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​In collaboration with our students and the Division: Student Affairs, we have embarked on a project to tell some of the stories of SU students and their challenges with trauma, and mental and psychological health. Below, students convey their experiences in their own words, in the hope of helping others.
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I am from a small town in the Eastern Cape. I completed my undergraduate degree at the university back home and am proud to now be doing my postgraduate degree at SU, one of the world’s top-ranking universities. At the beginning of the year everything was new to me here… new experiences, new people. Everything was fine until I failed an exam. I've never failed before. It felt like my world was coming to an end… it felt like I'm nothing but a failure. I was so disappointed and felt that I'm not good enough. Also, I didn't have anyone to talk to. It was so overwhelming – there were negative voices running in my mind telling me I'll never make it. Until one day when I decided to seek help. And through talking to someone and also reading my Bible and praying, I started to deal with the failure. These things helped me to bounce back and gain strength again. I've learnt that failing is not the end of the world but a learning experience. Do not allow one or two failures to define you. Failure is part of life and is an opportunity for growth. If you fear failure constantly, you might miss out on opportunities for learning and developing. My route to success was through failure.

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After years of trying to find a job, I took the decision to go back to school. However, that did not come without costs to me. I had to write my NBT admissions test on an empty stomach, as there was no food at my place. I only had taxi fare for going to the assessment centre and had to walk all the way home after. When the time came to go to Stellenbosch as a first year, I faced further challenges. I had no bus fare money nor did my mother. Nevertheless, I was not going to let that discourage me to go to university. I decided to hitchhike without even a cent to buy myself food on the road. I managed to arrive at university after three days on the road without having had something to eat. In my first year I especially struggled. Eventually I had a conversation with a psychologist at the CSCD. This helped me so much. I could start speaking about problems that I have never spoken to anyone about. I realised that I am not alone and that there are many students who struggle financially at Stellenbosch. I think what helped me was asking for help and getting support. I saw that when I reached out for help, people were willing to assist. Next year will be my final year. ​​

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Not Giving Up_rs.png I grew up w​ith domestic violence and financial abuse in our home. Coming to university, it was incredibly hard to be on campus while knowing that the violence and abuse back home was continuing. I feared for the safety and wellbeing of my siblings and these worries occupied my mind constantly. It distracted me, making it difficult to cope and to focus. My only real focus was to try and figure out how I could help with the situation back home. I felt so guilty because it felt that by to being away, I was escaping the difficult situation at home, but my siblings still had to deal with it. The reality was that I could not change the situation back home. But I felt like I was betraying them. A few years down the line, I had failed multiple times. I had to apply for re-admission. At this point I seriously thought of dropping out of my course. I had lost sight of my dreams…

A turning point was when I started speaking about my challenges in therapy. I came to see my situation in a new way and acknowledged what was really going on. I realised that I felt trapped in a cycle of worrying and this was not helping the situation. I concluded that the situation back home was ruining my life. This was not what I wanted. Eventually I asked myself what I could do about the way things were. I had to accept that I could not change the situation back home, it was not in my hands. What I could control is my reaction to the challenges in my life. I started opening up to friends bit-by-bit. Before I had felt that I should deal with it all on my own and hide it from my friends, so speaking to them was hard. But opening up helped to get rid of an added unnecessary burden and to my surprise my friends wanted to support me and appreciated that I shared my struggles with them. I started asking myself, “What do I want for my life and my future?” and I took small steps in terms of this. Eventually this approach became my strength. An important realisation was that by committing to my studies and my future, I can be a part of the solution for my siblings in the future. As I started taking control back of my life, I started remembering my dreams again. My passion for my studies came back and I remembered what I was working toward in my academics. Another dream I reconnected with was to become involved with a charity organisation, as this has always been close to my heart. This helped me to feel like I could really make a difference. I also have always wanted to start my own small business for an income. By taking one step at a time I got this up and running and recently I even started investing money with my profits, which I would never have imagined at the beginning of this year! It’s been a hard process and when difficult things happen at home, it still affects me as I try to support my siblings. It helps me, though, to remember that I am standing up against the effects of the abuse and issues at home in my life by reclaiming my life.