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Case Study

Gabby Turner

Sunderland, UK

MA TESOL

BA (Hons) TESOL and Linguistics


Following a trip to Thailand teaching English, combined with her love for different cultures and helping people, Gabby Turner knew a TESOL degree was for her. The support offered from the We Care Team was a deciding factor in her choosing Sunderland where she combined TESOL with Linguistics, then went on to enrol on the MA TESOL course. Gabby hopes to teach abroad in the future and is currently doing outreach work with refugees and asylum speakers in her spare time.

As soon as I applied to Sunderland, my application was picked up by the We Care team as I indicated I was a care leaver on the form. The We Care team helped me throughout the application process from sorting out my student loan to helping me to enrol.  

Sunderland was one of the only universities in the North East that offered the course I wanted to do – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and Linguistics. 

I was planning on going to a different university, but when my social worker told me that Sunderland had a team who supported care leavers, I knew I needed that kind of support and Sunderland really stood out. 

When I looked online and saw the team and the support they offered, I knew I wanted to study here. I knew the support at Sunderland was real, it wasn’t false promises. 

I’ve always wanted to help people. I love travelling and learning about different cultures and what that can teach you as a person. Growing up in care, you need to be resourceful. When I was 20, I won the Sunderland Young Achievers’ Inspiration to others Award. I raised money by working two jobs while I was at college to go to Thailand for two months to do a teaching internship. I knew then that’s what I wanted to do – this is my thing. When I returned home, I thought it was time to get serious. I saw Sunderland offered a combined honours degree, and as I really wanted to do English too, I combined TESOL and Linguistics. I didn’t meet the requirements of the course so I took an Access course, which was a massive thing for me as I’d failed my maths GCSE four times. When I came to university, my lecturers put me in touch with the Disability team who assessed me and diagnosed me with dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. This massively helped me. I couldn’t have got through university without that support.   

The best thing about my courses was that they were really close knit and my lecturers were absolutely lovely. They really want you to do well. I struggled with my mental health during my masters degree, but was scared of coming forward as I thought it might affect my place on the course. I can’t describe just how supportive they were – it was amazing. They did everything they could possibly do to make sure I passed and recognised me as an individual. Being in care, you feel like a number, a ‘placement’, and it can be dehumanising. I once overheard my foster mum on the phone telling her friend, “the placement is here”. 

It would have been a lot harder to do this course without the support I’ve had, and it was really challenging anyway! When you’re in care, you think that university is for posh kids from good backgrounds. It’s totally not like that. Everyone is welcome here. 

The financial support I’ve received from the We Care team has massively helped me. As a care leaver, we do have stuff going on in our lives, and it’s hard to work and study. The financial support alleviates some of that burden. I didn’t think there would be someone I could call but I can, and that’s a really big thing for me. As care leavers, we don’t have that conventional family set up and the We Care team kind of mimics that. I feel grounded. I can talk about my faith with the team too which makes me feel included. The faith support here at the University has also been amazing. The University Chaplain baptised me in my second year. You couldn't find the pastoral support and the financial support here at any other uni. 

To prospective students looking to study at the University of Sunderland, I would say that all the support is there. You just need to access it and make yourself known. Don’t suffer in silence. There is a support team for anything and everything you need – even if you just want to chat to someone. Let people help you. Sometimes, as care leavers, we can be too independent. You may think you’re alone and always think, I’m going to do it myself, but it’s ok – relax, you’ll get there, just let someone help you. 

In the future, I definitely want to teach abroad in the Middle East – Dubai, Jordan, or maybe go back to Thailand. I’m currently doing outreach work with refugees and asylum speakers, teaching them English in my spare time. It’s emotionally tough, but they are some of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet.  

The University of Sunderland has given me the platform to grow and find out the things I want to do and what I’m good at. Now I have friends who are like-minded people. I’ve had so many good experiences, trying new things. I spoke at two interfaith conferences, been on trips, and to the panto. A big thing for me was the Christmas catch up. Christmas can be a really difficult time for care leavers and we had a catch up on Christmas Day. Being part of a group, we all support each other. We all know what we’ve been through in a round about way and we all root for each other. We’re our own little community of care leavers and we want each other to do well – it’s a win for all of us."

Published 8 July 2022

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