Confessions of a PhD Student (3): “Life has got in my way”

I used to watch Desperate Housewives and think: How can it be possible that so many misfortunes happen to these women? In every episode there is always some drama going on… But it makes sense. It is TV, not real life.

In April 2010 I came to Leicester, UK, to study my PhD. In the one year I have been here, everything seems to have happened. It began with the regular changes. I moved to England and had to adapt to its culture. I had to share my space with a non-family person, learn how to cook, pay electricity bills and generally take care of a house. I also had to get used to a different educational system, without classes. Make my own rules. Manage my own progress. Meet the expectations.

These changes can be stressful, but they are what international students can expect to go through. They are what I expected to go through.

I also dealt with the lack of a strong social support network. Knowing people does not imply having close friends. Finding someone I can really trust and have deep conversations with is not easy. At the end of my first semester, I was lucky enough to have found a couple of people I could really relate to. I had a group, small but great. They were not simple acquaintances; they were my friends. Most of them are now gone. They went back to their respective home countries. I am getting used to feeling lonely.

Then, war exploded in my country. While fortunately my friends and family have been safe so far, I cannot avoid feeling a bit anxious every time I hear about robberies, murders, shootings, kidnappings, extortions and other terrible things that are happening in my city.

During the summer 2010, I went back home for the holidays. I thought it would be a chance to relax and charge my batteries… and it was, kind of. I arrived just after a hurricane had hit my city. The destruction was impressive. We did not have water at my house for nine days. I had to help gathering rain water to cover basic needs. I loved seeing my friends and family, but I did not feel so rested when I returned to Leicester.

A couple of months later, my grandpa died. It is hard being away. Sometime afterwards my best friend’s mom died… so young. I still have a hard time believing it happened… That same day my grandma, who I love with all my heart, had an embolism… She is kind of ok now…

So, in just one year, I have had to deal with a new culture, loneliness, war, a natural disaster, two deaths and sickness. And I have not talked about my personal life yet! I have had emotionally exhausting flat issues and more than one love-related drama.

Now imagine going through all of this while trying to do a PhD.

I confess: Life has got in my way.

Sometimes it is hard to focus on my studies when so many other things are happening and calling for my attention. Read, write, analyze, interview, transcribe, code… Focus!

At some point, I could not take it anymore. I got sick. I think that was my body saying: Please, stop the stress.

I felt I was a damaged dam. Water was starting to leak. I had two options. I could stop everything, analyze the damage and fix it. Or, I could go on, keep putting pressure, and risk dealing with a potential disaster. So I stopped everything, took some time off and found a way to relax. Now life drama is out of my way, and my PhD is back on track.

My life was not so dramatic before. Or maybe it was, but being in a familiar context surrounded by loved ones, it did not seem that way. Considering all that has happened, maybe TV shows are not so unrealistic after all. I could have my own program, Desperate PhD Student…

– Brenda Padilla

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