Mentor Abi is studying Product Design Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast. She is originally from the south east of England so this was a huge change. Abi said:
‘It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be, it was actually really fun. I originally thought I would end up in uni in England but there were only about 5 unis that were doing the course I wanted to do when I was looking. I ended up at Belfast. Belfast, the Uni and everything about it so far has been amazing. The best part about moving cities is probably meeting with the new people, the culture, the accents and exploring everything as well.
Moving away was a little bit daunting to begin with. My parents were a little bit concerned at how far away it was because if there were any problems they couldn’t drive straight and get me or anything. So that was probably what I found the most scary, being so far away by myself. But being on my own didn’t become a problem at all, because everyone else who came to my university was new to Belfast. You build your own support network in the same way that you would if you were in the same country.
As well as moving, there were a lot of new activities that I never really done by myself before. I knew how to do things, like shopping. At home I would go with my parents on a family shopping trip and I did a lot of cooking at home. I was worried about that before I moved to Uni but when I got there it wasn’t a problem. Cooking chicken seems terrifying but you kind of figure out how to do it. I’ve gone from checking my chicken every like five minutes to being confident and eating it knowing that it’s safe because I know exactly how long it’s been cooked.
And shopping, so I moved house for second year and Tesco was the biggest shop closest to us. At first, I couldn’t really work out why but I couldn’t find anything I needed. I can’t see the shop and realise I actually go by colour and familiarity. In Tesco, I know where everything. If you can keep the familiarity it will make it a lot easier if you can go by the brands in the shop. A lot of it is exploring new things and branching out and also reading at least in my experience.
Mentor Natalie is from Scotland and moved to York to go to university, she said:
‘I had every intention of leaving home for uni because I’m very independent and very strong willed and ever since I was very small I knew I wanted to leave home for university. Losing my sight didn’t change that, I still wanted to. I was scared and nervous, I wondered how I would cope with a lot of things but I also thought that I would have to deal with those things at some time so why not now?
The hardest part about moving was nobody I made friends with initially understood the underlying impact of being VI and everything I was going through. What annoyed me were comments like “Are you now getting the support you need, are you now getting extra time or whatever?” I’m entitled to help and support but what I want is just the basics- if everyone else is getting reading materials then why aren’t I getting them? That frustration on top of everything else is hard. At the start of uni when you’re meeting new people there is a pressure to be positive. Like you can moan about the course but you have to keep it within boundaries with new people whereas with your family and home friends you can let your guard down a bit. That was really hard.
You also don’t want every conversation to be about your VI but the trouble is the frustration of people not understanding, like friends wandering off. When I was doing the trampolining club the hardest part about it was finding the club. It was on the other end of campus and awkward to get to. I had a problem getting there every time, I started posting on the facebook group asking if anyone was going that way but I thought, why am i having to ask? Why hasn’t it occurred to anyone that if I appreciate a hand getting back from the hall then I would appreciate a hand getting there?
In my first year I went to uni halls because I thought that’s how I would meet people and it was easier because it was on campus which was the right call. I also had the option of doing catered accommodation so Monday to Friday I got breakfast and dinner provided so I only had to sort lunches and the weekends which took the pressure off when you have so much going on, it’s one less thing to think about.
I made friends with a group of girls who would go to breakfast in their pyjamas every day at 8am. I made a point of getting up so I could go and have breakfast with them. That was 2015, one of them lives in Reading and I live in Glasgow but we speak every other week and see eachother 2 or 3 times a year.
I think if you are visually impaired, it’s even more important that you move out for university. Because it’s a safe environment to get things wrong and learn because everyone is also learning. I set off the flat smoke alarm once but so did everyone else in the flat. It’s what students do.”