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Three lessons on juggling work and studies

A story about bad grades, a few hours of sleep and a lot of determination

By Nikos Papanikolaou

Starting your first year at university can be overwhelming. New places, new people, extra responsibilities, and deadlines can all make you feel stressed out and nervous. When I started my first year, I was juggling my studies, my work and desire to continue having a personal life. And trust me on this, it wasn’t always easy. 

I know firsthand that many of you need to work while you’re studying. And let me start by saying that you’re amazing for doing this. I’ve been there, I know the struggle, I know how you feel. 

Along with my studies, I used to work at a morning job. I was a barista. That means that I had to wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning to be at work at 5. Then, I had to work for five hours and then run in the staff room to change, drink some sips of coffee on my way to uni, and then go to my classes for another four hours. That was every weekday of my life for the past two years. 

There have been times where I thought I couldn’t make it, times where I hated my job, times where I was just exhausted. And I know that there will be times you will be feeling the same. Especially during the pandemic, I know that it can be more stressful to be out there and potentially getting exposed. 

I still remember at the beginning of this pandemic – before the lockdown – I was furious because I had to work without a mask, exchanging money, in a shop packed with people. It was one of the most stressful times of my life. I wanted to share my experience with you because this experience has taught me some useful lessons, which I hope will make your working – studying life balance easier. 

The most important thing is yourself. It’s as simple as that. If you’re pushing yourself too hard, eventually you’ll get sick (as I did). It would be best if you kept yourself healthy, rested, and happy. Try to get enough sleep when you can, try to eat healthily and not to skip meals, drink a lot of water, spend some quality time with friends and family (and please keep all the safety measures while you’re doing it), and listen to your body. The most important lesson for me was to learn how to hear my body. Every time I ignored it, it backfired. Don’t make the same mistake. 

Prioritise. Again, you work, and you study at the same time. Studying at university is not easy, I can tell you that. What helped me during my studies was that university was my top priority. So I tried to keep my focus there. In my first year, I thought my very first assignment would be easy and that I would be really good at it without trying hard. So, I tried to write an essay in an hour. The result was to get the worst grade I ever got. And I fully deserved it (thank you, Victoria). I was upset; I was furious. Not towards my tutor, but myself. That was my wake-up call to start prioritising things. My studies became my top priority, and I never regret that. 

Get some personal time. One way or another, you’ll get two days off per week. Either it’s at the weekend or not; in any case, make those days count. Take off your mind off the work and your studies. Binge-watch a series, watch a movie, read a book, exercise, go for a walk, play video games. Do whatever fills you. It’s essential to have some you-time. It will help you mentally, and it will give you the boost you need for the rest of the week. Remember that even though the university and your work are top priorities, you can’t make it till the end unless you have some time to do things you enjoy. These days saved me. 

Hopefully, the three lessons I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way), will help you while you’re studying and working at the same time. Maybe some things will not work for you, but you’ll get the balance you need, I’m sure. At the end of the day, the thing that matters most is to have good students  – who are also happy and positive. 

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