Paniz is a first-year Geography student. We met her to talk about her time at Queen Mary so far, her plans for her degree and the importance of the national Estranged Students Solidarity Week, a time to raise awareness of the difficulties that students who are not in contact with their families may face.
26 November 2019
Tell us about Estranged Students Solidarity Week
It’s a campaign to increase understanding and support for students that have come to university under different circumstances to others and who don’t have family contact. There may also be students who are currently in contact with family but who are thinking about breaking that contact if the relationship is not a healthy one. The week is to highlight to estranged students the help and support available to them and to know that they are not alone.
What circumstances led to you not being in contact with your family?
My parents came to England when they were quite young and both began studying civil engineering at university. My father was very manipulative and emotionally abusive towards my mother, ending in them both dropping out of university. Growing up, I almost became a victim of forced marriage, leading me to have no contact with my father from the age of 12. My mum channelled all of her energy into making me the person that she had wanted to be. This meant that nothing could distract me from my studies, especially having a boyfriend. She found out that I had a boyfriend in March last year and she, in turn, became emotionally abusive towards me in the same way that my father had been towards her. For months, I was shouted at and made to feel like I had done something unforgiveable. I had to leave home when I was sitting my A-Level exams.
What challenges have you experienced as an independent student?
I had to mature really quickly. It has been both a blessing and a curse. When I started at university, I’ve found it difficult to find people to relate to. It’s also made me think twice about everyday things like going shopping or buying a meal deal, as ultimately, I’ve only got myself to rely on.
What has helped you to overcome those challenges?
I have been seeing a counsellor for a while and this has helped me a lot. I think as much as my friends were there for me, it is always easier to speak to a professional as they automatically understand your situation better. After I left home, the lack of stability and no longer having a place to call home meant that my counselling appointment was the one thing in the week that didn’t change, providing me with structure. It taught me that it’s okay to talk about my feelings and to be aware of them. I’m a perfectionist, so I was looking at my friends finishing their A-Levels and going off to university, whilst I felt stuck. Counselling allowed me to let myself heal and to know that I was doing something and growing, even if it wouldn’t provide me with something tangible like a degree then and there. It also taught me to try something new, so I got a job; it was interesting because I could see myself and who I could be in the world of work: productive and full of purpose.
Coming to Queen Mary has helped me a lot, the Advice and Counselling service have been great. Before starting here, I was stressed by my Student Finance application, and Advice and Counselling said I would be eligible for financial help from funds and bursaries offered by the University. They also told me that I could apply for a student loan as an estranged student, rather than needing a parent to support my application.
What have you learnt from going through this experience?
I’ve learnt to be resilient and when you’re going through a difficult situation, there is always a way out. Having my confidence broken by my mum meant that I could in turn see her as just a person, rather than a magical figure that could do no wrong as I did when I was a child. It taught me that everyone is human and everyone makes mistakes, no matter who they are. It took me a long time to build my confidence back but I now know my worth and that I deserve to be treated with respect – my friends would describe me as quietly confident!
What would you like people to take away from Estranged Students Solidarity Week?
To be mindful and supportive of those who may live a different life to them, and for other estranged students, to not be afraid to talk to someone about their experiences. There is a network there, and I’m planning on making this more visible by setting up a group to provide support for other estranged students.
What advice would you have for other estranged students?
Don’t hold everything in. Try to find a way to process what’s happening. It’s difficult, but there is a way out, so to try and channel your energies into something productive that you enjoy.
What are your hobbies in your spare time?
I’d really like to start a YouTube channel, but I need to get a better camera first! From a young age, my answers to things would always be outside the box and not what people are looking for, so I’ve realised I have quite a unique way of thinking. I also have two pet gerbils, Spotty and Kangaroo, who I treat like my babies!
What’s your favourite place on campus?
I’d say the Octagon. I love geography which is why I chose to study it, but ultimately, I want to be a lawyer. Having had a lot of contact with family lawyers when I was younger, I always thought it would be something I’d like to do myself and something I’d be good at. I remember coming to the Law Fair at Queen Mary, which was held in the Octagon, so now I associate it with my future dreams and career aspirations.
What do you plan to do with your degree / what are your plans for after university?
I’d like to do a law conversion course after my Geography degree and practice law.