Studying at Queen’s as an international student had always been a life-changing and challenging experience for myself. However, I think ever since the pandemic outbreak, things got jumbled up all over again – and the routine that took me nearly one year (or more!) to get used to, suddenly had to be changed.
Studying at Queen’s as an international student had always been a life-changing and challenging experience for myself, especially when many “first-times” happened during my three years here in Belfast. It is my first time studying abroad, my first time staying alone far from my family, and it is also my first time living in a Western country where everyone speaks a different language or has a different living culture compared to what I am familiar with when I am back home in Malaysia.
With more time and opportunity for me to be alone, I realised that I have way more opportunities to reflect on my mental health and wellbeing. During the first few years (pre-Covid) of my time at Queen’s, things have been much more manageable, especially as I am easily pre-occupied with classes, tutorials, part-time work, or even frequent meet up with friends. Obviously, it took me some time before I was able to truly adapt to all the culture shocks while studying abroad and how I can really manage my time and emotions even if I am very far away from my family or close friends.
However, I think ever since the pandemic outbreak, things got jumbled up all over again – and the routine that took me nearly one year (or more!) to get used to, suddenly had to be changed. All of my housemates immediately flew back to Malaysia once we were told that the University would be reducing its face-to-face teaching to essential teaching only, and I was left alone in my whole house (I was staying at a private accommodation).
There are many reasons why I chose to stay back, and this was also a decision that I made after consulting and discussing with my parents. Nevertheless, I could have underestimated the impact everything could have when I had to stay at home alone in a foreign country amidst a global pandemic.
With more time to myself, I started having worries or fear, especially during late nights, when I was all alone in my bedroom. It was nothing too serious for me (fortunately) but it was nevertheless an honest feeling and experience I had during the first lockdown period. However, I felt really lucky because not only I get to video call my parents nearly every day (receiving lots of encouragement and positive vibes from them), I also received support from my personal tutor (Prof. Gordon Anthony) and Gemma O’Donnell from the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences Faculty Office. Everyone tends to check out on each other, and it is those little (yet meaningful) nudges and encouragements that really supported me through those challenging times. I even received a cute care pack from the Faculty (that included some treats and even a cute Queen’s bear) Lastly, I am also super grateful for my girlfriend’s mental support while I am trying to cope with my worries or anxiety. We will have Zoom calls or even virtual dates to make sure that we do not feel too lonely while staying at home and not leaving the house during the lockdown.
Everyone tends to check out on each other, and it is those little (yet meaningful) nudges and encouragements that really supported me through those challenging times.
One thing to express is that even though the University made some really unprecedented policies, I generally felt supported by the different exam and learning adjustments that were announced to us before our exams by the School. The wellbeing-related tips and online services (by Queen’s) also tend to help make my day. I think instead of totally closing off from the world, I tried to look at the bright side of things, and the way how everyone is trying to adapt and support each other as a collaborative and supportive community is what makes me feel hopeful instead of feeling helpless or alone.
I tried to look at the bright side of things, and the way how everyone is trying to adapt and support each other as a collaborative and supportive community is what makes me feel hopeful instead of feeling helpless or alone.
Even though things have been very uncertain different since then, and work at my course or other part-time work have just been piling up – I think I have got used to the current tempo of my life. I always made sure that I have time for self-care and just switch off from laptops/internet (since everything has been virtual these days). Whenever I feel anxious or tired, I will also make sure to take some breaks or even catch up with my family and friends through WhatsApp video calls!
What I learned ultimately from my experience is that:
- Take your time to find your own wellbeing mantra/tempo; and,
- Remind yourself that you are never alone, and do reach out if you ever feel overwhelmed, or helpless.
I sincerely thank everyone within the University for supporting students all along the way, and I strongly encourage more stories to be heard from students & staff just to make sure that we normalise mental health issues and help ensure that more support systems are prioritised across all Faculties & departments.
Mental Health issues can affect anyone at any time. But confidential, professional help is available through the University.
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