Here’s a fact about the woman behind the scenes here at the Scottican: a week ago, she graduated from the University of Glasgow with a Master of Science in Psychology.
And if you’ve been wondering why this website has been pretty quiet in the past year, that would be why. It has been a crazy time to return to university full-time. And having to do it all online? Well, it made for some pretty stressful circumstances.
But I’m here at the end of all, feeling a sense of accomplishment and relief.
With the rough year I’ve had, I sadly have not gotten to do much Scottish adventuring, but I hope to change that. Plus, I do have a few stories and photos to share. Yet before that, I felt like this blog needed an entry about studying abroad during a pandemic as an international student. While the tides seem to be changing, we can’t be certain about what may come. So, in my first here since July, this has been my experience studying in Scotland during a pandemic.
Why Did I Decide to do This?
A bit of back story for those who do not know. In early-2019, I decided to return to university part-time. However, in late-2019 I realized I wanted to dedicate myself to my education full-time instead. Just as this decision was approved by the university, the pandemic hit. Which meant my full-time Master’s Degree would be conducted completely online.
While this wasn’t the worst thing, it did bring about a lot of questions—and a LOT more stress.
So, it wasn’t entirely intentional. Just the way the pieces seemed to fall into play.
As to why I decided to attend a university in Scotland as opposed to the US? Well, I did make this website, which should offer at least one reason why I chose to go abroad. But as I’ve said in entries regarding attending university abroad as an American (e.g., Lassie Liberty: Current International Student Controversies): studying abroad is not just about earning a degree; it’s about the experience you have living abroad as well.
When I knew it was time to switch careers and broaden my education, I knew where I wanted to be.
What Was the University Experience Like?
In short: different. And the word different doesn’t really cover it all. Studying in 2020/2021—being the first class that was FULLY online the entire year—meant that our class missed a lot of the study-abroad experience. In Scotland specifically, there were many instances of lockdowns and restrictions.
While this did allow me to focus more on university work, it also added to the stress. I wasn’t able to meet a majority of my classmates in person. In terms of classroom experience, we really only got to meet each other in groups for class discussion. So, connecting with classmates was limited, but equally so was getting out and exploring the city.
More than that, with university work being exclusively online, there was no separation between work and home life. It became very difficult to turn off and try to relax. So, I was constantly overworked and overstressed. I know many classmates felt the same. Often times, there would be a lot of material for each week of work; if you tried to do all that was available, you’d end up working more than the average 40 hour-a-week job.
And not being able to turn off work-brain for a bit—because your work area is also your home area—made it difficult to say “I’ve done enough for the day.” Anyone who’s worked from home is familiar with this.
All this affected me in ways I wasn’t aware of during. Yes, I was aware of how intense my stress levels and my anxiety were. But I didn’t realize how it made me anxious outside of university work as well. Further, I would constantly question my work—which made me overcomplicate the assignments. Without that separation of classroom and home-life and without being able to check-in with classmates as often, it all impacted my work quality.
None of this is the fault of the professors. They did everything they could to help us connect during a challenging time. Additionally, trying to get a whole full-time, normally in-person class to fully online is incredibly difficult; I say that as someone who used to work in building digital learning courses.
Is It Doable?
Yes, but it does come with its challenges. So, if you’re a student preparing to go abroad, but are worried about potential changes to educational circumstances, may I advise: BAM!
Be Open to Adjustments
We don’t know what the next few years will bring in terms of the pandemic. But being aware that things can change will be beneficial in case they do.
You may find yourself doing more hybrid learning then you anticipated in being a full-time, face-to-face student. Be open to this. Don’t hold a grudge or add unnecessary stress onto yourself about it. Remind yourself that at the end of it all, you will still get a degree and that is what it’s all about.
If you’re willing and able to go abroad for a degree, you can handle adjustments to teaching.
Ask for Help
Your university will be able to offer help and advice if you should have to go into lockdowns and restrictions again.
But it does mean that you have to be able to ask for help now and then.
In living in a digital world, professors and university staff may assume you’re okay when it comes to accessing your courses digitally. So, if you find you’re struggling or need some sort of access assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out. That was one of my biggest downfalls, but in the times that I did reach out, I received support that I needed.
Also, check in with your university to see what mental health services are available for students. That is something I missed out on that I would’ve benefited from while attending university at this stressful time.
Make Time for Breaks
This one is important, so it’s here in italics: make time for relaxing and breaks!
If you get stuck in a lockdown and don’t get to leave your house often—as I did—it can cause mental health issues. Constantly working and living in the same environment can lead to you feeling like you should ALWAYS be doing work. It leads to fatigue and burnout, but it also impacts the quality of your work.
Don’t do this to yourself. Take breaks. Relax. Get out of the house if you can, even for just a walk. Limit your days, as you would a work day. Find a professor you feel like you can trust and talk to them if you feel like you’re struggling with the workload.
Be kind to yourself during these trying times, guys.
Would I Still Make the Same Choice?
I would have made different choices about my day-to-day plans and studies.
But I would still choose Scotland. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: choosing to study abroad is about having an experience as much as it is getting an education. And you have to go where your heart leads you. Mine always takes me back to Scotland.