If you're a studying a degree, you'll be all too familiar with how daunting and exciting student life can be. Someone who knows this first-hand is Lydia, a third-year Business Management student from the University of Leeds who is currently studying on a year abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark.
We interviewed Lydia to learn about her experience as an international student and YouTuber and the task of balancing work, studies and personal life while at university.
Here's our discussion:
Before we get started, can you tell our readers a bit about your studies and your work on social media?
Of course! I’m technically in my third year studying Business Management at the University of Leeds, but I’m currently spending the year studying abroad at Copenhagen Business School, in Denmark! Before that, I studied History, English Literature, and Biology for my A levels, so quite a difference from what I study now!
However, I’d say I really started becoming interested in studying around the time of my GCSEs, so year 10 going into year 11. I’ve always been quite a creative person, and as soon as I realised I could translate that into studying too, I loved experimenting with it.
I started to make mind maps, flashcards, and other resources, but not in the typical way that I was taught at school, but with lots of colour, and different materials. It really became a passion of mine, and I wanted to share that, so I started an Instagram page called @lydia.studies.
Through that account, I discovered the wonderful studygram community, somewhere I felt really inspired and thrived in. As I grew, I expanded my Instagram page onto YouTube, where I started to share more subject-specific study advice videos, still surrounding GCSEs.
That was around 5 years ago now, and since then my content has definitely evolved. Although I still share my studies and organisation habits, my content now encompasses more of a holistic view of my lifestyle.
As important as studying is, when I moved to University in 2019, I wanted to show that there is much more to the experience. So, now, I make sure that my content includes a balanced and realistic view of student life. And of course, I’ve documented every part of my study abroad year so far too!
You're from the UK, but you're currently living in Denmark for a year abroad during your university studies. Can you share what motivated you to become an international student?
There are quite a few different reasons behind my move. One of the more simple ones is that I wasn’t ready for my degree to end after only 3 years, I wanted to extend it, I love being a student that much.
I also wanted a new challenge. Moving to university is a big change in itself, and during the process, you learn so much about yourself and grow into your own person. So, moving abroad felt like the natural next step in that journey.
And, it was definitely the right one. Becoming an international student, and adapting to life in a completely different environment has taught me so much and has ultimately transformed my university experience.
You previously shared study content on Instagram and YouTube. Would you say that your passion for studying and your work as a social media creator before you started university has helped you to maintain a balanced lifestyle now that you're pursuing a degree?
Definitely. The combination of studying for my GCSEs and A-Levels, and starting my social media “career” at such a young age, has taught me skills for life.
Most importantly, it’s taught me a lot about self-discipline and routine. This has not only helped me to study “well” at university but also how to adapt to all sorts of different situations and environments, such as my move to Denmark.
Of course, there’s no one way to learn these skills though, and I’d encourage any student to just simply pursue something they’re passionate about, whether this is their studies, or hobbies, or work alongside it.
There is undoubtedly a lot of research and paperwork involved in a move abroad. How did you stay organized while preparing to move to Denmark?
Making sure to do your research WELL in advance is the absolute key. There are a lot of application deadlines and waiting processes involved in studying abroad, and it’s essential to be aware of these timings, so to properly prepare yourself.
I found researching these deadlines, and then creating a calendar for myself, helped a lot. This calendar included not only the deadlines but also when I needed to work on different aspects, so as to break the process down into more manageable chunks.
You recently shared in an Instagram story that you've been jotting down some goals and plans for the new year. Do you have any advice for other students who are setting their goals for the new year, especially for anyone who is aiming to create more balance between their personal life and their studies?
Yes! I was feeling super inspired at the start of this year and really wanted to outline a clear vision for the months ahead. But at first, I really didn’t know where to start, and I found that launching straight into goal-setting was actually a very difficult task on its own.
I realised that in order to effectively goal-set, there are a few more steps that need to precede it. For example, I think it’s especially important to firstly understand what you have going on in your life RIGHT NOW, whether it’s studies, work, hobbies, etc, and also what you enjoy and don’t enjoy within those.
You need to dissect and understand your current lifestyle and habits, in order to effectively plan for what you would like to change or develop, going forward. So, this is what I did, and once I had dissected all the different elements of my life, I then focused on how I wanted those different areas to look over the next year.
For example, I set separate goals and action plans for social media, university work, and health and wellbeing. By breaking it down in this way, it also makes the task of goal-setting far less daunting, and far more manageable.
If you’re particularly aiming for balance this year, breaking down your life into these chunks first, before you goal-set, is your first step to achieving this. I think sometimes it’s easy to pile up everything that’s going on, in our heads, and thus overcomplicate, and create additional stress.
Although it’s so simple, just the act of writing out all of these thoughts onto paper will massively alleviate this feeling. By dissecting and explicitly stating every element of my life, I could visually see everything that I was aiming to balance, instead of thinking about it all at the same time in my head.
From there, I could almost take an objective view over everything, piecing the bits back together to create a balanced action plan for the year ahead, in order to achieve my goals. I hope that makes sense!
Finally, in order to avoid placing unnecessary pressure on my goals throughout the year, I don’t aim for particular numbers or statistics, in any area of my life. Instead, I aim for a feeling, whether that’s a feeling of health, strength, or pride.
Goal-setting should enhance and inspire your life, not become a burden! And if something doesn’t feel right, or it’s not working, then change it! There’s nothing wrong with that either :)
You've previously shared that you use Google Calendar for planning your studies using a time blocking method. As you plan for the new year in a paper journal, can you share your thoughts on how digital planning compares with using a paper journal or planner?
I advocate both digital and paper planning, for different areas of life! Digital planning can be great for creating quick weekly and daily plans, for example (this is what I use Google Calendar for). Similarly, software such as Notion can be great for compiling different plans and strategies, that are easy to access and refer back to.
However, I find there’s a certain lack of creative freedom sometimes, with digital planning. Whilst it works great for things that you have already established, such as a weekly routine, I find it too prescriptive when it comes to things like goal-setting and brainstorming.
Here, is when I revert back to good old paper planning. It’s exactly why I set my goals for the year ahead in a paper planner. My life and goals didn’t necessarily fit into the structures of digital planning, and it was thus making the whole process daunting and confusing.
Instead, as I mentioned before, just simply sitting down with a blank journal, and allowing myself to write, with no real structure at all, helped me to envision and shape my goals.
That being said, now I have those goals and vision in mind for the year, I will certainly begin to implement them into my digital planning :)
Finally, if you could recommend only one planning method, tool, or product to university students, what would it be?
Honestly, a blank journal/notebook. I think the key to planning, organising, or productively doing anything, is to firstly understand yourself.
And I don’t mean this in a cheesy way, but I think it’s so important before planning anything, to make sure that you understand your priorities, the things you enjoy, and the things you don’t enjoy. I’ve only discovered these things about myself recently, and I did that by sitting with a blank journal and just simply writing about things.
As with my goals, I dissected every area of my life and tried to understand what I enjoyed about them, and what I didn’t enjoy. And from there, I could begin to plan and organise my life in a way that worked best for me and made me happy.
I think sometimes when we try too much to use prescriptive structures in planning, we lose sight of our priorities or values, and adopt those of others. So, before implementing any planning method or tool into your life, strip it all right back, and try to understand what will truly work best for you :)