Return of “La Petite Anglaise”

Hello again tout le monde !

I planned my favourite sort of trip for the beginning of June (une visite surprise !): I went home for the weekend to surprise my family.

The Eurostar train from Paris to London was delayed, so I missed my connecting train, and arrived home somewhat later than I originally planned. In my haste to grab my tickets from the self-service machine in the two minutes before the train was due to depart from Paddington Station, I left my return ticket in the machine. It was a classic misspraxic mistake, and I was very lucky to have both tickets reimbursed by the kind and understanding station staff. Such treatment would not have been the case in Germany or France, where rules and regulations tend to override when it comes to transport, in my experience.

Next time, I will try even harder not to rush around, because it is not worth the trouble in a big, busy station. I would also recommend booking a connecting train with a departure time of at least two hours after your first train is due to arrive! That way, you can sit back with a book instead of anxiously sprinting down escalators. You can also arrange to pick up your tickets in advance of the journey, or pay extra to have your tickets posted directly to you. If you’re like me, it might be worth it!

Home 2

Surprise visit home: wandering through an orchard by the sea

Despite the unfortunate timing, my visit home was a great success. A couple of  weekends later, I returned to London again, but this time I didn’t go home. I went to a conference on something I care a lot about – the future of languages and cultural relations in the UK post-Brexit.

I can understand why some might be skeptical about the idea of interrupting a placement abroad with a visit back home, and all that entails (planning ahead, travel complications etc.). For me, though, the occasional return to the UK during my year abroad has been very worthwhile. It has sunk in just how much I have learned and achieved within a short period of time. My mind was overflowing with colloquial French expressions, even in the middle of the British countryside. I realised how immersed I had been in the language and culture, which in turn boosted my morale on my return to Paris. Dyspraxics are often known for having a particular attention to detail – this applies to me, as I am aware of being more sensitive and critical to cultural differences, for example reflecting more on the behaviours of people around me…

Party

Big corporate summer party with clients and colleagues – there was even a red carpet, would you believe!?

Back in Paris, I have developed a nickname in the office – I am known, particularly to the other réceptionniste, as la petite anglaise (the little English girl)! The name amuses me, as I am actually plus grande (taller) than many of my colleagues. The past few weeks have honestly been testing and tiring, following more débâcles with the scanning machine and its frequent bourrages, as well as disappointed and disgruntled colleagues following my inadequate phone messages or manner. There are some days when I feel like I will never be good enough at the job due to the nature of it: I need to stop blaming myself for saying or doing the ‘wrong’ things, as some of the tasks or knowledge expected of me is not reasonable. Dyspraxic or not, if you are in a similar situation to me, I hope it helps to know that you are not alone in struggling with a stage (internship) in a high-pressured office environment.

During a year abroad or during any stay in an unfamiliar place, it is likely you will feel isolated or stressed or both. Each week I try to make sure I go out to a new place, or let myself enjoy strolling around a new art gallery, or going to a café for lunch. It makes up for long and often tedious hours at a computer. Recently, my free time in the city has been completely enriched with art, music, and culture! Let me tell you more…

Last weekend, I enjoyed a visit to Emile Zola’s house in Médon, a small rural village to the west of Paris. Although the house, museum, and château that inspired Cézanne were unfortunately closed, I enjoyed chatting to the local people in the village, and relaxing on the bank of the Seine. I suggest checking the website thoroughly for practical information before getting carried away at the prospect of visiting a new place (which, in my case, is easily done)!

 

A couple of weekends ago, I took the children to a public farm at Saint-Cloud, where we got to watch the animals being fed. Afterwards, we had a lovely picnic in the Parc de Saint-Cloud (outside of Paris in the banlieues – suburbs). All was going well until the little ones decided to take the older ones’ lead to climb trees in the farm’s garden! I didn’t have enough eyes to follow all the children’s fast movements, and was afraid of someone falling. I had to step in – that led to more tantrums, and my glasses fell to the ground, but thankfully none of the children got hurt, and my glasses survived to tell the tale.

