“Often I felt a little like an imposter, like I wasn’t smart enough or prepared enough to take on a degree like mine. With time however I began to see that this degree was difficult for everyone and that results are not indicative of the kind of career I can have.”
Isabel Michael grew up in the Riverina Edward River wheat belt town of Deniliquin, that’s best known as host to Australia’s biggest ute muster. She’s well on her way to fitting in with the students from “big, important schools in Sydney and Melbourne”, now in the second year of her double degree of law and arts at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.
She says her tale may be similar to other country students in what she missed once she headed to The City.
“Moving away from my family and friends was probably the most difficult part of my transition to university. I have a big, rambunctious family and come from a very close-knit community, so moving to Canberra – six hours from all of that – was really challenging,” she said.
“The first day my parents left I was fairly miserable. But after a few hours of feeling sorry for myself, I took a roommate downstairs to an event in my accommodation building and was determined to meet people. I met a girl who became my best friend from that point forward, and that really made the difference.”
After that it was just a process of smiling at people, being friendly and approachable and the rest fell into place or Isabel. Between roommates and friends, she began to settle into a new life at ANU.
Her remedy for homesickness was regular trips home and calling her family to stay connected.
“To manage homesickness I went home most months and facetime my family everyday to help me stay connected. I think living in a multi-share apartment was also really important to settling into uni life, because I still had people around me, so it wasn’t as lonely,” she said.
“In my experience, I have found that a good support network is essential to succeeding in tertiary study. I mean this in a very holistic sense, without my family and friends both in Canberra and at home, I would not be as happy, supported or fulfilled, neither would I be able to achieve the academic success I currently am.”
Isabel says keeping her mental health in check is also important to her academic performance.
“Anxiety really builds up for me when I’m not organised, which generally means I’m behind in my coursework, haven’t slept, eaten well or exercised. Therefore when I’m feeling stressed my first response generally is a bit of panic, maybe a cry and chat with my best friend at uni. After that I really try to be proactive; drink a cup of tea, call mum for a chat, go for a walk or bike ride.”
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“Sometimes reaching a point of anxiety, for me anyway, is actually a real positive thing because it means I am able to reassess what I’m failing to do for myself and then be proactive.”
“I’ve started looking at my priorities rather than balance, because for me, lists are far more attainable than the loose ideal of balance. I know how important it is for me to exercise daily, get at least eight hours of sleep and do my readings in pieces rather than all at once, I’m happier, a better friend and just more productive when I get those things done. So at the moment, I’m checking off that criteria every day.”
For 24/7 crisis support or suicide prevention services, please call 13 11 14. If life is in danger, call 000.
Isabel Michael is supported by CEF Edward River.