Words by May Melross
The start of my degree journey
Wow it’s been a “roller coaster” journey to get my degree! This is my story of what I have been through to get there, and I hope that it will inspire those that read it. I have experienced and overcome huge loss, grief, financial struggle, stress, toxic relationships and even being evicted from my “family home.”
Cultural differences I am half Thai, half English and was born and lived in Bangkok, Thailand for the first 15 years of my life. Due to family issues, we had to move to England, where my father was born.
Moving to Royston, an unfamiliar town in North Hertfordshire, was extremely difficult and I had to quickly make huge adjustments. It was scary and hard being an Asian girl in a predominantly white-school. It was a completely reversed experience to that of living in Thailand, where I was a bubbly talkative girl, and yet in the UK I became the quiet one without a voice in classes; to the point, where I was eating pack lunches in the toilet due to my fear of being stared at and bullied in the cafeteria.
My dad, my hero Nevertheless, I finished year 11 with decent grades. From school I went to college to study Art & Design, which lead to fashion design as my next subject to study at University. During my final year in college, my dad, my hero, who I looked up to and loved more than anything, was diagnosed with level 4 prostate cancer. It was terrible because the cancer had spread into his bones already. My mother and two younger brothers and I didn’t know just how appalling and horrendous it was until a year and a half into his treatment, around Christmas time, when he started to become weaker and weaker. My father didn’t inform us of how ill he was and the reality was his life expectancy was very limited. My father was a strong man; he dealt with so much in life, and did a lot of things to protect his loved ones.
Some may say his decision was wrong to do some of the things he did to protect us, but as I grow older, I understand why… It was pure love that he had for his family and especially me.
Gaining balance These were obviously difficult days and I tried to balance caring for my father and my younger brothers with putting as much effort as I could into my studies at my University. I tried to get as good grades as possible, to show my dad that I will be okay. Although I had a good work ethic and wanted to achieve regardless of his illness, my dad was still a huge inspiration to me. He taught me that no matter what life throws at you… Just keep on trying. However, in the spring of 2018 my dad passed away beside me while I was holding his hand. It was tough; my love and my best friend, had left me on this planet alone. Dad dying had impacted my family in all sorts of ways. It affected my grades, my self-esteem, not to mention that I had to deal with the financial crisis that we now found ourselves in.
My mother, had an addiction to gambling for over 20 years and abandoned my brothers and me; leaving us so she could go and live with another man. I therefore had to be responsible and became my brother’s guardian. I manage to swim through my second year, not as well as I hoped as looking after two teenage boys and having to move into temporary accommodation after losing our family home was extremely stressful. It was, to say the least, heart-breaking, we were all tied up with anger and mixed emotions, but I eventually got through it and made our new little flat as “homie” as it could be! I made my second year fashion module based on grieving and celebrating the happy memories that I had shared with my father. My grades weren’t that great but lord, I was super proud of what I did, and how strong I have become. Also during this time, a close friend/borderline ex (we were never official) committed suicide. I was in pieces and torn apart from hearing this news. It was very hard to experience loss all over again.
Seeking help I sought a lot of help during this period and throughout the summer. I went to the GP, even chatted with the Nightline, a night-time support service and found that this helped me to get through this dark period. Life looking after my brothers was difficult and complicated, trying to be the mother, whilst also trying to do my best at Uni, not an easy task. When autumn came along, that was when it hit me hard as a student. The realisation that “only two more semesters I have to graduate!”
This meant I needed to get back on track and make sure that I can turn the tables back to getting the best grade possible. I wanted it so bad that I made myself work as hard as I could. Spending four days a week in the studios, just me and my sewing machine from early morning till 10:30pm at night. Mind you, trying to do this with my part-time job at Hollister as a stock associate was extremely difficult.
It’s all worth it! The first semester was crazy but worth it! Thanks to all of my classmates who are friends for life, other good friends, lecturers, my auntie Maggie, who is my surrogate mother, and last but not least, my amazing boyfriend who was always there for me when I needed support and encouragement to keep going. My final semester came by so fast, honestly I was excited and nervous all in one. Will I make the grades or sew all of my outfits on time? Two months into the semester the Covid-19 crisis came about and played a significant role that added more heat and stress. I spent the locked down with my boyfriend, and pretty much turned his guest room into my studio! Which I’m still super grateful for, along with his generosity, kindness and all the support that he has given me.
As we know that we all have ups and downs during any crisis. Trying to force myself to go into the studio, and carry on with my designs and all of the other elements of the module was tough. Or having those emotional, serious and funny moments on Zoom conference calls with our lectures on how to improve our projects, interesting times indeed! It was one hell of a ride, and it now turns into the new norm.
Finally this story has a happy ending as I have completed my Fashion Design degree with a 2:1 with honours! I cried with happy tears and a sense of relief on the phone to my Auntie Maggie telling her my results. I was over the moon! Honestly, the past few weeks have gone by like a lightning bolt, it has been so emotional. Trying to adapt to being a graduate, but mainly on just how much I miss my dad. I know he would be super proud of me and everything I’ve done and achieved.
Right now, I’ve been updating my CV and making sure I’m ready to apply for jobs in preparation for being an adult! I’m very nervous and excited about the future. However, I know it won’t be easy to find a job, especially with the negative financial blanket around world at the moment. Eventually, though I know that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. I know I have been fortunate to have grown up on two continents, and to see the differences that exist in the world today. Hardship for some would be seen as luxury for others, but running through all of this in order to share my story, is in fact an education in itself, in that hard-work is a fundamental key to success, whatever background you are from.
5 top tips for current students and graduates
1) Know that everything will be okay. Things might not end up like we imagined they would be, but if you have a goal and a strong-mind set, it will eventually workout.
2) Make sure to put yourself out there. Post about your work on social media, let people know about you. Even if it is a blog, picture post, video clips, at least it’s out there for the world to see that there is someone passionate on the subject they are doing.
3) Don’t be hard on yourself. I know it’s hard not to criticise yourself, to overthink or compare yourself to others. But hey, write down or record your inner voice, your achievements, however small they might seem.
4) Be strong. Yes there will be those obstacles trying to knock you down, and all we have to do is breathe, take time to think and with all of our energy, whack those obstacles away from as far as you can.
5) Be grateful. Always be grateful for what you have, and how much you are loved and the sacrifices made by other people to get us here