Blog post

My time at Derby as an international masters student

By Maheen Shahab - 18 March 2022

My name is Maheen Shahab and I am an international second-year masters student. My journey as a Pakistani, living in Dubai, and going to Derby wasn’t the easiest in the beginning, but it certainly developed positively. 

Decisions decisions 

The decision to be an international student, travelling thousands of miles away from home, to be in a new country to pursue my education, was not an easy one. It meant leaving several things that provided comfort and safety, such as the familiarity of your home city, your family, your old friends, the restaurants, beaches, parks, and bookshops you’ve grown to love over several years. It meant leaving home and venturing into a brand new environment, looking to start a new phase of life.  

I remember anxiously waiting for the admissions process to start, and then restlessly waiting for the decision of whether I’d been accepted or not after my interview for the course. I remember receiving all the confirmations and thinking, “It’s actually happening.” Before I knew it, things started progressing forwards and I was on a plane making my way to the United Kingdom, on a train from London to Derby, ready to start my journey. 

An unexpected surprise 

Derby was not what I expected. I think, for most people, coming to another country, another city can be very daunting. I was fearful on the train ride to Derby, wondering if I would be able to adjust to a new country, culture, and a variety of different individuals.

Surprisingly, I felt an odd sense of calm when I arrived at Derby. It was interesting – the city had a warm, comfortable, and accepting feel to it. I realised over time that the factors that contributed to my feelings of ease when I first arrived were how compact the city was, and how helpful all the people were. As an international student, traveling to and from places is an essential part of considering the place you’ve chosen to stay for the next two to four years. I found that traveling around, and getting familiarised with the city, was relatively easy.

Derby is situated in the East Midlands, conveniently in the centre of everything, with London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, and so many more cities just a short train ride away when the need for a vacation arrives. Furthermore, compared to the rest of the UK, Derby was easy on the finances as well, which is always a bonus! 

Why I chose Derby 

I particularly chose Derby as the city I wanted to venture into solely because of the university and the course I had chosen. The university immediately felt like an open-minded and diverse environment, which allowed me to feel the comfort of ‘home’ away from home. The biggest reason, however, was my course. I chose to study the MSc in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy, and I can honestly say it was one of my most profound decisions in terms of education.

Having done my undergraduate in psychology with counselling skills in Dubai, I was always interested in specialising in counselling and psychotherapy. I made this decision primarily because it was a programme that focused specifically on counselling and psychotherapy, integrating three profound modalities including person-centred theory, attachment theory, and cognitive behavioural theory.

The programme is of the few in the UK that is accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and allows graduates to become registered members of the BACP. Just before classes had even begun, I felt an immense amount of support from my academics. Little did I know that academics would soon become the family I needed in this brand new city. 

Inspiration in many ways 

My course inspired me in a variety of ways. I experienced sharing contrasting, and similar, viewpoints with so many of my fellow classmates, lecturers, and later, other professionals in the psychotherapeutic field.

At Derby, I experienced something that I had never experienced in my previous educational settings, equality between the academics and students. The academics truly made it their duty to ensure that all students, especially the international students were supported throughout their journey. I remember having a variety of personal dilemmas throughout my first year. I knew I could reach out to my academic members for support.

Furthermore, the learning environment at university is so diverse and well-integrated, where everyone’s ideas are welcome in the most compassionate way. Instead of exercising their authority over the students, and creating a biased power dynamic, which I believe in a university setting hinders progress, the professors ensured that each student's ideas were heard, considered, and relevantly addressed.  

Development and growth 

My course is special in the sense that not only does it make you grow professionally, but also emphasizes personal growth. I have emotionally developed and grown so much after joining the course and have gained a clearer understanding of psychological growth and human behaviour. The relationship with the academics, and fellow peers, allowed me to develop my listening skills, patience, empathic skills, and communication skills. I also knew that, in times of need or struggle, the university’s wellbeing centre was always available.  

Throughout my course, I made a wide range of friends. Honestly, with my first year abroad being spent in lockdown, I was terrified that I would struggle in making a close-knit group of friends. However, with my first year spent in Flamsteed Court, which is one of the university’s accommodations, I truly met friends that I knew I would have for life. The environment at the university accommodation allowed for an odd sense of belonging and comfort, and the individuals I was lucky enough to meet along the way made it easier to adjust not only to university life but also to life away from home.  

Career stepping stone 

I can honestly say that studying the MSc in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy at the University of Derby has been a great stepping-stone in my career. During my time at the university, I have managed to secure two brilliant placements. I am confident that they are advancing my career in the psychotherapeutic field.

I secured placements at a private clinic, which provides me excellent experience in how private practices run and experience in dealing with a range of psychological issues. In addition to that, I secured a placement in the wellbeing center at the University of Derby, which allows me the advantage of working with a different clinical group – university students.

The experience from both placements has helped me understand which setting I prefer working in, which client groups I am more comfortable with, and how to deal with a variety of clients. Furthermore, even prior to graduation, I have been presented with a variety of job opportunities.  

The future 

I plan to further develop my practice in the UK, preferably residing in Derby for a year more, because it feels like too much of a home to leave, and then hopefully see where I get taken to within the UK. I’m encouraged by my academic team, who I plan to integrate into my long-term dream of developing a private practice in Dubai, to pursue my dreams in advancing the course to my home city – to bring some of the magic I’ve experienced in the UK to the Middle East.  

About the author

Maheen Shahab standing in front of Kedleston Road Campus

Maheen Shahab
MSc Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy Student

Hi! I’m a marketing representative at the university of derby! I’m an international student from Dubai, and I’m studying MSc Integrative Counselling and psychotherapy. I’m currently in my final year. I love reading, writing, and doing adventurous things!