As social creatures our relationships form one of the most essential aspects of our lives. The relationships we establish with ourselves and others are fundamental in shaping our experiences and how we develop, especially during new and transitional periods of life. And this is certainly the case for placements. Without people around us supporting us in our personal and professional lives we would not be able to reach our full potential throughout our placements.

So in this blog I’ll be sharing the importance of the different types of relationships you may experience on placement, and how to make the most of them.


Me, myself and I

So let’s start with the relationship that may seem the most obvious: the one with yourself. This is the relationship that forms the baseline for everything you do, including how you form and deal with your other relationships. If you are not feeling confident and at ease with who you are as a person, then this lack of self-love and certainty may translate into unhealthy behaviours that negatively impact you and those around you. So ensuring you have a positive relationship with yourself is the most important thing to do before you can go out and focus on anything or anyone else.

Going on placement can be a bit of a shock, and this can impact how you feel about yourself. Moving to a new place, taking on a new role, it changes your position in life and this will effect you as a person. You will now have new responsibilities and duties, and this can be a bit of a challenge to manage, especially at the start of your placement while you’re still getting used to everything. And though it can be tough and can take some time for you to sort out how to manage these news roles, this change can actually be really positive and can help you find out more about yourself than you could’ve staying in your comfort zone.

The main thing to acknowledge about yourself during your placement is how you’re feeling at all times, and then you can work on your behaviours associated with these feelings. These may be positive feelings, say of  accomplishment and self-sufficiency, in which case you would look to what you’ve done well and continue on the same path. And if you have negative feelings, like being homesick or uncertain or overwhelmed, then knowing that you’re feeling this way will allow you to create the space and time you need to understand these feelings, why you’re feeling them and what to do about them.


Practice self-care and you're 3/4s there

At my placement I got to take part in a course on volunteerism, where we had different modules to provide us with a greater understanding of what being a volunteer is. One of the first modules we had was on self-care and burnout. During this we were told all about the importance of taking time for yourself, speaking to others about incidents and practicing positive coping mechanisms such as creative hobbies to ensure you don’t experience burnout. Exercising, eating healthily, getting enough sleep were all on the list of things to keep doing during your day to day life, as well as spending time with friends, exploring, reading, watching good movies and even drawing. All of these activities that you can do are truly fundamental in allowing you to enjoy yourself outside of work and to ensure you're living as much of a fulfilled and healthy life as possible.


Having now experienced almost a year of working at my placement I can truly see the impact that these self-care practices can have. When I have had a particularly stressful day at work I tend to discuss what’s happened with those close to me, as well as taking time in the evening to process these events. I also like to draw or write, as these activities make me focus on something and this concentration allows my mind the space it needs to recharge and feel more at ease again. Running is also a great way of alleviating overwhelming feelings, and during exercise your body releases endorphins which naturally improves your mood. Then after cooling down from exercise, your mind may be in the right place to healthily and rationally process what has caused you to feel overwhelmed to begin with.

Another positive tool is that of reflective practice, where you reflect on how you handled certain events to see how to monitor your thoughts and behaviours going forward. Taking time to reflect on things that have happened during your placement is a surprisingly easy way to make yourself feel better and to help yourself grow positively. It’s also important for helping you to not feel lost. Sometimes transitional periods in life, such as a placement, can make us question our decisions and the things we thought we knew about ourselves. This questioning and uncertainty may feel scary, but in reality it too is a good thing. Questioning things about yourself you thought were fixed may just mean that through this new experience you’re opening yourself up to the possibility of changing and growing. Introspecting, writing and talking about these feelings can be positive ways of rationalising them and why you’re feeling this way, as well as providing a foundation for you to accept this change.

So there are loads of ways to help manage the feelings you may experience on placement. All you need to do is take time for yourself and to know that it is okay to not be okay all the time. Your placement is a learning experience and is likely to be something that you've never experienced before. But making it through your placement and seeing how much you can grow is a really amazing experience. And then when it's all said and done you'll be able to look back without any regrets and marvel at just how much you've allowed yourself to flourish.


Pack a suitcase of those you love

However, we do not exist as lone islands, but instead within a hive full of other people. Chances are by the time you’re going on placement you'll already have a support system in place. Family and friends that have been there for you throughout your life will not magically disappear when you go on placement, even if that placement is abroad. So remember to hold on to those relationships you have, to allow them to grow and even to change as you experience this new year of your life.

