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Phobias, foster care, and rehab: University of East London students discuss their journeys to freshers’ week

PUBLISHED: 09:35 21 September 2018 | UPDATED: 10:08 21 September 2018

Morrilyn speaking to some of UEL's other new recruits on a BBC Asian Radio show about the pressure of starting university. Picture: UEL

Morrilyn speaking to some of UEL's other new recruits on a BBC Asian Radio show about the pressure of starting university. Picture: UEL

Archant

Across the country, nervous first years are travelling up and down motorways to join the mayhem of freshers’ week.

Azeez Ali, who lives in Bow, had to overcome agoraphobia to build up the courage to apply for university. Picture: Rhiannon LongAzeez Ali, who lives in Bow, had to overcome agoraphobia to build up the courage to apply for university. Picture: Rhiannon Long

At the University of East London, that week began on Monday.

But for many students at the Docklands and Stratford campuses, their journeys to becoming freshers weren’t as straightforward as a trip down the motorway.

The Recorder caught up with a few, to see how they were feeling ahead of the first week of their university careers.

“I feel like I’m starting all over again,” said Morrilyn Baker, who’s just moved from Croydon to Beckton.

Morrilyn Baker, who was born in Sierra Leone, is part of the one per cent of care leavers who go on to further education. Picture: Rhiannon LongMorrilyn Baker, who was born in Sierra Leone, is part of the one per cent of care leavers who go on to further education. Picture: Rhiannon Long

“I’m going into second year, so I’ll be the only new person on the course. I’ll go from being friends with everyone to being the outsider.”

Morrilyn, 22, moved to UEL after completing a year of a marketing degree at Kingston University. Raised in foster care, Sierra Leone-born Morrilyn is part of just one per cent of care leavers who go to university.

“I know it’s rare,” she said.

“I’ve never had parents championing me to be great, so I’ve had to grow up quickly. But I’ve always been naturally ambitious, and when you’ve never had opportunity, you take the ones you’re given with all your might.”

Morrilyn and Azeez were among the freshers who spoke to UEL's Tim Lomas (right), a doctor of psychology,  about positive thinking before starting university. Picture: UELMorrilyn and Azeez were among the freshers who spoke to UEL's Tim Lomas (right), a doctor of psychology, about positive thinking before starting university. Picture: UEL

Azeez Ali, who lives in Bow, has also fought hard for his place. The 33-year-old has agoraphobia, a fear of going outside.

“I left school when I was 16 because I was getting bullied, which is when my phobia started,” he said.

“I’ve been in and out of education since 2011, and only went back to college properly last year.”

Azeez completed a diploma in health and social care at Newham College and will be reading psychology at UEL.

Karl Sawyer, who will be studying sports therapy at UEL after a motorbike accident left him having to rebuild his fitness from scratch. Picture: Karl SawyerKarl Sawyer, who will be studying sports therapy at UEL after a motorbike accident left him having to rebuild his fitness from scratch. Picture: Karl Sawyer

“Psychology is the only thing I know well,” he said.

“To get over my fear of going outside, I started reading as many psychology books as I could. They changed things.

“Although it’s easier now, I’m still having anxiety. Going to university is one of the things I’m doing to help that.”

Karl Sawyer is another fresher turning to university for self-improvement. Fifteen years ago, Karl had a motorbike accident, where he shattered his leg into 15 pieces and was told he probably wouldn’t walk without sticks again. For the keen martial arts and mountain bike enthusiast, it changed his life.

“I was very active, and was basically told to give up,” he said.

“I ended up putting on 40 kilograms, getting out of breath walking up stairs. I was at breaking point.”

The 43-year-old ignored advice to rest, and began training in the gym. He learned how to walk, built up his core strength, and now runs his own personal training business.

“I applied to UEL because I’d seen other people go through my pain,” he said.

“I learned so much about the body through fixing myself. I want to bring the kind of sports therapy that athletes get to regular people, so when they’re injured, they don’t have to resort to sitting in pain.”

Karl said even though he rebuilt his body from scratch, the idea of starting university still manages to faze him.

“I’m terrified,” he admitted.

“I’m worried I’m not prepared – I’m not young, I’m not fresh out of education.

“But I’m excited for the future, to make a positive change to the world.”

Suleman Ahmed is another with high expectations for the future. The 22-year-old, who lives in East Ham, wants to use his degree as a career stepping stone.

“After I left college the first time, I only had a level two diploma,” he said.

“I started working full-time as an administrator at a doctors’ surgery, but the doctors and nurses there pushed me to go to university.”

Once completing his psychology degree, Suleman wants to specialise in counselling and do a part-time Masters while working. Unlike many of his peers, he’s not daunted by the prospect of university.

“Before you start you feel slightly nervous, but it’s more or less the same as starting anything else,” he said.

“I feel optimistic about the future.”


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