Tilla Puskas

Sometimes, all you need in life to succeed is determination, the right support and the ability to overcome what initially feels like a setback.

At the age of 16, Tilla Puskas left her home in Hungary for a new life here in the UK with her mother. Tilla arrived in the country just a day or two before starting at City College Plymouth. Her age meant she was too old to attend a local secondary school, but also meant she left Hungary before reaching the end of her formal secondary education. With few recognisable qualifications, she was advised to start an ESOL course that would allow her to then go on and sit her GCSEs. Since arriving in the country, Tilla has not only gained her GCSEs, she has since completed a BTEC and is now in her final year of a four-year masters programme in psychology and is formalising her plans to pursue a PhD. 

Tilla said: “I had always said that I wanted to be a psychologist; however, my education in Hungary seemed to be going in a different direction. The move to the UK presented an opportunity to begin pursuing this ambition – I didn’t really consider any other careers. 

“After completing my ESOL course, I was then able to take fast-track GCSEs in five subjects: English, maths, science and GCSE psychology and sociology. At the time, I didn’t realise that, had I gone to a secondary school, I might not have had the opportunity to take psychology at GCSE. 

“I had been planning to do A Levels but, unfortunately, I narrowly missed out on a grade C (a level 4) in English and I was presented with two options: ask for a remark and await that outcome, or find an alternative course. Asking for a remark risked missing the start of  A Levels, so I sat down with a course brochure and saw the BTEC in forensic science, which includes modules in forensic psychology. It sounded really interesting, and although it wasn’t my original plan, I was assured I would be able to access university if I chose this route.”

Tilla said she really enjoyed the different elements of the course, but she had been most impressed by the support shown by her lecturer, Kevin. 

“Kevin was tremendously helpful throughout my time at the College. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was suffering from fibromyalgia, which can cause extreme fatigue and pain. The lecturers could tell when I wasn’t feeling my best and they were always ever so helpful. In addition to my own health problems, I also had to take on a lot of the responsibilities at home. My English was a lot better than my mum’s – who also has health problems – and things like running the home, paying bills, making appointments fell to me. 

“I couldn’t have asked for a more understanding group of lecturers than those at City College: they really supported me through this time. I also made some good friends at the College – particularly during my ESOL course.

“The ESOL lecturers were fantastic for encouraging us to interact with other students and to make new friends. It was thanks to my ESOL lecturer that I signed up to the Duke of Edinburgh scheme: this was possibly the highlight of my time at the College. It was so much fun, and it was fantastic for getting to know people.  

“I also enjoyed having the opportunity to work as a student ambassador and I took advantage of the different volunteering opportunities at the College. There were plenty of activities to get involved with and these are particularly great if, like me, you are new to the area.”

Despite one or two setbacks, Tilla is precisely where she intended to be and is looking forward to her future, possibly in research and academia. 

“I really enjoy the research side of psychology, and I see this is a big part of my future. I don’t feel studying a BTEC has held me back at all. I didn’t feel any less prepared than when I started university – I possibly felt even more prepared as we had studied some additional things not covered by the A Level syllabus. 

“I loved my time at City College and have such fantastic memories of being there. I still get to visit every once in a while when I come in to give talks to other ESOL students. I hope that, by listening to my experiences, they too can really embrace their time at the College and go on to achieve their goals.”