Ferme

A Sunday afternoon in Saint-Cloud

 

I also enjoyed la Fête de la Musique on June 21st there were all kinds of concerts and performances all evening in Paris, as well as in other towns in France, and in other countries. A concert called Komm, Bach attracted me – it was probably the German title, or the prospect of harmonies involving an Organist, a soprano singer and an African Djembe drummer. On the night of the festival, I made my way to a church in the 8th arrondissement – an area I don’t know very well. It was an absolutely incredible concert, and without a doubt one of the best I have experienced during my year abroad. A few days later, I had another great evening at the La Défense Jazz Festival with a friend, and got to know one of her Germans friends too – it was fun to all chat in German together, and it was a welcome change from French.

Have a look at the photos from la Fête de la Musique, as well as other events and exhibitions I have recently experienced:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For the long bank holiday weekend next week, I am going to Normandy with the family to celebrate la Fête nationale also known as Bastille Day on 14th July. I will let you know how that goes!

Bonne semaine et à plus,

misspraxic

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Preparing for Christmas Pt 2: going home!

Hallo!

As promised, I wanted to tell you more about what I have been up to more recently. That includes a trip to München, now a couple of weekends ago, to visit a friend I met up with in Heidelberg, but had not seen since. An added bonus was being able to spend a couple of hours with my German housemate at university last year, who studies in the same city.

Visiting München in Bayern


Munich.jpgI took a direct express train from Düsseldorf to Munich, as although this was the more expensive option, it cut out some of the stress – the train was delayed by an hour, but it didn’t matter, as I had kept my meetings with my friends flexible. Delays aside, the train journey was enjoyable – after I had found a seat, at least! A good tip for the travelling dyspraxic, if not everyone, would be to always book a seat reservation for longer-distance trains… On the train, I was also able to take note of how dramatically the landscape changes from one Land to another – I enjoyed the change from densely-populated NRW into more rural Bayern.

It was so great to catch up with my friend, at the same time as seeing part of a new Bundesland (federal state), since I hadn’t been to Bayern (Bavaria) before. I was amused, though, upon arriving at the station – I couldn’t understand a word of the German I was hearing! I have grown very accustomed to the Niederrhein accent and dialect, which sounds a bit like Dutch. I even find myself sometimes accidentally slipping into dialect forms, like “wat” for what instead of “was” in Hochdeutsch (High German)!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Time to reflect: making friends and fitting into the community with dyspraxia


Social situations can cause varying amounts of panic and stress for many people with dyspraxic traits, myself included.

I have always enjoyed meeting new and like-minded people, though I must admit I was nervous about making friends in NRW – in another language and culture. I can say that I did feel very lonely at times in September and October. I was far from the comfortable university setting in September, where it would have  been undoubtedly easier to make friends the same age.

Since I joined the Dutch class, and the German course at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, I met people of all ages who enjoy languages, like me. I got talking to a lovely lady at Dutch, and was invited to her home for dinner twice, and to a local museum with her and her husband too.

Finding the life-drawing class at the local Volkshochschule has also been very good for me. Drawing wasn’t the same by myself – I enjoyed getting to know the tutor and the others in our small group of six. Although the semester has come to an end, I will remember my seven weeks of life-drawing in Germany, and everything I learned from the experience (not least some technical art vocab in German).

Not least, joining the choir that my landlady had recommended was the best decision I made. It enabled me to feel the community spirit, and grasp how another part of society functions, as well as in a school. I especially enjoyed singing with the choir, fighting against my rough sore throat, determined to “mitmachen” at a Christmas event just down the road from where I am living. Even better was my boyfriend being there to watch. Here is the church, next to the outdoor stage where we were singing, all beautifully “beleuchtet” (lit up):

church.jpg

Not sure whose idea it was to put squish two Christmas trees onto the stage with all the singers, though… I kept knocking off the baubles as I was singing, and felt rather unstable, but luckily there were no disasters! Hopefully nobody noticed…

The school has made me feel very welcome too – a couple of teachers and pupils in particular. I was very touched to be there for Class Six’s Weihnachtsfeier (party) on Thursday, and to sing along to Christmas songs and enjoy cake with the pupils! They even gave me a gift – a sweet hanging decoration, which is now hanging on my tree.

