ZARA Dyer left school determined never to go back.

“Throughout high school I struggled a lot academically, and I found it hard to articulate what was going on in my mind,” says the 27-year-old.

“I’d always been put down – I’d say what I wanted to do and people would say, maybe you won’t be able to do that, maybe you should look at something else. It was always just pushed aside.”

Her voice breaks with emotion. “You expect educators to motivate you, but my experience was very different from that,” she explains. “So, when I left school, I never thought I would return to education.”

Fast forward 10 years, and Zara, who lives in the city centre, is studying for a degree and aiming for a PhD.

“It feels so strange saying that,” she laughs. “A girl who wouldn’t pick up a textbook two years ago….”

Zara is one of several voices featuring in a new series of podcasts for the Open University.

Speaking on the Life…On Our Terms podcast with host Gemma Cairney, Zara reveals how she has managed to break down her own barriers and build the confidence to follow her dreams.

Podcast host Gemma Cairney

Podcast host Gemma Cairney

It is a message that will resonate with many young people across Glasgow, as one of the most difficult years in comes to their lives comes to a close.

What made the difference for Zara, she explains, was discovering the Open University.

She started studying for an honours degree in psychology with counselling in 2019, and she talks to Gemma about mental health and resilience, a topic central to her job as a Support Advisor at Glasgow Council on Alcohol.

The charity supports people recovering from alcohol and substance misuse. Eventually, says Zara, she wants to open her own wellbeing and support clinic to help as many people as possible.

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“My main goal is to leave everyone I engage with feeling a little bit better,” she explains. “I try to learn something new every day and share it with as many people as possible. I hope I can help people to live their life to full potential by encouraging pushing boundaries. I think they exist to be broken.”

Zara explains how the supported distance learning model offered by the OU and the study community where she can speak to fellow students on a daily basis through forums and other platforms has really helped build her confidence.

“My confidence levels weren’t very high when I started my journey and I often struggled to engage with people,” she says. “The OU broke that barrier down by giving me different avenues to express myself. A game changer for me would be our online tutorials.”

She smiles: “That took away the fear of not being able to articulate my thoughts because the way I looked at it was, well, they’re all at the same kind of stage as me, so why not go for it?”

She adds: “Before, I could see people were so passionate about having a degree and a career, and part of me was always saying you don’t need a degree to be successful. I still believe that but learning is so much more than just a degree – it offers much more and I want to continue learning for the rest of my life.”

Throughout her course, Zara has had an unexpected extra ‘tutor’.

“I copy and paste my assignments into Facebook Messenger and my granny proof reads them,” she laughs. “My granny lives in Hemel Hempstead and I live in Glasgow, but she can still see my journey thanks to technology. She loves it, too, and she is my biggest cheerleader….”