BSc (Hons) Social Work
University was never in the plan for Matthew when he left high school at the age of 15 in his home country of Trinidad and Tobago. He immediately went to work in hospitality, earning a living to survive. Now in the UK, he only works to support himself on our BSc (Hons) Social Work course with the aim of thriving in a profession where he can really make a difference.
After moving to the UK, I went back into education and training, starting with hairdressing and then Functional Skills courses. I worked evenings to support myself, going to classes in the daytime and finding time to sleep in between! I kept doing well so I wanted to keep going. My tutors told me I should be doing the level above but I didn’t believe in my own abilities. Eventually I realised I wanted to find something I was good at and passionate about and decided I wanted to do something in health.
The main challenge getting to university was believing in myself due to being overwhelmed by imposter syndrome; having left school at 15, I hadn’t been in education for many years and I didn’t know if I would succeed. When my mum left Trinidad for the UK when I was young, it left me with some abandonment issues and a feeling of not being good enough – which extended to my studies - eventually leading me to try some talking therapy that helped me. Despite receiving distinctions for nearly all elements of my Access course, it’s been something I’ve needed to overcome and tell myself I can achieve things if I put my mind to it and work hard.
Once I was doing my first Health and Social Care course, my tutor asked me what I wanted to do. Social work interested me, but I was going to do nursing. She said my personality and friendliness were ideal for pursuing social work. Every course I did then took me another step towards university. I did Access to Social Sciences and the psychology aspect of it helped me to better understand myself and other people. I also did work experience and realised that teenagers especially were happy to approach me to talk. So, in many ways I feel like social work met me before I met it! Then, when I read about the course I realised that we could be a perfect fit!
I was anxious about my interview at BCU, despite having offers from elsewhere. It must have shown because, while I was waiting, someone asked if I was there for an interview and told me there was no need to be nervous. It was really reassuring. Later that day I received a phone call offering me a place on the course! Everyone else had sent emails so it was really nice that someone took the time to call. I was so relieved because, once I’d come on to campus, I was struck by how nice it was and it made me really want to come to BCU!
BCU is a welcoming place to study. I’m getting to know people, making friends and realising there’s a lot of nice people out there! My lectures and classes, including those online, have all been great too. You can tell if someone is bored teaching and equally it’s infectious if they are engaged and enthusiastic so, luckily, my tutors all teach in a really engaging way. I like being a student. I like feeling that I’m gaining knowledge and understanding. I used to hate textbooks but now I really want to understand different theories and how they relate to me and to the people I’ll be working with so research what we learn about in class just because it’s interesting.
I’m proud of completing my first year. It was a challenge and I didn’t know what to expect. I jumped into the topics, engaged with them and when I saw the results I thought, “Wait a second – you’ve got this!” The course also draws on your personal experience and helps to prepare for how you might approach a service user in practice. I’ve realised that I didn’t listen properly before. I used to say what I wanted to say and not worry about how anyone else felt. Now, when I’m speaking to people I stop and listen before I jump into the conversation so that I really hear what they’re saying. Instead I can relate it back to a time in my life when I’ve experienced something similar so they know I’m not responding for the sake of it, I’m responding because I understand and have felt what they’re feeling. I’ve realised that what I say and do matters.
My main aim is to complete my degree, particularly given it’s a challenge for me to support myself and study. But I also don’t want to be the same person I was five years ago; I want to grow as a person and be able to look back at my achievements with a smile, especially after having imposter syndrome for so long. Nothing has come easy for me and I’m always nervous about the next stage but I’ve never wanted things that come too easily. The nerves are what pushes me and, if I have to work hard for something, then I value it. At the beginning of the course, a tutor said it can be easy to forget what we’ve achieved in the past because we’re so focused on the now. It struck a chord with me because three years previously I was going to be a hairdresser and here I am, now at university, training to be a social worker!
When I started at BCU I was really anxious but when I got into it everything felt more relaxed because it doesn’t feel like a hierarchy in social work. Instead there’s a great energy with no judgment and a supportive community. So, to me, I AM BCU is about equal opportunity; no matter your background we all mix together to learn and have fun doing it. We share ideas and are a team. This creates an atmosphere where I feel like I belong and that I’ve chosen the right place to study. I felt it was the university for me from the moment I came in for my interview (despite my nerves) and still feel that way now every time I walk in the building.