To sum up, these are the memories that stick with me the most – the warmth I have experienced, and the friendships that have started to blossom during my time in Germany. It required some patience and searching to find groups like the above-mentioned, but I feel much happier for it. When I return in January, I want to try something new before I leave at the end of February.

Home, sweet home


I arrived safely home yesterday, and it is wonderful to be back with my family again, as well as all my favourite foods that the German supermarkets don’t stock…

I do still seem to be stuck in Deutschland Modus, though, as I accidentally took out euros to pay for my cider at the pub. “That in’t English?” said the understandably perplexed barmaid, and a man at the bar had to check, “She must a just come back from holiday”.

Ah, yes, that’s right. A holiday, I thought!

Thank you to anyone who has been following misspraxic‘s adventures abroad since July – your support means a lot. I wish you all a peaceful and relaxing Christmastime with your friends and families, and best wishes for 2017.

Love,

misspraxic

Preparing for Christmas Pt 1: Nicholaustag and the Weihnachtsmann

Hallo zusamen,

I’m still safe and well, but I’ve been slow updating my blog because of all the different things I have been doing, and like usual, I start writing but don’t get very far. I never forget, though, and I have a lot to tell you.

I know I am not alone in struggling to maintain motivation at times, with the heavy knowledge that the world is in chaos in most places you look. But, my small personal achievements this term are keeping me going to the Christmas holiday, which is now in sight.

 

Festive preparations at school


nicholaus

In the past two weeks, my school has been getting into the festive spirit. December 6th was Nicholaustag, and the Weihnachtsmann made an appearance. I felt priviledged to creep into one Year Five class (the youngest children) to watch him read out a special letter. Each teacher prepared a thoughtful letter evaluating how well the children had settled into school, and some goals to improve upon as a class for next term.

The Weihnachtsmann’s sack contained a chocolate Santa for each child – the excitable, surprised looks on the children’s faces took me back in time to the Christmas excitement I felt as a child.

It was also very kind of the Schuleitung to place a “Weckmann” (see above) on every Lehrerzimmer table, also to mark Nicholaustag.

 

Christmas party (Weihnachtsfeier) with the choir


In the advent period, and in the lead up to Christmas, I have enjoyed learning lots of German Christmas songs with the choir. I was even invited to their Christmas “Weichnachtsfeier” – surprise Christmas party! We were all given a vague address of the meeting-point for the evening, which was where two roads met. As always, I left more time than I needed to arrive at the mysterious festive gathering, and my friend Google Maps was there to help, but I couldn’t see anyone else I knew.

I waited and waited, feeling anxious by this point, thinking I’d made a Dyspraxic Mistake and misunderstood something. But before long familiar faces appeared. A table was brought out onto the pavement, and a dancing, singing Father Christmas placed there too. Someone poured out the Glühwein, and we began to sing Christmas songs together as we were waiting for everyone else to arrive.

They led us into a mysterious place… through a garage (lots of beautiful old cars, mind), converted into a vintage, American-themed diner. I was mesmerised by where they had brought us. Look:

 

I think everyone enjoyed the evening – great music and company. Towards the end of the night, the Weihnachtsmann said a few closing words. What I was least expecting, though, was that he would ask “and who is new in the choir this year…?” and for everyone to point at me! I had to go up to the front, and was hugged by Father Christmas. I was both touched and in shock, to the extent that I couldn’t find the words to answer his so-called easy question “tell us a random fact about you?”