And yes there is the possibility of things changing. Firstly, if you are moving away for placement your methods of communication may change, especially during, say, a pandemic. To keep in touch with friends and family I have been using a whole host of online platforms, from those I’m familiar with like Whatsapp and Snapchat, to new apps like Discord. Though not being able to see everyone in person for a long time is difficult, being able to call and video chat with the people I love the most in the world is comforting and can still be really fun. So get creative with it! Playing online games can make you feel more at ease if you're not so used to video calls (though I think everyone is pretty familiar with Zoom and Teams by now), and even just chatting about what you've been up to and sharing pictures can make those who can't be with you at the moment feel more included in your life. So don't worry about losing touch with the people you've currently got in your life, as as long as you can make the effort to, you'll still be able to stay close.



Secondly, what you talk about may change. With all things in life, as you and what you do changes, other things will subsequently change too. Conversations about your placement, especially at the start of it, are almost inevitable. And whilst this can be a good thing, especially if you’re excited about something you’re doing, it can also be rather tedious. Being asked over and over again what your placement is and what you’re doing can be annoying, and make you feel like writing a script to manage these conversations instead of enjoying them naturally. But honesty is important, and if you don’t feel like discussing a certain topic then just mentioning this can make a conversation so much more rewarding, for all those involved. And if you're doing things outside of your placement like traveling then mentioning this can lead to a much more enjoyable conversation too. And if you are talking to those close to you and you  are having a tough time then discussing this can be helpful. I know sometimes we reserve our troubles and try to make everything seem great, but if it isn't then expressing this to people who have been there for you throughout your life may be a big relief, and you never know what insight you may gain.

Thirdly, the time you spend together will change. It’s easy to grow distant to people you’re not around all the time, and you may have to put more effort into ensuring these relationships do not dwindle throughout the year. Obviously different time schedules and prior commitments can make it difficult to schedule calls, but it’s important to do so. These are the people you know are there for you, and that you are there to support as well. Making sure you can talk to them is so crucial, as speaking to old friends and family can make you feel more at home and comfortable and encouraging each other as you grow over placement can really validate this growth and makes everything feel more real and exciting. It's also important to remember that it's not you whose experiencing life still, and so remember to look out for your friends too. This year is about individual growth and progress, but what’s the point of growing if you have nobody to share all of your progress with? Your friends are still your friends, your family is still your family, so make sure you make time to keep them as the fundamental part of your life they have always been!


Teamwork is the dreamwork

And whilst maintaining your existing relationships is important, it’s also important to open yourself up to the possibility of developing new relationships whilst on placement. These can include new professional relationships with clients and colleagues, as well as making new friends and even meeting someone special. You don’t stop living when you go on placement, even if that's somewhere new by yourself, so it’s important to reach out to those around you to forge new connections and make the most of all of these new opportunities. And you never know what kind of people you will meet on placement and the impact they could have on your life.


From a work perspective it’s actually pretty easy to make new relationships. You will undoubtedly be working with other staff at your service, and creating a space to get to know these staff is a fundamental part of allowing yourself to have the best placement experience. As placement students we are going into these settings without as much experience as the other staff we work with, and so being able to ask for help and to ask questions is a necessary part of being a placement student. Thus, by having a good working relationship with the other staff you too will become a better worker as you will feel more comfortable to open up about what you don’t know and what you need help with. Also if you are working in a group project making sure everyone in the group gets to know one another and feels comfortable and included is also important as it will make it so much easier and more rewarding to complete this project if you can all work together as a cohesive team.

And not only is it important to create good relationships at work to help you as an employee, but these relationships can be fundamental to you as a person. Only the people you’re working with can truly understand what it is like to do your job, so if you’re having difficulties these can be some of the best people to talk to about it. Whenever we had an incident at work the first people I would talk to would be the staff there with me, because we all were there so could all help each other to get through the incident and process it afterwards. And even if it’s only you who is going through this difficulty at the moment, in lots of cases the people who you work with would have been in your position in the past and thus are the most equipped to offer advice as they too may have gone through the same or a similar situation. So opening up to those you work with for company, assistance and advice can be a really amazing way to expand the depths of your placement experience. And you never know what hidden opportunities you may uncover through talking to those around you, whether it be a piece of advice, an idea for a study, or even an offer of future employment, good working relationships can really make such a difference to your life.


Alongside staff you may also be working with clients, though this will depend on your placement.  In certain placements you may not really deal with people outside of your staff team until you get to participant recruitment, whereas in others like mine you may be working with clients on a daily basis. Just as it’s important to build up a good and comfortable relationship with the other staff, it’s also just as important to have a good professional relationship with your clients. If your job involves providing assistance/care to clients in any way then you want the clients to trust and feel comfortable enough with you to allow you to provide this care. As such, approaching clients in a friendly, non-judgemental way; listening to and treating them with respect can really make a huge difference. You need to show that you are there to help your clients in order to be able to help them. When it comes to recruiting participants you also need to make them trust you enough to give you the data that you’re asking from them. Whether this is by stressing the importance of confidentiality and anonymity within your study or even by providing an incentive for them to take part, it is really important to show that you care about the needs and concerns of participants as well.


