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Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what course you are studying?

My name is Cayla and I am an international student. I moved from South Africa to Chester in 2022. I’m studying a BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science degree here at the University of Chester. Biomedical science is a broad area within the fields of medicine and healthcare. It is a field of study primarily involved in performing laboratory tests to develop treatments for diseases. I’m absolutely loving being a part of Chester Medical School.

Why Chester?

Naturally, it is daunting to apply to a university without ever seeing it nor actually living there, but I knew that Chester would be the place for me before we even moved to England; there was such character about it that sat right with me. Chester is what I would call a ‘quaint city’. There is the hustle and bustle that comes with a city, but Chester is also rich in history. And you do not have to go far at all to escape the crowds. Being someone who doesn’t like crowds, I was overjoyed to learn that I would spend the next three years here. As for the University itself, when I first went through the course outline for Biomedical Science I fell in love – everything I was interested in would be covered in my studies. Yes, most universities offer very similar courses, but the location was definitely the deciding factor. 

What are your top three highlights from your first year?

This question is really hard, mainly because there are so many amazing things to choose from. Here are my top three:

1. Friends

I’ve made so many friends and met so many new people during my first year. In just a few months, I have made such amazing friendships. It is so easy to make friends at Chester, especially when you share modules. It makes the journey so much better and there is a comfort in having people by your side. Often, the best feeling was walking into a lecture and seeing the familiar faces of my amazing friends.

2. The Old College Laboratories

Don’t even get me started because I can ramble on for days about how much I love the lab. Every time you go in, you leave knowing something new, whether that be cell counting or producing recombinant DNA. I went into the lab on my first day knowing how to use a pipette but left the lab on my last day knowing how to purify proteins. I received so much support from lecturers and the lab technicians, so that definitely helped in the learning process. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I am at my happiest when I am wearing my lab coat!

3. Learning New Things

Over the course of my first year, I have learnt so much without even realising it. I was always excited to get to lectures, ready to learn something new (even if it really confused me). I learnt so much out of the lecture room too. Towards the end of the first year, I found my passion in molecular oncology. I started my own private research project looking into tumour suppressors and their modes of function. Not only did this give me something to do, but it also expanded my knowledge tenfold. It was an outcome I did not expect from the first year of my course.

What has surprised you most about the University of Chester?

At school, I was always told that lecturers were the scariest people around. We were told that they wouldn’t care about their students. From my very first day at the University of Chester, I could tell that that was not the case; the lecturers are some of the most approachable people I have ever met. You can joke around with them after a lecture, and some even make the lectures fun by having Kahoot! quizzes and by cracking jokes about amino acids to help us remember things. They genuinely care about you and would not hesitate to help. Yes, most of them have PhDs, but that is nothing to be afraid of.

Are there any interesting or funny experiences you’d like to share from your first year?

There are too many to count. One that stands out is when a lecturer threatened to remove the ears of a chocolate bunny (which I won) after I had incorrectly answered a question. I had never laughed so hard during a Teams meeting before.

What support did you receive to help you settle in?

Before we even moved to England, I received a lot of support from the University; I attended Q&A sessions hosted by its International Centre. These sessions were fantastic opportunities to ask questions about anything, ranging from visas to student life. Learning about what to expect prior to arriving made everything so much easier. Plus, UniBuddy is such an amazing tool; I managed to talk to someone in their 3rd year of the Biomedical Science degree and I asked them so many questions about lectures and how things worked. Having someone to talk to who has gone through the same journey as the one on which you are about to embark makes things so much easier when you start – even if it is asking about building locations.

How easy was it to make friends?

Very easy. I had already made friends with another international student prior to starting Year 1. We both felt that it was us against the world. However, once we started our orientation day, we had already met a few other people – all of whom are our friends now. I also met one of my closest friends during our Personal Academic Tutor (PAT) meeting. If you open yourself up to the idea of making friends, it is very easy. I am not a very sociable person, yet I managed to establish a solid friendship group within a month.

Did you feel part of an international community?

Very much so. In all my lectures, there are so many people from different countries and backgrounds; you feel surrounded by culture. And the University holds events to celebrate these different cultures and countries.

Have you joined any societies or participated in extracurricular activities?

I joined two societies: Chester Roleplay and Gaming Society (CRAGS), and the Hedgehog Friendly Campus. Both are extremely fun – they’re good ways to make friends and spend some free time. Towards the end of the academic year, I found that I could not attend as many sessions as I wanted to as my schedule was quite busy with coursework.

What are you looking forward to next year?

Next year, I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge, both within and outside of lectures. Truthfully, I can’t wait to get back into the lab. In terms of my course, I am most looking forward to one of our modules: Molecular Genetics and Genomics. I have been waiting for this module since I applied for the course! My friends will think that I am a nerd for saying this, but I am excited to be one year closer to my dissertation project.

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