Mature Students in Focus – Michaela Hartwell

Michaela Hartwell studies BA (Hons) English Language and TESOL in our English Language and Applied Linguistics department. I got a chance to chat to her about her experience as a mature student, returning to study in the middle of her already successful career and travelling adventures. Here’s what she had to say:

What do you love about language and why did you want to study the BA (Hons)English language and TESOL?

I’ve always been interested in languages, and during my ten year “gap year”, I was lucky enough to learn German and Swedish to a high level, as well as the basics in Vietnamese. After starting my CELTA, however, I realized that I actually didn’t know that much about how English works! We speak it every day, but that is very different from being able to understand the ins-and-outs of how language is formed, and so gaining knowledge through teaching made me interested in studying it more in depth.

What were you doing before you came to university?

I spent ten years abroad doing a number of different jobs, but the main two were working as a ski instructor in Austria, and teaching English in Vietnam.

What made you decide to go ‘back to school’?

Teaching English not only improved my English language knowledge, but also hugely helped learning other languages —  I don’t think I’d ever really put that much thought into how grammar actually works. After teaching for a few years, I realized I wanted to gain a more in depth knowledge of the language, and so looked into the English Language & TESOL course at Swansea University. The programme looked like it covered many aspects of not only the English language and how we interact with it on a day-to-day basis, but also different teaching methodologies, and so I decided to take the leap and give it a go!

As a mature student what were your expectations of the return to university?

I am usually fairly adaptable to new environments and challenges so wasn’t worried about that side of things, but it was strange thinking that I would be back classroom as a student again instead of being the one standing at the front of the class! I was also looking forward to taking part in the general university experience with sports and going out, as I feel that that is just as important an aspect of student life as the classes are, and Swansea didn’t let me down!

What kinds of support can you get at university as a mature student?

If I’m honest, I never actually went looking for any support. I thoroughly enjoyed the classes and never struggled with the workload, and so checking in once a term with my personal tutor was enough. I was also lucky enough to be in a class with two other mature students, one of whom was the mature student officer, and so any issues that arose were easily sorted out.

What do you think being a mature student adds to the university experience – for you, or for your fellow students?

Coming back to uni as a mature student was definitely the best decision for me. Not only can I use the skills I learned while working to help me with my studies, but I also feel that you can bring a lot more to the course and to your fellow students, having a bit more experience of life. I know that I wouldn’t have chosen the right course if I had come when I was 18, and so knowing where I wanted my life to head before choosing a degree has benefited me massively. Plus the younger students seemed to appreciate having someone confident enough to put their hand up in class to take some of the pressure off the rest of them!

What courses are you taking and what interests you about them?

My courses revolve around TESOL and Linguistics, which I find fascinating. Not only do we learn about how language works in a grammatical way, but more so about how people use it in real life, how it is constantly changing, and how the brain itself forms and processes language. It also covers teaching methodologies which, as someone interested in the teaching aspect of it, I find interesting and helpful in building into own teaching style.

What are you enjoying the most in the courses you are taking?

I’m sure not many people will answer with this but I’m actually thoroughly enjoying the written assignments we have for most modules. Having been out of school life for so long I worried that I might find sitting down to write assignments arduous, but they have all been so interesting, and have all needed a lot of background research which has actually branched out into some pretty interesting topics!

What are you finding difficult about university life?

My main issue with the way I have approached uni life is that I’m living too far away. Not only do I miss out on a lot of the social events as I always have to drive in and home, I have also found the timetable difficult, as it sometimes meant needing an hour to drive to uni, park up and walk to campus, an hour to do the reverse, and all for a 50-minute seminar. If I had to re-do my time, I would definitely find somewhere nearer campus.

Regarding the degree, what would you advise mature students to do in preparation for student life at Swansea University?

Depending on what your job and family life is like, I would suggest making sure that you have a set number of hours per day to dedicate to your studies. I always had a rule that I would never work past 5pm as I know that (for me) I lose all concentration in the evening, but not everyone is lucky enough to have no daytime commitments. I found the workload challenging but definitely manageable, so long as there is enough time set out to do it.

What are some interesting first year myths/mature student myths that you heard before you came – are they true?

While not a myth exactly, when talking to my friends about going back to university, they all said that they could never go back because they’d find being in school and having to do so many assignments too challenging. I found, however, that I work far better as an adult than I ever did as a teenager! Seeing how some of the younger students struggled to get their work done on time simply because they had no time management skills, I felt extremely grateful that I never feel the need to leave an assignment to the day before it was due!

If you could go back to your pre-university self, what advice would you give yourself about taking the steps to returning to education?

I would do more in my first year. It is only since being in second year that I have branched out in my interests and taken on sports and other activities, and so feel that I have missed out on a year of fun and friendships. I focused too much in my first year on the purely academic side of studying, and not enough on enjoying the full university experience.

What do you want to do with your qualifications? What do you think they will provide you with?

I plan on heading abroad again once I’ve finished at Swansea to further my teaching career. The course has offered so many insights into the English language, the processes involved in learning a language, and the different aspects of teaching, and I feel that I could now bring a lot more into teaching than I ever was able to before.