'I found support for my neurodivergence during my UK studies'

Former GREAT scholar Ashley from Kenya recently graduated with a master's in commercial law from the University of Edinburgh. She talks about getting diagnosed with ADHD while studying in the UK, the support she received for it, and the importance of striking a study-life balance.

Group of girls from different backgrounds huddled together in a polytunnel at a strawberry farm holding punnets of fresh berries.

'Me and my friends picking berries at a farm near Edinburgh'.

'I love looking at rules and finding loopholes'

I've wanted to be a lawyer since I was six. I love looking at rules and finding loopholes. To me, law is basically just persuading someone to believe I'm right, using their own arguments against them.

I quickly realised that my brain worked really well in the UK education system because it focused on my strengths. I've always had issues with my memory, so deeply understanding my course content through discussions, seminars, and lectures made it much easier for me to learn.

During my UK studies, the teachers engaged with us as part of a dialogue. Information wasn't given as a fact or as gospel truth. We were told things, but we were always invited to argue against them if we didn't agree, as long as we could articulate our 'why' well. I learned about reasoning and building an argument. It has helped me so much with my coursework and also in my personal life.

Picture of wooden structure by the sea in North Berwick Beach on a fairly bright day.

'Edinburgh is very near the coast of the North Sea'.

'When COVID-19 restrictions came in, I realised I had different needs to many of my coursemates'

Part of my undergraduate degree was delivered online due to mandatory COVID-19 restrictions. I quickly started falling behind with my classes when they moved online. Previously, in-person classes had been motivating, and meeting face-to-face with my coursemates and teachers would hold me accountable for doing and sharing my best work. There were lots of chances to ask questions and be really engaged. I used to use (indirect) peer pressure to do my work, as I never wanted to be the one who hadn't done it.

But the restrictions came in, I was no longer in the same space as my teachers and classmates. The peer pressure was gone, and I was looking at a screen, not in a physical room full of engaging discussions. I noticed that friends of mine who I used to think had similar approaches, work schedules and work ethic as me were much further ahead and doing much better academically.

I was getting increasingly stressed about it. And started experiencing insomnia. I'd try to make up for the work I missed during the day by working late into the night. I couldn't switch it off. So when the day came, I'd struggle to stay awake because I was so tired. It became like a vicious circle.

'I received a £10,000 GREAT Scholarship for my master's programme in the UK'.

'I learned that ADHD symptoms often present differently in women and girls'

One day, I was talking to a friend who mentioned she had been diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). She started describing her symptoms, and I realised it sounded exactly like my daily life. I had heard of ADHD before and knew a bit about it, but the symptoms I had understood were much more focused on the image of a young, hyperactive boy. I didn't know that many of the symptoms can present differently in women and girls.

Traditionally, in my country, I hadn't been in circles where things like ADHD or other related issues were talked about openly. Getting a diagnosis could even have been quite a scary thing. However, because I had more positive exposure to it through friends in the UK, I stopped worrying about finding out that I might have ADHD. Instead, I was hopeful. I felt like if I could learn more about the reasons why I am the way I am, and I could stop being so harsh on myself for my 'shortcomings'. Knowing what to work on would be harder if I didn't understand why I was struggling with certain things.

'I love being outside and spending time with my friends in nature'.

'In the third year of my undergraduate degree, I was diagnosed with ADHD'

I reached out to my university and explained what was going on. We had a couple of counselling sessions, and they did an assessment in-house to see if I should be referred for an external ADHD assessment. I decided to try and get a diagnosis through a psychiatrist back in Kenya who would better understand my own personal and cultural background. After living my whole life to that point without knowing, I was diagnosed with ADHD in the third year of my undergraduate degree.

It made so much sense. I had always been told that I had so much potential and always did well, though I knew I could have done better, and something was in my way. I'd put in an extreme amount of effort in some areas, but there were other areas - like maths - that I could still put in little effort and do really well because I found it fascinating, so it was easy to focus and learn. If there were things I found boring, I would get so bored I would be listless because whatever I found boring was so dissatisfactory to my brain that I could barely physically continue with it. This was the biggest challenge in the subjects I wasn't interested in or automatically good at because I lacked that consistency and 'work ethic'.

It was very easy for me to slide under the radar as someone with this hidden difficulty because, outwardly, the teachers didn't know how much work I was putting in behind the scenes. All they could see was that I was doing well and that maybe I could do better, but I was already very good and they weren't concerned about my grades.

'Having dinner with my coursemates at Xiangbala Hotpot in Edinburgh'.

'During my master's degree, I got so much support for managing my ADHD'

Starting my master's with an ADHD diagnosis in hand was a blessing. The University of Edinburgh offered so many accommodations, which made my life so much easier, and I got so much support. One thing that is common for people with ADHD to struggle with is long, complicated instructions - especially those that lack context. For essay questions, for example, I could request additional information from lecturers to understand what the questions were asking so that I could do a better job in my coursework. Late penalties were also removed from essays.

'Doing a mock trial at Nottingham Justice Museum during a visit with GREAT justice and law scholars'.

'I was given an ADHD coach for a few months before my dissertation was due'

The most amazing support I received was a dedicated ADHD coach for a few months before my dissertation was due. We met regularly, and she helped me break down everything I had on my plate, from extra-curricular activities to part-time jobs and schoolwork, including my dissertation. She helped me develop a comprehensive, multi-week schedule to help me decide what to prioritise and referred me to additional counselling and support. For me, as with many others with ADHD, I find prioritising very hard as if there are lots of things going on, they can all feel urgent and equally important - so it was useful to have someone helping me to distinguish things from each other in terms of urgency and importance to lighten my load.

