MSc Clinical Health PsychologySamantha Smith, South Africa

Tell us a little bit about your background...
I am an international student from South Africa and have always dreamed of studying overseas. I am South African born and have lived in Cape Town my whole life. I live on the West Coast right next to the sea, surrounded by the indigenous and amazing fynbos, meaning “fine-bush”. My house is situated directly opposite Table Mountain and every day I would wake up and be privileged enough to see its mighty beauty. I received a scholarship to do a Master of Science (MSc) in Clinical Health Psychology at the University of Strathclyde on the dateof September 2021. I received the Deans international Excellence Award for outstanding academics for my honours year which I completed in Cape Town, my home city in South African at SACAP (South African College of Applied Psychology). I did a Honours Bachelor of Social Science in Applied Psychology in 2019. I completed my undergraduate degree straight after school, majoring in Psychology and English.

What inspired you to study your subject?
After a terrible year in matric, I managed to get in to do a Bachelor of Arts which I did not think would get me to where I am now. I began to suffer with mental illness in 2016 and went to seek professional help. My time in therapy is the main driver for the passion that has grown within my heart for psychology and for mental health. Therapy changed my life; my psychologist was amazing, and I got to see the benefits of the therapeutic relationship first-hand. I have always been naturally empathetic and a good listener, so these skills have set me up to be successful in this field. As my thirst to learn more about psychology grew, I got into volunteer and community work. This has humbled me immensely and given me such joy, experience, and a sense of usefulness. Since I did not have the qualifications to help people the way I wanted to, I decided to help in the only way I knew how. I now have over 400 hours of community service working with underprivileged people in townships and rural areas, animal shelters, children and adults, hospitals and schools, and a spectrum of issues (learning disabilities to alcoholism, anxiety/depression, eating disorders and autism/down syndrome).

Why did you continue studying for your Masters at the University of Strathclyde?
I have always harbored a secret admiration for Scotland, so when I got in at Strathclyde to do my Masters, it was honestly the happiest day of my life. I also recently found out I have ancient and deceased relatives who were born in Scotland! When the acceptance letter popped up in my email, I knew this was the beginning of my journey as a psychologist. Strathclyde took a chance on me and it has been an incredible experience travelling to Glasgow as an international student. Strathclyde’s staff has been so welcoming despite my accent and differences. I was quite intimidated coming from an African country with so many problems, to such a prestigious university in a country that is both extremely old and sophisticated. The University of Strathclyde stood out to me in that I believed it could offer me everything I needed to pursue my career in clinical psychology.

How have you found studying online, in the current situation?
It has been extremely interesting studying online with people from a different country during a pandemic. I always get so nervous before a zoom meeting! The highlight of 2020 was meeting my supervisors, they are so encouraging and understanding, they have been checking in with me and making sure I am on the right track. My peers and colleagues have also been friendly and trying to include me in group chats and zoom meetings. I am looking forward to my return to Scotland, so that I can meet some of my peers and lecturers in person. These unfortunate times we are faced with, a pandemic and trying to complete a degree as an international student has been especially difficult and stressful. I could not have done this without the amazing support of Strathclyde and its staff. I am enjoying studying online and Clinical Health Psychology has been extremely interesting. I love that it seamlessly combines health and psychology in a holistic approach that is both obvious and completely new. I never thought that psychology and psychical health equally plays such a role in a person’s general wellbeing.

What specialist knowledge and professional skills have you developed whilst studying the course?
This degree has given me skills in professional practice that I have not been able to develop before and has expanded my knowledge greatly on research methods. It has also given me the courage to pursue my passion while testing me in every way as an intellectual and a human being.

What would be your advice for people considering taking this course?
My advice for prospective students would be to join the Strathclyde family as soon as possible! The MSc in Clinical Health Psychology degree is for those seeking to follow their passion in clinical, neuro and health psychology. Studying a postgraduate degree is a way to further your knowledge and skills.

What have been the main challenges studying at postgraduate level?
The main challenges for studying at a postgraduate level is being able to take risks to achieve your goals and to believe in your abilities even if you have doubts. Nothing in life that is worth the fight comes easy. It is important to be able to balance your study life with your personal life, as both are essential supporters of one another.

How has your scholarship supported your studies?
Getting a scholarship has made such a difference to studying internationally. It is extremely expensive, especially when your home currency is 20 times less valuable! I feel incredibly blessed to have received my scholarship as it has eased the burden of both my loan and my stress. It has enabled me to have money to spend on food and exploring Scotland, being able to get on the plane and have a roof over my head during my studies. I would have struggled without financial support.

What do you think of the support available?
The further support I have received from my supervisors and professional services at Strathclyde has been immensely helpful and reassuring to make this entire process more comfortable. Strathclyde and its staff are efficient which makes everything from the application process, to studying, to lecture interactions - smooth and stress-free.

What are your ambitions for the future?
My ambitions for the future are to do my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and work within the NHS or the private setting to make a difference for as many individuals as possible suffering with mental illness. I wish to settle in Scotland and build a future for myself within this beautiful country, and to give back what Strathclyde has allowed me to gain.