From Isolation To Independence

Ana, an LLM International Law student from Brazil, speaks to CONNECTED about her feelings of isolation and how the Student Support Fund helped her find hope again in a challenging year.

Ana travelled from Brazil to the UK to complete her master’s degree in international law during September 2020, when the risk posed by COVID-19 seemed to be decreasing. Within just a few months, rising case numbers and a new strain of the virus forced the UK back into a national lockdown, and made it impossible for Ana to find work or to meet people.

She said: “Despite the challenges, I had decided to take my place on the master’s degree programme because I know that Reading has a fantastic international law department, high-quality teaching, and I am interested in the progressive attitudes at Reading.

“I knew that the programme would give me an opportunity to use my voice, and to effect real social change.

“I was very excited and enthusiastic to start with, despite the problems COVID-19 had caused. When I arrived, I began looking for hospitality jobs but there was nothing available and then lockdown started again, and I couldn’t find any work at all. It was a very difficult position to be in and I know many other students felt the same way.”

Isolated and alone

Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, Ana was only able to meet face-to-face with her professor and fellow students twice before teaching moved online. The inability to meet other people left Ana feeling extremely isolated and alone.

She said: “My professor was very good, and the University provided a lot of support and online events for us to attend, but it’s not easy to make friends online. I also wasn’t meeting anyone during my online classes because people would often have their cameras and sound turned off. It still felt like I was alone.

“I had thought maybe I would meet some friends at work, but with the hospitality businesses closed I couldn’t.

“I think it’s harder as an international student because you don’t have friends close by, and the time difference makes it difficult to reach your family regularly.”

During her first term at Reading, Ana sadly lost her grandmother. Due to the worsening situation in Brazil, she was unable to travel home for the funeral. With no one to turn to in the UK, the stress of her situation caused her to feel depressed and anxious.

Ana reflected:

“I couldn’t visit my family. I couldn’t pay my bills. I couldn’t sleep. I was so worried about what would happen to me, I felt like giving up. I had worked so hard to get to where I was, and now it seemed like everything was against me.”

Hope in times of hardship

Seeking ways to deal with the stress that she was experiencing, Ana sought advice from the Student Support Team. They advised Ana to apply to the Student Support Fund and offered her additional support to help with the isolation and stress she was suffering.

Within a week, Ana was awarded a hardship grant to help cover her rent and living expenses, allowing her to focus on her studies and her mental health.

She said: “It was a huge weight off my shoulders. The money didn’t just help me with my finances, it reminded me that there are people who really care about helping me to succeed.

“I now feel like there is hope for me. I want to say thank you to everyone who supported my dreams. You made me feel like I was not alone. Thank you.”

Ana is now nearing the end of her master’s programme and feels confident that she will be the voice of change she hoped to be: “Although I am still physically alone most days, I now feel independent, not isolated. I know that there is support if I need it, and I have strong hopes for my future.”

The University would like to extend its gratitude to everyone who has supported the Student Hardship Appeal so far. You are making a huge difference to students like Ana. Thank you for supporting our students.

Find out more about our Student Hardship Appeal, or how you can get involved, through the IMAGINE campaign.