This year’s mental health awareness week felt more significant than ever. With the UK, and wider world all experiencing the affects of the coronavirus and the subsequent lockdowns, feelings of isolation and uncertainty about the future have become the norm for so many people.
Since the lockdown happened here, we’ve been in regular contact with the graduates on both our Financial Services and Data Science programmes. Our Graduate Career Coach Clare, has been constantly checking on the wellbeing of the group, providing one to one coaching sessions, supporting their progress and being a listening ear for anyone wanting to talk more generally.
We know that everyone is coping with the lockdown differently and much is dependent on personal circumstances.
For our international graduates, the lockdown has meant they have been in isolation here in Wales, away from their families, some of them alone.
They’ve shown incredible resilience during this time and have kindly shared their experiences of the last 2 months and how they’ve looked after their mental health during this time.
Nikolas is from Cyprus and is currently on placement at Propel Finance as a BI & Analytics Graduate. He tells us:
“This year has been a rollercoaster ride so far. Numerous changes and decisions were to be made for short-term and long-term plans, both from a career perspective as well as at a personal level. There is no manual on how to get through a global pandemic.
“Luckily, I am not new to the area as I have been living in Cardiff for the past 4 years. If that were the case, I think it would have been much more difficult for me. However, it is still very hard to go through such unprecedented times away from my family and friends.
“The first couple of weeks were the most difficult. Adapting to a new work environment and generally a whole new lifestyle without the physical presence and support of my relatives. Different countries are dealing with the situation in a different way. Therefore, reading the daily news from both the Cypriot press as well as the British press only made the situation more stressful for me.
“Thankfully, technology means that we can communicate with their loved ones with just a click and this has meant I haven’t really felt alone. The programme has been very supportive throughout this process, which only made it clearer to me that, no matter what, it is essential to keep sane and in the right mindset. Work and studies are keeping me busy during the day, while afternoon runs help me to destress.
“The truth is, panicking was never really an option for me. I have certainly been more stressed, particularly during the first couple of weeks however, I have managed to pull it together and make the right decisions. It is a fact that everyone reacts to difficult and unexpected situations in different ways. However, I have realised over the past years that, it is okay not to feel okay for a short period of time, we all have our ups and downs. The important thing is to figure out a way to help you keep in the right mind.
“For me, the solution to this is going for a run; for someone else it might be listening to music or reading a book. We all need to identify what that is for us, and once we do, I am positive that everything will feel easier. In fact, the only thing I am now worried about, is that I am getting used to this new lifestyle, and it would be a challenge when we are asked to get back to ‘normality’!”
Erika is from Italy and has been on placement at the Principality in their Commercial Lending team throughout the lockdown. She explains:
“I am currently on the Welsh Financial Services Graduate Programme, working full-time and completing a part-time MSc. Being an international graduate comes with its benefits, as well as its difficulties, which are most prominent during this turbulent time.
“In order to reduce the impact of home sickness, I find it important to occupy my free time more productively by doing things I enjoy, to make sure each day has some kind of variety. I have picked up some new hobbies and routines, such as starting to learn how to play the ukulele, learning Portuguese, reading a few books and getting into running.
“I believe it is important to exercise during these times. I have found that it helps to relieve daily stresses and feel better. The other activities also allow me to stay relaxed, learn new skills and make small improvements to myself. I also find it helpful to keep in daily contact with family and friends, through video calls and messages, and even though we are far away it makes me feel as if we are closer together. I look forward to the day that we are all able to meet in person.”
Hana is working in the Finance Treasury at Optimum Credit but calls the Czech Republic home. She says:
“The beginning of lockdown was the most difficult time for me as I had booked flights to go back home and see my family, something I was really looking forward to. It was really hard for me to stay motivated during these times as I felt disappointed and quite often unproductive.
“During these particularly hard times, it is so important to speak to other people, especially to those who may be in a similar situation. So, as well as maintaining regular contact with my family and friends, I have been in touch with other international graduates.
“It put me at ease when I found out they all feel the same. It was very helpful to have someone to share my feelings with and it really helped knowing that I’m not alone in how I feel, and that feeling down and having a bad day is a normal part of life
“Something that also helped me through these difficult times was to keep myself busy. I’d set myself daily timetables and to-do lists and stick to it. I soon saw the lockdown as a perfect opportunity for my personal development. I was reading books, focusing on self-reflection and doing online courses whilst also keeping my daily exercise routine.
Mental wellbeing most definitely goes hand in hand with physical health.
“My advice to anyone reading this, particularly if they’re an international student would be to remember, whatever situation you’re in, it’s only temporary. If you are feeling down or homesick, these feelings are also only temporary, and they will pass. You are not alone going through these experiences.”
We’d like to say a huge thank you to our Nikolas, Hana and Erika for being so honest in sharing their experiences. One great piece of advice that stood out in all three accounts is to talk and stay connected with friends and family. We’d encourage anyone reading this to do the same and to seek help if you’re struggling with your mental health.