Managing financial hardship, isolation and anxiety about career prospects

Bisma faced several challenges as a student during the pandemic. She experienced financial hardship due to disruption to her part time work, leading her to apply for hardship funding. She was less able to socialise through cultural society events, which meant she had to put in extra effort to socialise online, but also encouraged her to invest time in looking after herself. She was also concerned about her ability to build a career after graduating due to a lack of personal connections.

Bisma found that seeking support helped to overcome these challenges. She got support from her university, friends and family, as well as expert organisations.

Bisma discusses the challenges she experienced as a student from a low income and BAME background, such as financial hardship, missing cultural society events and thinking about career prospects.

Video transcript

Hi, my name is Bisma and I'm a recent graduate from the University of Warwick. I completed my final year during a pandemic, in and out of lockdowns. And as a student from a low income background and BAME background, I naturally experienced an array of challenges which I wish to touch upon in this video, but especially what I did to overcome them.

The main issues of focus here will be financial hardship, fading friendships and worries about career prospects after graduation. All of these took a toll on my general wellbeing and really prevented me from being able to complete my assignments to the same level as I was able to before the pandemic.

Firstly, as you may know, coming from a low income background, it is so common to have to balance many part-time jobs with academia. However, this was naturally difficult during the pandemic due to a lack of availability for part-time roles, which only increased financial pressure and stress. This led me to search for alternative funding, such as reaching out to different organisations, including my university. By already explaining to them my circumstances in detail, I was able to apply for a hardship fund and extra bursaries I was not aware were available to us before. This greatly eased financial pressure and reduced my concerns.

Secondly, before the pandemic, I also attended many society events and was also an active society exec member. Being an ethnic minority student and growing up in a non-ethnically diverse community, these cultural society events were the only place I felt a sense of belonging and acceptance. However, when the pandemic hit, I no longer was able to attend or plan these events, and it became so difficult to maintain friendships and feel a sense of belonging. However, I soon realised that I relied upon these events to form and maintain friendships. And this taught me that I must also put in effort myself to reach out to people and my friends more often. As a result, I played games online, worked out together and cooked together online with my friends and family.

Nevertheless, it did become quite draining, always having to communicate online during lockdown, and also quite lonely and this taught me to really give myself time and find that sense of belonging within myself as opposed to in others. This included enrolling into personal development programmes, one which my university hosted and others I found online. I also started to focus my energy on self management techniques such as time management, looking after my health and hygiene, staying active, and really making sure my basic needs of water and sleep and fresh air were being met.

When I started to practice self care, I learned to enjoy spending time alone, which I never thought would be possible. And a part of this was seeking mental health support from the wellbeing team at my university. At first I was quite hesitant, but in the end, I ended up learning so much more than I thought, and it helped me more than I had imagined.

Lastly as a first generation student, with a lack of professional connections, the pandemic only increased my worries of being able to build a career after graduating. And to deal with this, I reached out to my friends from similar backgrounds who were in the same position as me and together we decided to help each other and join social mobility programmes.

A good example is Upreach, which provides advice, resources, workshops, and general application support for internships, swing weeks and graduate programmes. And through this I was able to increase my commercial awareness, build my professional connections, and find opportunities for graduates from low income backgrounds at top firms and secure a graduate job, which I never thought I was able to do.

The underlying factor which enabled me to overcome all of these challenges was seeking support. I reached out to my university in terms of financial hardship rather than trying to balance part-time jobs myself. I also reached out to my friends and families more during lockdown, and began wellbeing sessions at my university, rather than waiting for people to contact me. Lastly, I reached out to the social mobility programmes and people from similar backgrounds on LinkedIn for advice on how they managed to come from my background and make it.

I was always afraid to tell my university department that I wasn't doing well. But after mustering up the courage to do so, I was quite surprised by how willing they were to help me. In the end, I was able to take things slow, defy my exams and really work towards completing my degree to a higher standard.

So what I really learned from this year is that there is no harm in seeking help, and no one should be suffering in silence or suffering alone. Others are so much more willing to help than we think and overall, I hope that my story can really be an inspiration to those from similar backgrounds to never lose hope. Even if you have to try twice as hard as your privileged peers, or it takes you twice as long, in the end, you can make it and you will do amazing.

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