My journey as an adult international student in the UK: PhD student

A student at an event

By Tomasz Matuszny

I started my journey with Wrexham University in 2015 at the age of 25 and completed both my BA and MA in Criminology and Criminal Justice. At the moment, I am halfway through my doctoral studies and have had my 18-month review for the MPhil/PhD transfer. I had a one-year gap between my MA and PhD courses, so I took a break from university. However, I have worked on my proposal to be accepted to the university and I spent time getting experience through voluntary work at Youth Justice Service and PACT, where I mentor ex-offenders.

I come from a large working-class family (5 siblings); none of my brothers and sisters went to university. I graduated from economic high school in 2010 in Poland and moved to the UK the same year. I was not in education until 2014, when I returned to college as an adult student and completed the Access Course to Higher Education in Social Sciences. Throughout my journey at Wrexham University, I have completed all the ESL (English Second Language) courses ranging from B1 (intermediate) to C2 (proficiency), which is suitable for students who wish to study at the PhD level. 

My original thesis was positivist qualitative research on measuring how a second language can affect resilience. This changed however, during my PhD course and I am currently aiming to conduct a qualitative post-positivist project that will explore internationals’ experiences of the criminal justice system in the UK. I have completed the Post Graduate Research (PGR) training that was on offer for students and have learned many new skills and improved my competencies. This includes communication skills such as delivering presentations, networking, doing research, publishing and many more skills. It is at this level of study that I become methodological in my thinking. I enjoyed lectures on my BA and MA and even more so on the PGR training. I have had the opportunity to meet other students and learn from them, and some have become my friends.

Criminology books

During my PhD study, I joined the TrACE student sub-group as an Academic Development Team Associate, where among the students and staff, we are working to make Wrexham Glyndwr University the first trauma informed institution in the UK. As part of my role, I had a stall at one of the events and talked to the students about what we do. I have also attended workshops and trauma and Adverse Childhood Experience’s (ACE’s) and I aim to help deliver one of these in the future.

Since September 2022, I have started learning Welsh at Wrexham University and attending additional sessions outside the university, such as Welsh Club in Saith Seren Pub and Session Siarad in Ramada hotel in Wrexham. This is a great opportunity to learn more about Welsh culture and get to know people. It has been 13 years since I moved to Wales, and I have a desire to learn the language of the country I am living in. PhD students are advised to keep learning new things, I go to Thai boxing classes, I have joined a knitting group recently and I hope to learn to play an instrument in the future!

I believe one of the keys to success in my journey was picking up a subject that interested me most and that I have passion for. I am a people person and enjoy working with people who come into contact with the Criminal Justice System. During my journey at Wrexham University, I have attended many events and guest lectures organised by the criminology society.

I have received a great deal of support from the university, this is one of the best universities in the UK for social inclusion. This help has included language courses to help me adapt to studying in English and having personal tutors who have guided me through my research projects and provided motivation. I believe that in other universities I would not receive this amount of support needed for an adult international student. 

I have encountered challenges during my PhD studies, such as medical conditions; however I have received a great deal of support from my supervisors and mentor, who help me with motivation and guidance on how to keep going with my studies and do the work needed. I had to balance work and study, and although I am doing a full time PhD, I am still engaged in my paid job at the psychiatric hospital. I had to learn to prioritise; at the time of university deadlines, I have to focus on studying, and at other times I need to focus more on employment to pay my bills. Balance is something I have learned along the way, but it is always helpful to listen to the students who are further along in their studies. 

In the future, I would like to work at Wrexham University as a lecturer or researcher, as I have enjoyed my time here!