‘Barking mad’, or embarking on a life changing journey?

I am a non-native English language speaker (bilingual Latvian/Russian), a mature student and a single parent to two busy boys. This is my ‘success story’.

As a working-class immigrant and Montessori teacher/nursery nurse, you would be forgiven for thinking this would be a challenging enough pathway. I know I certainly felt that way when I first came to live in the UK. However,  eventually, I started to feel that I was beginning to grow out of what were my very comfortable, and well-worn, ‘nursery nursing shoes’.

As I continued to live in Britain my English got better, and faith in myself began to improve.  What I wanted was to help others to gain knowledge and a greater confidence in communicating in English  – to integrate into society, even to aspire to better jobs.

My non-native speaking friends, and the my local community, helped me realise that English language was not just another language people learnt for fun or just personal development. It was perceived as an opportunity. For some it was a promise of a higher education and employment opportunities, or a gateway to a better quality of life. This idea resonated with me. Although I initially debated whether it was ultimately necessary to add another new challenge to my life, and was discouraged by some of my family members and friends, I strongly felt that, the change was in the air: Maybe I would become a full-time English language student?

So, I totally dismissed all of my previous reasoning, worries and doubts, closed my eyes and jumped into the open space that was the BA (Hons) English language and TESOL degree programme at Swansea University.

It has been a thrilling jump so far.

Once I landed in the safe grounds of university life, I felt a great sense of achievement, especially, when I got 1st for several of my assignments. That’s not to say I didn’t feel the fear of  falling flat on my face and the pain of disgracing myself when I got 2:2. But I didn’t even dare entertain a thought of dropping out.

First year felt like a breeze: the modules were exciting and gave me lots of background knowledge in English language structure and the variety of linguistic areas within the discipline. There was plenty of time for self-study (I must admit I didn’t use it as effectively as I could have, so few sleepless nights had to be sacrificed before assignment submission deadlines in the first year). The drive to achieve 1st wasn’t as great in the first-year as the marks did not count towards the final grade. I received lots of support and guidance from my tutors and other university staff. However, in the second year the tension become much more apparent as the challenge to achieve was well and truly ‘on’.  It turned out to be the most testing and by far most rewarding year of my studies and personal development.

I had the audacity (as a non-native speaker, that is) to apply for the embedded CELTA qualification along-side my other modules. It was 10 weeks of continuous uphill struggle with constant lesson planning, material making and teaching in the classroom, as well as input sessions after all that. The pressure mounted and in week three of the CELTA I cried in front of my tutor, and wanted to drop out. I didn’t think that I could do it. However, happily for me, my CELTA group mates and tutors would not have it and talked me out of it. Armed with their belief in me, and their invaluable support, by the end of 10 weeks  I passed CELTA with A (the highest grade possible). I must admit that I never dreamed of even finishing it, never mind passing it with flying colours!!  I am greatly indebted to my tutors, classmates, my patient boys and friends for all the support they so generously gave me. This qualification opened doors to further development and the exciting opportunity to work at Swansea University ELTS department over the Summer in 2017. It was an unforgettable journey and gave me a wealth and breadth of experience as a newly qualified CELTA graduate. I got to teach students from a variety of nationalities, age groups and backgrounds, alongside other, very experienced, tutors.

Moreover, within the space of these three academic years, my confidence has grown both in academic work and in my personal life.   I never used to like sports much, purely because I was rubbish at it! However, to manage my stress levels, and to be able to cope with everyday pressures and demands, I decided to challenge myself physically. I took up running: Swansea is a runner’s haven with beautiful views, lots of  running tracks, mild weather and plenty of running clubs to choose from. I never thought it was going to work as it was so tough at first. Again, just about when I was ready to give up, I got into it and I caught the ‘running bug’. Now whenever I see somebody running pass me, I feel what I call ‘running envy’. I trained hard and was persistent, even managing to complete two half marathons (Cardiff and Swansea). Now I am planning to run London half marathon after I graduate.

Slowly but surely these three years in Swansea University have changed my mentality. I can look beyond  what I can do right now and look forward to what else I can achieve. So, to anybody second-guessing themselves about doing a degree later in life, and facing the challenge of being a non-native speaker or having young children I would say – just jump. You might feel and be judged to be ‘barking mad’, but you could find yourself embarking on a totally life changing and life-affirming journey.


Gita Kalnina is a third year undergraduate and is also a recipient of the Ede and Ravenscroft Student Anniversary Prize for 2016/2017. You can read more about her and the other prizewinners here.