I met my coach every week during the lead-up to my dissertation. At the start, I was really afraid of being thrown into this piece of work by myself as although you interact with your supervisor, you are not their only focus. My coach would help me set my own regular, internal deadlines of what I'd need to do by when and act like an accountability partner. She introduced me to many resources to help me cope, including helping me cut down my 'ramblings' to make them more structured and organised.

She also acted as emotional support, and I could share my stresses and frustrations with her. In the past, my emotions have hindered me from putting work in where I needed to, and having her be there, listening and relating to me just meant that I'd always leave the room feeling lighter and more confident about what I needed to do.

'Exploring Vienna with my VIS International Moot team'.

'I ended up doing incredibly well in my master's dissertation'

I credit my ADHD coach so much for helping me get through the dissertation period, and I ended up doing extremely well. I don't think that would have happened if I didn't have her supporting me and checking in on me the whole way. But I also know that it's still me who wrote it. It all came from me, and it's ok that I needed those adjustments. That doesn't make it any less of an achievement. It's like wearing glasses. I needed those adjustments to help me do the job that I could have always done. All of that additional help made all of the difference to me.

'It's so important to take some time to enjoy yourself outside of university'.

'Study-life balance is extremely important'

I didn't come to study abroad only to study; I also came here to live. Study-life balance is extremely important to me. From a young age, my parents ingrained in me that you should work hard but also take some time to enjoy yourself as much as possible outside of work (or study).

The benefit of meeting so many international students, especially at the master's level, is that many of us share the mindset that we have a short amount of time here, so we want to make the most of it. Every weekend, and even during the week, I try to find fun things to do, whether going to a comedy night, a gig, or for dinner with my friends.

During the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which is a global festival, even during my dissertation period, I'd make sure to go and see shows. You don't have to spend ten whole hours a day working on it. I'd go to work in the library, then take an hour's break to get lunch and see a show. It didn't take time away from my studies and, if anything, it helped. Also, it's good to remember that perhaps studying a bit more might make your grades marginally better, but if your distinction says 70 or 90 per cent, it still says distinction at the end of the day.

'The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh'.

'There's so much to see and do in the UK'

Before coming to the UK, I had one homogenous view of it, particularly England. But when you live here, you quickly realise that there's so much to see and so many differences between the four nations that make up the UK. I've visited Birmingham, Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Sheffield, and London. Local travel within Scotland has also been really exciting.

Most UK cities are very walkable and accessible by good public transport. One of my favourite things is to go with my friends, get on a random bus and stay on it until the final stop. Wherever that place is, we spend the rest of the day getting up to whatever is available. Knowing that places are so safe is incredible, so we don't have to worry about that. It's also a cost-effective way to explore your surroundings without taking longer bus or train journeys across the country.

'The GREAT Scholarship gave me a platform to share my story after I'd completed my degree'.

'I have the freedom to do whatever I want to do'

I like taking train trips to nearby cities as well. Glasgow is my favourite in Scotland. It has a very different energy from Edinburgh and quite a few similarities. It's so easy to go between the two cities, and it fills me with so much joy to be able to visit so easily. When I came to the UK as an international student, I realised that I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted. It's up to me to make the choice. I can just wake up, go and get a ticket somewhere and know that I can easily find my way back home.

'I was selected to attend the Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot in Vienna'.

'At the Justizpalast in Vienna, Austria during my trip for the Vis Moot'.

'I got to compete with students from Harvard at an international moot in Vienna, Austria'

For background, a moot is presenting a mock case in front of an appeals court, not in front of a jury. As I was studying commercial arbitration, I entered a seven-month competition. I got into the final of the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot. I had to draft extensive memorandums on both the claimant and respondent sides, and within the team, a few people got selected to go to Vienna and speak as advocates. I was one of them. I gained a lot of public speaking experience, and by mooting, I learned how to think critically. This experience is really useful for law applications because you usually have to demonstrate analytical and communication skills, time management and excellence.

The Vis Moot is like the Olympics of moots, and it was both a huge time commitment and so much fun. My team competed with people from the best schools in the world. We were against people from Harvard University and the University of Hong Kong, among other outstanding universities. I also competed against other people from Kenya, who did very well in the competition. It was interesting to learn how people from different countries approach the law. We had free time to mingle and explore Vienna outside of the competition days.

'Graduating with my close friends in our gowns at Old College Quad, Edinburgh'.

'During my recent vacation scheme at AstraZeneca'.

'Come to the UK with an open mind, and be ready to ask for what you need'

Many international students, like myself, come from cultures where sharing your struggles can sometimes be seen as a sign of 'weakness'. It's not shameful to get help and support when you need it. One of the best parts about studying in the UK has been that I've never received any judgment for seeking help. Everyone has always been so kind and willing to offer it. Don't hold back; remember that getting help will never detract from your accomplishments.

Make every effort to put yourself out there when you come. Whether that means having fun in ways you haven't experienced or applying for jobs you never thought you'd be qualified for. Everything you're going to do is build yourself up to the life that you were supposed to lead. So, however small it is, it will all add up no matter how long it takes.

See more

A student guide to finding support at university in the UK

Join us as we take you through the support available, from the student union to the library, the careers service to wellbeing services, academic support and more.

GREAT Scholarships

GREAT Scholarships are scholarships to UK universities across a variety of subjects, for students from 15 countries. Applications for 2024-25 are open.

Support while you study

Moving to the UK to study is exciting, but we know that getting settled into a new country can be daunting, too. Find out how and where to get support.

Hear stories from international students

The Study UK blog is the home of real-life, personal stories from current international students and alumni.

Read our blog

Sign up to our newsletter

Get the latest updates and advice on applications, scholarships, visas and events.