Taking a trip over the border, en nederlands spreken!


maastricht-map

The day after the choir party was yet more eventful. I had spontaneously arranged to meet an old friend in Venlo, the city just over the German-Netherlands border, but was not expecting to be travelling much further. I was wrong! My friend was much more familiar with the perplexing train and ticketing system (thank goodness – the “Inchecken” and “Uitchecken” rules were complicated). My heart was racing when my friend suggested we catch a train to Roermond, and then on to Maastricht. I was amazed by how much we managed to fit into just a few hours – I usually give myself the whole day to explore one town or city. I also only resorted to English when we got to the art museum. My two months of learning Dutch was enough to make my understood in shops, cafés, and asking directions in the street. So that’s proof it is possible to learn a foreign language in a foreign language! That said, now that the Dutch semester has come to an end at the Volkshochschule, I have decided not to re-register, as I would rather learn Dutch in English, and start a course in England.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Time to reflect: progress getting from A to B with dyspraxia


My confidence navigating and using public transport has improved since August (albeit with an arguably unhealthy reliance on my friend Google). You can probably tell that from just reading my first blog post in Heidelberg. I also managed to get to Munich and back just over a week ago without a problem – I want to say more about that in my next post.

When I remember that I struggled to cross roads just a few years ago, I feel like I have made progress in this area, and want to share it with you. I don’t want to speak too soon, as I know travelling will never be completely stress-free for me, but this term particularly I have successfully planned trips to visit friends in different cities. That’s involved processing often confusing bus/train timetables in German, getting used to new U/S-Bahn and ticketing systems, often changing between platforms rather than direct journeys, and most importantly keeping calm when things don’t go completely as I plan.

I have tried to make an extra big effort with my time-organisation to keep in with the important Punktlichkeit culture (though not always taken so seriously at my school, so maybe I can relax a little!) As someone who was constantly rushing around like a headless chicken to get onto the school bus in the mornings, it baffles me that I have rarely been late (for anything important at least!) in Germany. My coping strategy is setting multiple alarms, and I have also got used to planning in “late time” of about half an hour, so I always arrive early in the event of a train delay or something.

The next part of this blog (detailing what I got up to in Munich, as well as the last days of school before Christmas) will be coming up really soon, so keep following.

Bis gleich,

misspraxic

“Do you miss your parents and friends?” Year abroad taboos: coping with loneliness, distance, and unfamiliarity

Last week Mia* in my Class 7 asked me if I’m living in Germany. For how long? Where? Why? She then asked if I’m living in Germany “all alone“. Her friend then chipped in, asking if I miss my friends and family. “When will you next see them?” They were really putting themselves in my position – their intent to understand me meant a lot.

Long distance friendships, relationships, and the often crippling feeling of being alone are huge challenges that everyone faces when on a year abroad. Leaving your family, friends and boyfriend or girlfriend behind intensifies the overwhelm you feel as you attempt to settle into a new place. In my experience hidden conditions like dyspraxia can exasperate emotions even more, causing some pretty erratic mood-swings. Loneliness is something I know a lot of people are going through, so why shouldn’t we talk about it, I thought.

I’m working in a school located in a town, near a city, but I’m living in a rural area (really a village). I only work in the mornings and in the afternoons it is easy to let myself feel a bit lost. I have to put more effort into going places and finding things to do that appeal to me.

Whilst it’s important to get involved in the workplace, it takes time to gain this sort of confidence. It’s equally important in the meantime to check-in with people from home – I always feel better after having talked with family and friends. It’s a sensible suggestion to try to join clubs and get involved in the local area, but this isn’t always practical if there isn’t a support network established where you are working. On the Erasmus scheme – and on summer courses like at Heidelberg – things are usually well organised, including the social aspect.

As an alternative to having friends my age, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my lovely landlady. She appreciates the company too. She often bakes delicious cakes, and is happy to talk to me about the history of the region, and tell me what’s going on in the community. She’s also helped me find out about a local choir – I’m looking forward to going along this week and singing again.

