Rafael Bagott, who is in his second year at university, talks to Teen Focus about what it’s like to take the plunge into higher education…
“I remember applying for university, confident, knowing that I would definitely get in because I worked hard, and now it’s amazing fun! But I had to address the elephant in the room at some point…”
Hi, my name’s Rafael, I’m 19 and I’m studying marine biology at the University of Plymouth. I was in year 13 and psyched about university, we all were but especially me, just the idea of it got me super excited. I wanted to move out, I really wanted to move out!
Not because I don’t like staying at home but because I just wanted to prove to everyone that I am capable of looking after myself and being as independent as I claimed to be.
I knew I’d got into where I wanted, mainly because I tried really hard and was revising nearly every single night, eight months before the exams.
Now I’m here and it has definitely lived up to its expectations – there are so many things to do, every night going out and meeting a vast number of unique people.
Support for new students
I love it here especially because the support they have for new students is just incredible, there lots of different extra curricular activities and the other students are really helpful. We really got to know each other in these last couple of weeks, so we know each others’ strengths and weaknesses. For example I’m the only one in the dorm that can cook decent food, so occasionally I will rustle something up and when I need their expertise they will be there to help me.
I never did want help because in my mind I could do it all myself. Even though things weren’t going to plan I didn’t tell anybody about my Rb. I felt like if I did, they would want to help and I would inevitably become a burden on everyone. Honestly, I’m extremely independent, that’s why a lot of people didn’t notice, but I was still making mistakes because of my eyesight and because they didn’t know, I was looking like an idiot.
So I decided to do what I thought I wouldn’t do… I decided to tell them about my Rb, and that’s probably the best thing I did all year. Telling the people you’ll be seeing a lot is really helpful, because they will help you!
And eventually everyone has to get over the fact that they’re not a burden. If you’ve made it to university, you deserve to be there. I knew I didn’t need a lot special assistance. I just needed a hand (which most of the time had nothing to with my eyesight anyway) but I didn’t want to ask anyone because I felt like a burden. However, most the time they need your hand as well.
Explaining about Rb
People will be interested and curious so just explain. Something that I’ve realised is that a lot more people understand and people are open minded. It’s not like primary school where people are asking “can I hold your eye!”
It might seem embarrassing, but it’s not like I’m telling everyone I meet, as there usually isn’t a need. But sometimes there is and you really need to step up to the bar and let them know who you really are and why you’re telling them.
You can get great perks because of it, but it isn’t easy. My advice: make sure you sort out your DSA [Disabled Students’ Allowance] before you go! They are extremely irritating to deal with but can offer you amazing stuff, from laptops to magnifiers, nearly anything you need.
Most importantly, if you’re not getting help just ASK! They won’t hand over anything. Know what you’re entitled to and fight for it. The best person to speak to is the local assessor: they are amazing. CHECT put me in contact with Tony (my LA) and he’s told me everything I’m entitled to and how to get it. They will support you through the whole process.
I’ve got a desk magnifier and I’ve been trying to get a Mac for over a year now. Note taking is really difficult: all the lecturers speak really fast and put things up on the PowerPoint that I can’t even see. I tried to use a note taker but they didn’t take detailed notes the way I understand them, so I had to think of another way to make it work. With a lot of help from CHECT and the local assessor, we managed to get the university to print off the PowerPoints and let me record all my lectures.
I wasn’t a confident person but I had to be – I’ve had to be ready to give new things a try, to make judgements on what I need and understand that anything that I needed, I could get.
Always someone there
The beautiful thing about university is that there is someone there for you. You don’t need to worry about how you will cope, because there are people who can sort that out for you. University is exciting and no-one should be put off it because they’re worried they would not be able to manage.
Since I’ve been here, I’ve become a person who has no idea what they’re doing, but knows that they can deal with – throwing myself into things like mountain boarding and boxing proves that I can be exactly the same as everyone else and better!