Laureen Gilmour
Langside College - Access to Humanities
University of Strathclyde - History & Education
Hello! My name is Laureen. I grew up in a village on the outskirts of Glasgow with my two brothers. My dad died when I was extremely young, leaving my mum to raise us on her own. While we were younger she worked as a dinner lady in the schools to allow her to see us off to school and be there for us when we got home. She has also worked as a cleaner, a care assistant in a retirement home, shop assistant, and before she retired she worked in a chicken factory.

For all I was not very “academic”, I actually enjoyed going to school. I enjoyed some subjects, like history, art and English, but struggled with others. I was diagnosed as dyslexic when I was in 2nd year at high school, which was both a blessing and a curse. From then on I was put in what was then called the foundation classes. Even though I found the work easy and was top of the class, I was consistently told I could not cope in the “real” classes.

None of my family had ever gone to college or uni, and only a few of my friends did. I dreamed of becoming a history teacher but I thought I would never achieve that as I was too stupid. Also, I was told by a teacher in high school that it was highly unlikely that would happen. Instead of being encouraged, I was advised that maybe I would be better suited to “shop work”. I did discuss going to college with my mum and she was extremely supportive and wanted me to do it but, because I was dissuaded at school, I never felt I had the ability. Instead I worked various sales jobs before I got married at a ridiculously young age and had my children.

Over the years I have worked in sales, call centres and monitoring centres as an emergency dispatcher. It was working in call centres that made me think I could maybe go back to education. I quickly moved from being an operator to team leader. I had natural leading abilities and, despite what I thought about myself, I was calm under pressure and could handle the most difficult of customers.

When my youngest son was three he had a serious and potentially life threatening accident. We were told he was not going to survive and it was a matter of when (not if) he would die. He survived, but the accident has been life changing for all of us. He spent four months in hospital under many different departments.  Although I often thought of returning to education, it took more than ten years before I was able to do it, due to my son’s ongoing surgeries. We also immigrated to Canada for a few years during this period.

I found the SWAP programme extremely challenging. Despite everything I have said I am not a naturally confident person. I don't see in myself what others see. I still tend to think I am not smart enough and I am always surprised when I pass an exam or get a good grade on an essay. Therefore, in returning to education, I needed emotional support. I was terrified my first month at college. I was still very unsure of myself. I imagined that my classmates were all finding the course easy. I kept to myself for a long time and only really made friends in the last few months. However, by the time I left college, I knew that all my doubts were of my own making and that I had nothing to worry about.

Some members of my family just ignored the fact I was in college - and they still don't acknowledge that I am in university. They won't be getting an invite to my graduation! I actually think they thought I would (and will still) fail. However, my daughters were really supportive of my going back into education. They thought it was a great idea, as did their dad. I could not have done it without their support.

University is both harder and easier than you think it will be, if that makes any sense. Personally I was surprised at how much I love it and need to be there. Not want. Need. As a SWAP student, I feel I was a little more prepared than the high school kids in terms of what was expected and the level of academic work that was required, but it still took me by surprise and there have been times when I have felt completely overwhelmed by it all. When you move on to university, be prepared to feel overwhelmed, but don’t let it get on top of you. The uni wants you to get your degree as much as you do. The help is there.

I am about to go in to my second year and I am as excited about going back to uni as I was about starting last year. My goal for this year is to make it into 3rd year and to enjoy myself again. My goals for uni are to make it to graduation and -- who knows? – maybe I will go on to do a masters. The sky is the limit. Just because we are “mature” students doesn't mean to say we have to stop at undergraduate degree level. We can go all the way to PhD if we want.

I no longer want to teach history but I do want to work in education. I would love to work in community education and with mature students. I feel that education is too rigid; it needs to be more fluid. Not everyone learns the same way.

If you are thinking of becoming a SWAP student, stop thinking and just do it!

NB: Laureen is a volunteer in the Scottish Student Mentoring Network.

2018 Update 

Laureen has graduated from the University of Strathclyde with a degree in History, and now plans to return to the University to complete a Masters in Education. Well done, Laureen! 
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