In the staffroom at school it can be difficult to know how to start a conversation or involve myself in one, as everyone talks too fast for me to process. Last week, however, I was invited on a teachers’ trip to Munster (will tell you more about the trip in my next post) and found that really helped me mix with more teachers. A teacher also invited me to go out for lunch with her, which I enjoyed – just knowing a few people makes a difference.

img_20160909_121854

Dusseldorf University Botanic Gardens

In October I will also be starting a part-time course in Germanistik (German Studies) at Düsseldorf University. I enrolled a couple of weeks ago (was rather impressed at how quickly I managed to find the Uni campus! It’s really nice – very modern and green)  After a language test at the end of the month, I should be able to attend seminars, and that will be another good way to fill up my afternoons.

 

It isn’t shameful to feel lonely sometimes


The important message I want to convey in another rambling blog post (sorry) is that it shouldn’t be considered shameful to feel lonely. It isn’t a personal failing to have experienced any of the above, because it’s very common, and a sign of strength to be trying your best to fit into a new place.

Don’t give up! I haven’t.

If anyone has a similar experience to share or has any more ideas for filling time, then please comment on this post – I always like hearing from people.

misspraxic

*I changed the names of all pupils to maintain confidentiality.

Heidelberg: yellow submarines, bear necessities, and learning to laugh

Week three already – I can’t believe it!

The complex themes we are discussing in class challenge me more each day – in just three hours each day we seem to cover so much ground, from international perspectives of current world news to philosophical themes behind literary pieces, to re-learning grammar topics that never really sunk in at home. So I am pushing myself to step out of my comfort zone.

Of course, that is one of the great things about being able to do a year abroad – exposing yourself to new experiences and challenges – but this week has been the most overwhelming and tiring, without a doubt. After the constant concentration, planning ahead, and not always finding quiet time each day to rest (as great a socialising is), it’s not surprising that my emotions go a bit all over the place some days.

I probably will always be the person who takes ten minutes to turn their key in the lock, or the one who leaves their plate of food on the weighing scales. But people are still very patient and lovely (and the staff probably get a chuckle which makes it worthwhile). My ability to laugh along when things don’t always go to plan is improving by the day.

I am still going to the singing workshop twice a week, and enjoy the contrast after a long day of studying. This week at choir we sung a familiar song from the Jungle Book, some of you might know it too? Just for some fun, here’s the Youtube video of the German version, in case anyone is in the mood for some procrastinating:

On the subject of music, I also went to a pop concert with my classmates, which took place in a venue you probably wouldn’t expect. The screechy sounds of the pop (rock, metal, screamo!?) band didn’t harmonise with the neo renaissance University’s impressive neo-renaissance (1886) hall, “Alte Aula” [below].20160811_192814

The band were trying to be international with their banterous narrative in English, however I did find it a shame that most of the songs they played were in English: The Rolling Stones, Queen, The Beetles! Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more bizarre, the band made us, the audience, sing along with them. It wasn’t really singing. We had to repeat “bum, bum, bum” in unison for about ten minutes while the lead singer screamed the lyrics to the Yellow Submarines by the Beetles over the top. I probably won’t be purchasing their CD, but the evening was fun nevertheless.

Like many of the evenings here at the Summer School, the concert finished pretty late. As I said in my first post in Heidelberg, I am living some distance from the city centre, and it has taken some time to get used to the public transport system! The buses and trams are usually full in the evenings, so there are no free seats. I have literally gone flying down the aisle more than once (sure many of you can relate to balance problems)!

Where possible I recommend travelling with friends, trying to let people at home know where you are, and keeping aware of your surroundings. Though I know that is easier said than done when you’re about to fall asleep.

On that note – Gute Nacht (goodnight),

misspraxic

 

 

 

 

Misspraxic abroad: emotions and preparations

Guten Abend! As promised, I am updating you all on what I have been doing to prepare for my upcoming travels abroad (a compulsory part of my Modern Languages degree).

Since I last posted, I have spent time with friends and family before saying a temporary goodbye. In just a few days I will be flying to Frankfurt Airport, and making my way to Heidelberg. Where’s that? It’s here:

4944-heidelberg-locator-map

I’m very fortunate to be taking part in a month-long summer school! I hope the intensive grammar classes are going to improve my confidence and fluency in German.

