Bethan Owen talks about how she built confidence at university after finding it terrifying, and how she dealt with someone who used the 'Did you forget your name?' line.
When I first started university I was, quite frankly, terrified. All the normal fears, obviously – not knowing anyone, new place, starting a degree, but I also had my stammer to cope with, a whole extra hurdle. I was most worried about meeting new people. The idea of lectures and seminars didn’t bother me too much – I could always just not speak up, but I couldn’t go through three years without meeting new people and having to introduce myself.
I’d been talking to my new flatmates over Facebook before we met, which helped, and is definitely something I’d recommend doing, if possible – each halls of residence had a Facebook group set up, and when we were assigned flats, everyone posted which flat they were living in. I didn’t mention my stammer, but talking to them beforehand meant they had a vague idea of what I was like as a person without judging me on my speech. This was also the case with a couple of people on my course, one of whom is still one of my best friends to this day.
I went from barely speaking up in lectures in my first year, to being one of the people who spoke the most by the third.
I don’t let my speech define me, but I am also well aware it’s one of the first things people notice when they meet me, and so having these people who knew me a little before they heard me speak helped a lot.
I never went to the university disability team about my stammer. This wasn’t a conscious decision I made, more that I never felt the need to go. My lecturers were sympathetic without being patronising, and only one of the presentations I did over the three years was graded, a grand total of 5 or 10% of one module. I went from barely speaking up in lectures in my first year, to being one of the people who spoke the most by the third. My stammer didn’t go away or get better – if anything, it actually got worse over the three years, but the confidence the university experience gave me has been invaluable.
Once I finished my undergraduate degree I knew I didn’t want to be done with university, but I knew I wanted a break. So, a year of working in customer service – which came with its own challenges! – and I was ready to start an MA degree in Medieval History.
Starting my MA was a different experience to my undergraduate degree. I knew one of my housemates, as she’d done the same undergraduate course as me, and I knew how the whole university system worked, albeit at a different institution.
There were still anxieties, however. I’d met some members of my course at an applicant’s day some months before, but it was a much smaller group than at undergrad - 14, compared to over 100 - and I had nowhere to hide in seminars. The confidence I gained in my undergraduate degree helped a great deal, and I had no issues with speaking my mind in seminars. Actually knowing what I was talking about was another matter entirely!
One course-mate made the deeply unfunny ‘did you forget your name’ joke when I first met him. He soon apologised.
As with my undergrad degree, I didn’t feel the need to go to the disability team. This was partly due to, again, not having any graded presentations, and partly because I’d reached the point I’m at today, where I don’t believe my speech should be an issue. Again, my lecturers were sympathetic but not patronising, and they never spoke over or around me. My course-mates were the same, although one did make the deeply unfunny ‘did you forget your name’ joke when I first met him. He soon apologised when I explained, however, and didn’t make any such jokes again – and I’d like to think he wouldn’t make such comments with anyone he meets with a stammer either.
Starting university was one of the best things I have ever done. It gave me the confidence in myself to go forward to complete an MA, and I may do another one in the future – a PhD is not in the stars for me though!
For support at uni, visit our In Education section and visit the Stammerers Through University Consultancy (STUC) website.
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