

You may have already visited your new university city, perhaps for an open day or interview, but if you haven’t, you definitely should before you make move there. The thought of starting university can often be daunting, so by familiarising yourself with the area, you’ll already feel more at ease.

If you’re unable to visit before you move, don’t worry! That’s what we have the internet for. You can spend your summer doing some online research, and scout out the best places to visit with your new friends. Read blogs of previous/current students, and use review websites to find the best cafes, restaurants, and things to do around your new home.

When you’ve arrived

After you’ve moved in, not only will you be getting to know the area, but you’ll also have new friends, and a new way of living and studying to adapt to. Become an expert in your new city by setting aside some time to explore. There will definitely be some ‘must sees’, and university is a new way of living.

It’s not just about studying, so it’s important to embrace the local culture, and get to know the place you will call home for the next few years. Despite the urge to visit your favourite chains like Starbucks, make sure to hit up local hot spots, and support the community you are living in. One thing you could do with your flatmates is a create a university bucket list, write down all the things you would like to do while you’re in the city, and do them together!

After you’ve settled in, it’s important to register with your university health centre and dental surgery – you never know when you may need it!

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