On the one hand, I feel very positive about what is coming: independence, new places, people, experiences… I am excited to return to Germany, to hear my favourite language spoken again. There will be the opportunity for trips to local tourist attractions and destinations further afield at the weekends, which should be a great break from the studying!

In the lengthy build-up to going abroad, however (and I know I’m not alone in feeling like this), the past few months and weeks have been filled with moments of unease and apprehension. Particularly in light of recent and tragic world events, my angst about spending the year out of my comfort zone has been understandably exasperated.

The administrative aspects of organising a year abroad also represent a challenge for any student, not least a dyspraxic student. For those with slower eye-tracking and visual processing, all the form-filling, signature-signing, and document-scanning required for my placements can be overwhelming.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a photo to prove the pickle I was in today with all my paperwork:

paperwork

But the good news is that it’s manageable and well worth the effort – if I can do it, of course other dyspraxic students can too!

My advice?

1. Seek support from your university. Make use of any contacts you might have. Can your study skills tutor help you put together placement applications, or help keep track of important dates?

2. Start planning early. It sounds easy, but when you’re in December, June can feel a year away. By applying early (and securing back-up options in case plans fall through last minute) you can help to ease the uncertainty involved.

3. Make a checklist – and cross tasks off as you go. (e.g. travel booked? Insurance? Finance? Erasmus+ grant?

I’m going back to the packing and paperwork, and will check in again once I have settled into Heidelberg.

Wish me Glück!

misspraxic

 

 

 

The Dyspraxic achievement paradox

I’m aware I haven’t written anything for a long time – too long, regrettably. For that I apologise… Much has happened (good things and not so good things). Good things: I have been planning an exciting year abroad next year, and have done well to receive a competitive scholarship to study abroad! Not so good things: After a series of less than satisfying results for some ‘academic’ University work, I have had a prompt to write about my experiences again in the hope I can react positively to these negative results.

I believe what I am experiencing with these continuous academic disappointments is a very common scenario among students with Dyspraxia, ADHD, Dyslexia and the like, but a difficult phenomenon to articulate. Many are aware of difficulties, but not everyone questions why? How? In my experience, lecturers are academics and though they may give up time to try to help, they tend to lack knowledge of coping with SpLds. Similarly, support staff like mentors/skills tutors may have a great understanding of my needs, but unfortunately don’t understand my subject enough to help with its academic context.

I imagine that many parents share the frustration – whether in GCSEs, A-Levels or other, children try so hard to overcome the difficulties with which they are faced, by putting in extra hours with tutors, mentors, their friends, doing extra reading… And yet none of these attempts seem to really help. The core ‘problems’ remain. People may say that Dyspraxia is a condition you can overcome. But the reality is sadly not so optimistic…

In some cases, the disappointment with academic achievements can lead to perhaps extreme thoughts like wanting to quit your degree and give up entirely on academic qualification because you feel utterly useless despite your best efforts. Often I wonder if lecturers (or teachers for that matter) truly consider the detrimental effect a comment like ‘your (insert subject here) needs work’ will have on said students’ well-being, especially when feedback of this nature fails to offer specific advice. I need to be told simply and explicitly in an accessible way: how do I actually improve? The jargon lecturers use, the accelerated pace at which they impart their knowledge, is simply too much for me to cope with.

What’s the paradox?

We compensate for the areas in which we lack, time and time again. I have good reasoning skills, great spelling ability, and top vocabulary knowledge (91 percentile would you believe!) Even the psychologist confirmed it: intellectually I fall within the ‘average’ range, and I managed to get into a top university, and succeed in gaining internships/places on trips abroad. Despite this, I struggle to put together an essay, which seems to be what’s important nowadays – coherent planning, building up a solid argument, incorporating the perfect amount of secondary criticism…

It all might sound manageable but for a dyspraxic student, getting your thoughts together is tough. Even doing all the necessary reading takes hours if you have Meares Irlen/Visual Stress – words jump about on the page. Concentrating on something for longer than half an hour, and getting the right end of the stick when interpreting an idiomatic literary passage are just some of the challenges humanities students with SpLds face. And there isn’t enough awareness of these, particularly among academics, who frequently ask me to help them to help me.

