Navigating the unexpected whilst studying at university

31 August 2021

Whether you are a fresh school leaver or a mature aged individual, making the decision to study at uni or return to uni can feel both exciting and daunting. This is a journey filled with all the highs and lows and everything in between that you could never really predict. Throw a global pandemic into the mix and, well, things get quite interesting.

Hi there! My name is Francis Lee and I am a social work student doing my work placement with UQ Student Services. I am passionate about many causes, including youth mental health, men’s health, storytelling and community development.

In this article, I’ll be sharing some strategies that have helped me to navigate those twists and turns during my UQ journey. I hope you will find them helpful too.

Take regular nature breaks.

Head to your neighbourhood park. There is something about the body in motion that helps bring me back to my centre. I start paying close attention to the crunching sounds of the leaves beneath my feet. Sometimes, I sit by the water, or on the park bench, close my eyes, and listen, really listen to the melodies of birdsong and the wind swirling around me. If you cannot head outdoors, a view of the trees or the sky from your window or even looking at pictures of nature have been shown to be beneficial for your emotional and mental well-being.

Try a self-kindness practice.

When you are feeling anxious, worried, deflated, or struggling with a problem, it is very easy to fill your head with all kinds of negative self-talk. Try the “How would you treat a friend?” exercise. Open your notebook and imagine that you have a close friend who has shared with you their struggles. When you are at your best, how would you respond to your friend? Write down what you would say to your friend. Now read over your words on paper. Remember these words you wrote. Next time you are struggling with something, try treating yourself like a good friend.

Things take the time– and that’s okay.

When I decided on a career change and enrolled in the Master of Social Work Studies, I had it all mapped out. I was going to smash it in four semesters, don my superhero cape, and become a mental health campaigner and advocate for social justice. By the end of my first semester, I was on a reduced course load, and when I continued to struggle, I made the painful decision to take some time off from my studies to regroup. During that time, I had (and still have) lots of support and encouragement from networks both within and outside of UQ. Combined with a dogged determination to fulfill this dream of mine, I’m back at uni completing my final semester.  

Life does not always progress in a linear fashion, and the same is true of life as a university student. If you find yourself in a bit of a bind, and could use some additional support, trust what your internal computer is telling you and reach out – to a friend, a family member, or come have a chat with an adviser at Student Services. It isn’t weak to speak, and your future self will thank you for it.

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