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  • Alex Steward

My University Experience

I graduated from the University of Derby’s Law School with a 2:1 in 2017 and it is my greatest achievement to date. Looking back, it was the toughest and yet the best three years of my life.

Starting university for anyone is daunting, but for me it was a completely different challenge. Before going to university I wasn’t very confident, I really struggled to talk to people who didn’t know me because of my croaky voice.

To be honest, I didn’t have the best start. I actually enrolled on a Joint Honours course of law and business. However, I soon realised I wanted to do a law degree. As a result of changing course early on, I missed having introduction week with my fellow LLB Law class mates.

Therefore, I spent the beginning of first year sat on my own in lectures, it wasn’t ideal, but I got on with it. Unfortunately, it meant people didn’t know me, my medical equipment or that the guy sat in the back was actually my Dad acting as my PA not a student!

I felt awkward having to use my machine in class, for those of you who don’t know I have to carry a piece of medical equipment around with me at all times called a suction unit, which helps clean my tube. When in use it makes a funny noise for a couple of seconds.

Despite the fact I had a care plan sent to all lecturers, explaining my disability and that I use my machine etc. On one occasion a lecturer was confused by the noise and stopped the lesson to spend a couple of minutes guessing what the noise was, suggesting it was maybe a drill. Meanwhile, I was sat trying to use my suction unit whilst the students sat near me all stared at me. AWKWARD.

This was a hard time for me, I felt alone. I tried my best to forget about it and move forward, I was determined to not let it ruin my start to university. Before I knew it, I was making friends in my tutorial group and started to find the confidence to answer questions during class. I was also going to social events with my fellow course mates and managed to make a great group of friends, who I would not have survived university without. Some of whom, are now my best friends who I still see on a regular basis.

Once I started meeting people, I soon learnt that we are all different. University showed me it’s ok to be different, because at the end of the day we all are. We were all different in a lot of ways, but we managed to survive Law School together.

University is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I must have felt like giving up at least 100 times, but I think everyone feels that way. Thanks to university I am more confident, and I learnt to love my disability, so much so I’m happy to talk about it online!

It is one of the best things I’ve ever done, I am so grateful for the positive experience I had and for the amazing people I met along the way.

To make sure you get the most out of your university experience, my top tips are:

- To apply for Disabled Student’s Allowance (if you’re eligible). After submitting my application, I was invited to meet with someone in the Student Support department who would put a student plan together. They would submit you for any equipment which may help your studies and for your exam adjustments.

- Go to any social events you can, even if you have to go alone. Thanks to the power of social media, when going to an event alone I would often leave a message on the event page and find someone else to go with!

- Join societies and sports clubs. This is the quickest and easiest way to make friends, I joined 5 societies in my first year, one being the Law Society. The Law Society’s Welcome Party is where I met some of my friends, who are still in my life today.

- Take any opportunities you can. This is a double bonus, first you’ll meet new people. Secondly, you’ll be able to put these opportunities on your CV showing potential employers that you’re willing to take on extra work.

Thanks for reading! Alex.

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