How does Dyspraxia affect a student academically?

In my case, my ‘Dyspraxic difficulties’ predominantly relate to a significantly low auditory processing speed. My capacity for mental manipulation of auditory material is significantly weaker than my verbal knowledge and reasoning skills.

In reality, being at a top university with a condition like Dyspraxia can make life very challenging in so many ways. It isn’t as simple as ‘not worrying’ or thinking positively. When something goes wrong – such as getting a ‘bad’ mark – and particularly when you know you’ve tried your best, spent several hours working on it in the library, followed by hours meticulously proof-reading and peer-reviewing – it’s unsurprising to be flooded with incontrollable feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.

As I write this post, I’m trying not to feel demoralised – I’m trying very hard to “look on the bright side” as my wise friends keep telling me.

“It’s not the end of the world”, “it’s just one bad mark”, and I suppose they are right.

23ec5c1f5e5d7c34a3dc0e247db0c496

Is there a solution?

This is something I have been considering for some time. At times like this it can be necessary to take a step back and gain some objectivity. I’d love to shout yes, “you can overcome your difficulties if you try hard enough”. It’s only now that I’m learning: trying isn’t enough. Acceptance seems to be the only comfort.

Surround yourself by people and things that do make you happy, and remember that you can’t enjoy all parts of the degree/be good at everything all the time – being perfect would be unnatural, and just because you’re taking exams/doing an academic course doesn’t mean you’ve sold your soul to it. The discomfort and dissatisfaction is so hard to process but it is a temporary state – look to your friends and family for support and reassurance because chances are, they will think you’re doing much better than you feel you are.

I ask professionals, academics, parents, and teachers – if you don’t understand the way a child/student’s mind is working, try asking them how you can help. Show an interest in how others learn and be patient with them – reward a child’s determination to learn. With the right amount of support and guidance, they may just get the hang of what you’re trying to explain to them. Think about any particular strengths the pupil might have, and whether you could get around a problem/make the child feel better about themselves by focusing on those!

And… don’t lose sight of the most important thing in learning: enjoyment. Avoid letting yourself become so obsessed by marks and grading and expectations in an already pressurising world – please don’t put someone off their interest.

misspraxic

Tips for settling into University as a dyspraxic student

Starting at university, moving to a new place, meeting new people – it’s a daunting transition for anyone, but can seem even more of a struggle when you’re also managing a hidden condition like Dyspraxia. To have worked hard to get into university is an incredible achievement, so well done!

Before I started my course at university, I was very apprehensive – especially about how I would socialise and make friends, how many times I would get lost, and how I would manage practical things like cooking. I really could have done with some reassurance that I could do it, and some advice for managing the first few weeks.


It’s OK not to participate in everything in Freshers’ week or in the first term

Don’t feel you have to take part in absolutely everything that’s happening in Freshers’ week, or that you have to read every advertising flyer thrown at you. There will be so much packed into the week – so many different kinds of events on offer, ranging from society fairs to introductions in your academic department.

During my Freshers’ week, I felt rather overwhelmed on numerous occasions. It’s OK to feel tired and emotional and full of information, this is completely normal. Often I would need to go back to my room and have an hour’s break from people and events, just to recharge.

I would say that it’s very important to pace yourself; whilst you want to make a good first impression, you also want to survive the first term without burning out! You have the whole three/four years of the course to try things, so don’t feel you have to fit it all into a week.


Staying organised (as much as possible!)

After each lecture, try to get into the habit of filing your notes in a sensible place in your folder – I colour-code my folders (a different coloured folder for each term) and use dividers (a different section for each module).

If you record lectures using a voice-recorder, try to get into the habit of connecting the recorder to your computer and saving files, so you don’t risk losing something important! Create folders (and folders within folders within folders if this helps you) on your computer, and create desktop shortcuts so that you can easily locate work you need to access regularly.

