The centre is small, you can’t get lost there. I feel that the staff are always there looking out for you!

An interview with Ruth Arnold, who completed Gateway to HE last year, and is now progressing on to the part-time BA Social Studies.

Why did you decide to apply for the Gateway programme at Warwick?

Well, it’s a long story! At secondary school I fell very ill, and at 16 I had a breakdown and was hospitalised, and then moved into supported accommodation. My mental health was not good at this time, and because of this I did not get my GCSE’s or my A levels. I came to the UK from Guyana at 15 and found the transition very hard. It was a big cultural shock. In Guyana I always did well in school and enjoyed studying. My grades were high and I had no troubles at school. Because of this I have always wanted to go back to get my education, and I have always felt that it was something that was missing from my life, but I never got the chance. I became a young mum at 19 and this made things very difficult. I was alone raising my child, and I am no longer in contact with my family so I had no support at all.

I have moved around the UK during my life and have repeatedly tried different access courses, as well as a counselling course at Coventry University, but I always found it too much of a struggle trying to balance study with raising my child alone and had to drop out. However, after moving to Warwick, Gateway offered me another chance, and most importantly it is free, which was really helpful, as I felt there was less risk of me losing money again, and less pressure on me.

My little girl is 12 now and able to look after herself more, so this makes things a lot easier. I was also very lucky to meet my husband in the last few years, and he now acts as a father to my child and is there to help with childcare, as do his parents. This level of familial support is something I have never had before and is a huge help. He and his whole family are all very educated, as they are all teachers, and this really motivated me to try again to gain my own education.

How did you find Gateway? What challenges did you face and how were you supported?

I was nervous throughout the program, as it had been years since I had been in a classroom setting, or around so many other people. I had not realised how isolated I had been as a single mum, and so my own social anxiety was a big challenge. I also suffer with bipolar disorder and PTSD from childhood traumas, so this is something that can be a challenge and make studying seem overwhelming.

However, Steve was really good, always encouraging me to sit closer and integrate in the group, and he created such a comfortable and informal environment in the classroom that it felt like a safe space. We were free to come and go as we liked getting coffee, and instead of just being lectured to, he tried to make the classes interactive and fun. When we had to do our presentations, he told us to think of it as just talking amongst friends, so that we would not get too nervous. The admin staff in the CLL were also great, they are all very approachable and friendly. I feel because the centre is small, you can’t get lost in there, and the staff are always there looking out for you.

What have you gained from Gateway?

It is amazing how in such a short space of time Gateway prepares you for university and an academic environment. We learnt a lot of important information about study skills, but all the way through Steve made the course as relative to our own lives as possible. The course builds up as you go along, so I had the chance to get used to being in a learning head space again, and absorbing new information. As the weeks go by it starts to sink in, and you start understanding the wider meaning of what you are learning. I feel really good that despite my difficulties I stuck with this course and I did it, it was absolutely worth it in the end.

I understand you are now progressing on to study a BA in Social Studies. What encouraged you to do this?

I feel Gateway has really helped with my own integration in the UK and my own development. The course taught me a lot of things about society, not just societies here in the UK, but also globally, from an international perspective. Learning all this made me really keen to progress onto the BA Social Studies degree, and I picked Social Studies from amongst the other pathway options because of this.

I have no real vision of a career out of this degree down the line, but just in terms of my own personal development I am enthusiastic about studying this degree. I would really like to be able to gain knowledge that would enable me to potentially help my home country, Guyana. Guyana is a tiny ex-British colony in South America, and it is very poor. There are no social structures in place to help people, no social support or medical care for example. I feel this has led to a lot of social problems in the country which has affected my family negatively, and in turn, also me. I would really like to go back and offer some help, even if I am just a small voice.

The BA Social Studies degree allows me flexibility, so I am hoping to take some politics modules as part of the course and explore these interests in policy and social reform. I also have the choice to study the degree part-time or full-time. Because of my mental health issues, I feel it is best for me to study for this degree part-time to ensure that I go in slowly, and then perhaps at a later stage I will transfer to full-time study. But as with all lifelong learning, there is no rush.

Best of luck with it all! And finally, who would you recommend Gateway to?

I would recommend Gateway to everyone, as long as you understand English, and you can read and write, anyone can take part in Gateway. There are no requirements in terms of past qualifications, I had none.

I also think what is great about Gateway is that it is run over the course of the year and so the door is never closed, and because it is free, there are no pressures. Personally, I understand that sometimes life doesn’t allow 100% attendance, and I have had my own problems with attending classes in the past, but I really feel if you make the most of Gateway and give it your best commitment, you will gain a lot from it.

The support is always available if you need it, and I would strongly recommend anyone who is interested to apply and just give it a go.

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