Starting university is a nervewracking – but exciting – time. This year, Welcome Week – the orientation period before the official start of term – will be taking place online, which brings its own benefits and challenges.
The university’s Student Advice and Wellbeing service is committed to making sure every student’s time at SOAS is success, and offer support when it comes to mental health, finance, housing and disability support.
We asked the Student Advice and Wellbeing team about how new students can make sure their first weeks at SOAS are happy and healthy.
How will Student Advice and Wellbeing be helping new students this year?
All students are welcome to get in touch throughout the year for information on the services we offer in Student Advice and Wellbeing – our services are: finance, accommodation and immigration advice, multi-faith advice, support for students with Disabilities and Neurodiverse conditions (including mental health conditions, Autism Spectrum Conditions and Specific Learning Differences like dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD), and emotional wellbeing and mental health support. We also link with specialist services for students who have experienced gender-based and sexual violence.
Our service also includes the Chaplaincy, which has chaplains from several faiths providing support to students of any faith (or no faith). Our Multi-faith advisor Claudette will be doing a short weekly vlog beginning the week of 28th Sept, so that staff and students can hear the inclusive ethos we stand for as well as highlighting the presence and services of the Chaplaincy.
Student Advice and Wellbeing is continuing to offer all our services online in Term 1, with most appointments running via phone or video chat, and some of our team can be reached by phone as a first point of contact. Any changes to how we run our service, along with information on resources, events and news, will be announced in our weekly all-student newsletter which we send out on a Friday.
How will Covid affect student’s wellbeing and are you doing anything to tackle that?
We know this year has been an extremely difficult time for a lot of people in the SOAS community, and it might be quite a different university experience to what new students were expecting! We would really encourage new students to make the most of everything the Students’ Union has to offer this year, and consider joining some online societies and groups; if you’re living near campus, there are lots of things to do in central London as well, like visit the British Museum which is less than 5 minutes from SOAS.
Covid and the lockdown will have affected people differently – so we won’t assume what students may need in the coming months – but will be working with each student as an individual and offering tailored support and advice to their needs. We at Student Advice and Wellbeing will be closely monitoring the need for different aspects of our service as students arrive and work flexibly to best meet demand where we can.
We are also mindful that some students may experience unexpected barriers to remote learning, due to financial constraints and digital poverty, or due to their disability. We have a number of laptops to loan, and also the hardship fund that students can apply for to have a laptop awarded to them, and financial support for internet costs. We encourage students to get in touch early if finances are causing problems to access your learning. We also will work individually with students with Disabilities & Neurodiverse conditions to ensure you have the correct adjustments in place for remote learning, again it’s best get in touch early with us to start this conversation.
Our Chaplaincy team will also be offering lots of opportunities for students to come together to develop community, via initiatives such as the Faith Factor, and online groups open to students of any faith (or no faith). Claudette will be hosting ‘Decorating the Spirit’ online events, which are spiritual empowerment andwellbeing events which will cover a range of topics.These will all be announced in our weekly newsletter.
Do you have any advice for students who will have to quarantine?
There are lots of resources available online and in our weekly newsletters which might be helpful, including lists of activities you could try on- and offline, and ways to maintain your emotional wellbeing. The admissions team are offering Quarantine Connectors – a student ambassador that will stay in touch with you whilst you are in quarantine, and offer advice and support.
We also encourage any students who are coming from overseas to ensure you have a bank card that can be used for online purchases whilst you are in quarantine, and to also make sure you have enough medication with you for any ongoing health or mental health conditions whilst you are waiting to register with a GP. The closest GP to SOAS is Gower Street Practice, or you can find one near your accommodation by entering your postcode on this page.
Will you be involved in Welcome Week?
We will be running a few live sessions such as Flourish@SOAS – this event is for the spiritually-minded, so it’s very broad and inclusive. The chaplains will really be introducing themselves and the work of the Chaplaincy, and then having a broad discussion about faith – (what it is and how the lockdown has impacted their sense of faith). These sessions will also be recorded for any students who miss the live sessions. We are also registering students with Disabilities & Neurodiverse conditions for reasonable adjustments and support, continuing to see returning students for emotional support and practical advice, and working alongside our accommodation partners to make sure that students have a smooth arrival. Although we will be online, we are very much ‘open for business’, and look forward to getting to know the new students, and welcoming any returning students who need our support.
Any words of wisdom for our new students starting this September?
First of all, welcome to SOAS! This is a strange time for the whole SOAS community, with lots of big changes for everyone. Although this may be an unusual start to your studies, SOAS is an unusual place at the best of times. Studying at SOAS is a unique experience which may come with some special and rewarding opportunities – make the most of it!
Disclaimer: these photos were taken pre-Covid.