I found using post-it notes really useful, especially in a range of colours to differentiate between social events, academic commitments, volunteering etc.

Carrying around a small notebook in your pocket to jot down times and details of events can be a life-saver.
Make the most of your noticeboard – stick up a calendar and your post-it notes so you have a visual reminder of what is happening, and when.


Planning ahead

If you’re as indecisive as I am, getting ready for events in Freshers’ week can be rather stressful. I would keep changing my mind about what I was going to wear, and consequently end up arriving somewhere late or rushing. Pack your bag and lay clothes out the evening before, so you have less to think about and decide in the morning.

I don’t have a reliable sense of time, so time can go by quickly without my knowing. One thing that does help me, though, is considering time as a visual concept – I have to physically draw out my timeframe for the week on my calendar, and before booking appointments, I work backwards in time. This way I can make sure I have more than enough time to get ready, and to walk to the location of the lecture without panicking. If you can, plan in an hour’s extra time to compensate for any possible lateness.


Cooking

If cooking is something you are really worried about, you can buy ready meals very cheaply from supermarkets. Don’t attempt anything too complicated or time-consuming – this could be stressful if something goes wrong and you don’t have much time. Try to move around the kitchen slowly – coordinating food preparation can be a challenge, but I find that the most accidents happen when I’m rushing.

I find that the thought of cooking can easily overwhelm me if I don’t write down what I’m planning to cook for the week. In my notebook I plan which meal I’m going to have each day – you could write a few notes to remind yourself what you need to take out of the fridge/freezer, what extra ingredients you might need to buy, and how long it could take you to prepare the meal.

I also recommend preparing a packed lunch the evening before uni, so you can make sure everything is in your bag for the next morning.


Try to be assertive

It’s important not to let yourself feel pressured into doing things you don’t feel comfortable doing, particularly in Freshers’ week. Don’t feel pressured to go to the Freshers’ ball or clubs if you don’t want to – if it is something you would like to try, you could wait until you have found like-minded people, friends that you trust, so you feel more comfortable and safer going out with them. If drinking or going out isn’t your scene at all, don’t give up on the social side of university. Your Students’ Union might also be running more chilled events such as film nights, so check that out.

Definitely make the most of society fairs, but don’t sign up to everything (can be an information overload!) Have a think about your interests and what would suit you as a person. If you’re into the outdoors, for example, it’s likely there will be a hill-walking society that will run trips at weekends – this could be a good opportunity to get away from campus.

Ask about the volunteering projects available at your university – not only will this look impressive on your CV, but can be very rewarding. I took part in a weekly volunteering project last year, and felt very good about myself as I was helping someone.

If you isolate yourself and don’t make an effort to connect with fellow students, it could be a problem later in the year. I promise there will be a student community to suit your interests, and who knows, you might even meet your best friends there. 🙂


Don’t be afraid to seek support when you need it

There’s so much happening in the first week, but it’s definitely worth working out where the disability support services are located on campus – (see if you can walk there on Google maps street view if you’re worried about finding it, or you can even email/phone them). You should make an appointment with a disability advisor in your first term, so that you can get to know what support is available to you. They should already have received your records from school, and be able to advise on DSA (Disability Support Allowance) as well as accessing help in exams (this could be use of a computer for typing exams, or extra time.)

If you have any problems during the week, it’s good to know you have someone you can go to – this could be a mentor or a student welfare representative. Please don’t be afraid to talk to someone, as it isn’t a sign of weakness. Freshers’ week can feel a very lonely time, but if you are struggling, know that it will soon be over.

Try not to feel disheartened if you don’t seem to fit in straight away. In my Freshers’ week I was very self-conscious of not drinking excessively, and I admit that I spent a lot of the week by myself. Weeks later, though, I found my group of friends. Your peers may all seem ultra-confident and to be having a great time, but remember that this might not be the case. Not everyone will be finding it easy to adjust to university life.

Good luck, and most importantly, have fun!

misspraxic