Meet Alyssa at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom!
Name: Alyssa Walsh
Nationality: British / Indonesian
University: University of Southampton
Degree Title (Major/Minor): BA Marine Biology
Current Year of Study: Graduated
How did you choose your university destination and course of study?
Marine Biology was something I had wanted to study since I was young. Growing up and being around marine environments, it was definitely something I was always curious about. My parents would take me scuba diving every so often and every time I was underwater seeing all the different kinds of fish and coral species I was dying to learn more about them, so choosing a university course wasn’t hard at all!
When it came to choosing a university to study at, I wanted to be at a university equipped with the best research facilities and surrounded by a lively city. Luckily, the University of Southampton has just that. It is equipped with five different campuses spread across the city with one dedicated specifically to ocean sciences called the National Oceanography Centre of Southampton (NOCS). It’s also one of the biggest ocean research facilities in the UK/Europe!
What have been the highlights of your academic programme so far?
My three years at university have definitely been academically exciting. I’ve gotten the chance to study modules on topics like ocean biogeochemistry to coral reef ecology all led by scientists who are experts in their fields. A lot of our lectures would cover new research that they were doing at that time so we would be the first people to learn what they had uncovered. We were also given a lot of research based assignments and it was always quite funny to see my lecturers names on the articles I was reading for my assignments and citing them in my references.
I’d say my favourite part of my course was definitely all the lab practicals we had at NOCS. I remember in my first year we were learning about the life cycles of cnidarians (basically jellyfish) and we got to look at them under microscopes and touch live moon jellies in the lab too (luckily they don’t sting). We also had a week-long field course last summer where we went down to Plymouth and took samples of the nutrients at different parts of the coast and brought our samples back for testing in Southampton. We got to experience what it was like being marine biologists on huge research vessels in the open ocean. Apart from the sea sickness, it was a great experience!
What do you enjoy most about living in Southampton?
There’s always something to do here. Whether it be going out on a Friday night or going to the beach for the day, you rarely get bored. The city centre is also packed with different restaurants and parks to walk through which is where my friends and I typically spend most of our weekends. In terms of nightlife, Southampton has a lot to offer with different student nights on most days of the week so there’s always something to do. However, I can’t lie, the weather isn’t great here compared to Indonesia – but you win some, you lose some!
How supportive is your university to international students and, in particular, during the pandemic?
There’s loads of societies to join for international students. A lot of my international friends tend to join societies representing their country so that they can meet other students from their home country which really helps when you’re feeling a bit homesick. The university also has loads of support systems on offer, ranging from mental wellbeing, career advice and even therapists. During the pandemic, a lot of our lectures were held online either via live streams or video recordings. There was also extra support provided to anyone struggling with the course or just struggling mentally through lockdown – so I do feel they did a good job in ensuring students felt cared for during such weird times.
I have a few friends that had to go back to their home countries during lockdown and their lecturers were very understanding of that and ensured that all material would be put online so they wouldn’t be left behind. As Covid restrictions were slowly lifted, we moved into blended learning where some modules were in person and some were still online – this allowed us to get back into university life which was much needed after being in lockdown for almost six months!
What have been 3 of the main challenges you have faced during your time at university?
The biggest challenge for me was learning how to juggle all the responsibilities of living independently whilst maintaining a social life and staying on top of my studies! It’s definitely one of the best life skills you get out of university in my opinion, but it wasn’t easy remembering to do my laundry and wash my dishes while studying for my finals.
Initially, it was also a big struggle moving across the world to a different country without many friends there. However, the best advice I could give would be to talk to everyone and anyone! I’ve been lucky to have made a good group of close knit friends which really helps for when times get tough.
What activities are you involved in outside of your academic programme?
I started playing netball in my first year with a bunch of other girls from my course. It wasn’t competitive so it was mostly just playing a few matches and hanging out after which was fun. I’d say, especially in the UK, joining a sports society is the best option even if you’re not athletic like me! There’s always fun socials every week where you get given a theme and get to dress up with everyone and go out. Some night clubs also have special sports nights where every sports society has their social together and everyone’s dressed up in a different theme.
In my 2nd year, I also established a new society at my university called the Indonesian Society. My friends and I realised that a lot of countries had their own society except Indonesia so we created our own! We made lots of fun events like food nights, karaoke nights and even big nights out with other asian societies – it’s also another way to meet fun people. In my last year I also joined the university’s pool team (really random, I know) but it was great fun and I got to meet so many different people with different skill sets as well!
How easy is it to find accommodation? Can you describe your living arrangements?
For first year students, most tend to go for student halls where you get to meet lots of other first years. I stayed at Mayflower Halls in my first year which was right in the middle of the city centre. It was great because you could basically walk everywhere and was equipped with a gym and other common areas too. First year halls do get a bit noisy however, I remember being woken up one time because my flat mates decided to have a ‘flat olympics’ in our hallway where everyone was throwing tennis balls at each other. So I guess you could say if you have fun flatmates first year halls are never boring.
In my 2nd and 3rd year I ended up getting a shared house with the close friends I made from my 1st year which is what most people do as well. We decided to move away from the noisy city centre and stayed just behind our campus library. It was perfect because I could literally wake up 5 minutes before a lecture and still make it on time!
Do you think your university experience is preparing you well for the working world and do they offer support with finding jobs and internships?
I know every department at my university has a careers help centre which has helped me a lot especially during my final year. There’s lots of available advisors that can help us with CVs, job interviews, or even finding a career that suits you. With the pandemic going on as well, they’ve made it increasingly accessible to everyone as you’re able to book appointments online or in person depending on what suits you best.
Personally, I’ve found CV advisors a great help during my final year as I was always applying to jobs and wanted to make sure I could get a second opinion on my applications. They always give great advice on what keywords to use and how to structure your CV. At the NOCS campus, there’s always opportunities for internships or part time work that is marine related as well. A few of my friends have taken up work at NOCS where they would be laboratory assistants or aquarium technicians.
What opportunities have you had to travel and explore during weekends and vacations?
One of the best things about living in Southampton is that it’s really easy to get anywhere. I’ve had a few days out to New Forest, a massive wildlife park which is only a 20 minute drive away. Southampton also has lots of parks that are nice for picnics or watching the sunset in the Summer months. My friends and I usually go to the Common which is the biggest park here, and we like to spend the day out in the sun (when it’s warm enough) to sit around and chill. There’s also Riverside Park where you can walk along the Itchen River and feed the swans!
It’s also really easy to get to London as it’s only an hour and a half on the train so a day out in London is always nice for a change of scenery. In the summer, my friends and I also like going to Bournemouth which is about 15 minutes by train and we like to spend the day at the beach and swim. Southampton also has an airport so flying across the UK is really easy as well.
Recently, I’ve been able to have a few short trips to Europe for weekend getaways! The UK is also filled with lots of great festivals all over the country which are easy to get to on the trains. The past few years I’ve gotten to go to a few festivals in Manchester and Brighton even!
What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would offer an international student thinking of coming to Southampton and the UK to study?
Most important piece of advice I could give is to join societies! There’s literally loads of societies that cater to any interest you could possibly have. I’d definitely recommend joining a cultural society to meet people from your country as that definitely helps with homesickness! University is the best place to try new things whether it be hiking or surfing so definitely give everything a go! Final advice I’d give to someone coming to Southampton would definitely be to bring a pair of shoes you don’t care about – you’ll be grateful for them once you step onto the sticky floors of the student clubs.