However, while you’re creating these trusting and comfortable relationships with staff and clients, it is important to remember that these are professional relationships and that you should still have some boundaries in place. If you feel like a coworker is treating you inappropriately or is acting in a strange way around you and causing you to feel uncomfortable then it is paramount that you don’t stay silent and that you address the issue ASAP. This can be difficult because the other staff are likely to be more senior to you and have more authority within the workplace, but your safety and comfort is the most important thing. I’d recommend speaking to your supervisor or manager or someone else with authority who knows you in the company if this happens, and even communicating it with the placement team back in Bath. They should be understanding and should help you either by separating you and the other staff member or by carrying out some other measure to make sure you no longer have to be subjected to that discomfort. And even if it doesn’t get that far, if you feel like someone is asking you to do too much or is asking you to carry out a task you’re not trained in or that you feel unequipped to do, saying no is no bad thing and actually it is more likely to benefit everyone than if you just carry out the task and get it wrong. So even when making these new work relationships you need to ensure first and foremost that you prisoritise yourself, your comfort and your needs.


New friends, who dis?

And then there’s the relationships you may form out of work. Living in new accommodation is a great way to meet new people as you’ll have the opportunity to become close to your housemates. These friendships can be really beneficial to you and to those you’re living with as it means you have people to explore and share your experiences with. And if some of your housemates have been living there longer than you then they may be able to show you around and to give you tips about where to go and how best to navigate where you’re living. Even if not it’s great to have a good relationship with those you’ll be spending time with out of work. Organising trips together, cooking together and having movie nights are some ways to bond with your housemates that allows everyone to just switch off from the stress of work and have a relaxing and fun time together. And you may find out you really get on and want to stay friends after your placements as well. And even if not and you find yourself not getting on, at least you know you tried and have no regrets. Again boundaries are important here and so if someone you live with is causing you distress or you just are not that compatible with friends, being open about this is important in helping you both to find a way to stay friendly enough to live together without it being awkward or trying to avoid one another.

So even though placements are temporary, it is important not to shut yourself off and go it alone. Allowing others into your life and creating a place you feel like you can call home, even if it’s just for ten months to a year, is seriously going to enhance your placement year. Being able to find new places with new friends and explore and create new memories is one of the reasons I’d recommend going on placement at all. Life isn’t just about work, it’s about you. And if you’re somewhere new with new people then why not make the most of it and live this year as if it isn’t going to end, because then when it does you’ll have had a much more enjoyable time and will be able to look back on your placement with fondness and not with bitterness and regret over all the things you missed out on because you felt like it was better to isolate yourself. And there’s nothing wrong with taking time for yourself and doing your own thing, but if you can balance that with going out and socialising then your whole experience on placement will be transformed for the better.


Can you feel the love tonight

So as I’ve been saying, there’s lots of ways to make friends and meet new people outside of work. Whether it be in your accommodation, at an event or club you’ve joined or even online, there’s no need to isolate yourself on placement as there’s numerous ways to access people to hang out with if you want to. A lot of people I know would join Facebook groups of people from their home country who have also moved to this country, or would even look for friends or dates on apps like Tinder and Bumble.

Meeting new people and forming new relationships with people does open up the possibility of forming different types of relationships, whether these be platonic or even romantic. And I’m not saying to go on placement with the intention to find a partner, because as I’ve said before your placement is about you and you will have a much better time if you let these relationships develop naturally and don’t try to force anything. But whilst it’s good to not force a relationship to be something that it isn’t, if it is naturally progressing into a romantic relationship then I would also recommend not shying away from this just because your placement is temporary. Everything in life is, in the end, temporary. School ends, university ends, but during these periods you’re not likely to reject the possibility of enjoying yourself and allowing relationships to blossom just because at some point the moment of life you’re in is going to end. And it’s the same for placements, even those abroad. So if you're feeling that you could have a positive romantic relationship that's naturally occurring whilst your on placement, why not go for it?


Life is not about waiting for the next thing to happen, it’s about the now. And the reality of 'the now' being a placement is complicated and complex and full of new and exciting and nerve wracking possibilities. But taking everything day-by-day and step-by-step and appreciating this moment and doing your best is the best and only recipe I can offer you for self-fulfilment. And by sharing these experiences and this attempt at fulfilment with others, you may find yourself living an even better life than you imagined.

Thanks for reading! <3

Posted in: Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Looking after your mental health at university, Overseas opportunities - study or exchange, Placements, Undergraduate, Why Bath?


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