Our students: Callum Wallace

Callum Wallace is 22 and comes from Bristol. Discharged from the army because of a prior back injury, his life plans suddenly changed. Having expected to spend the next 22 years in the military, and with no A-Levels to fall back on, finding himself back on civvy street was a bit of a shock.

“I’d done GCSEs at school, but I was quite lazy. I started A-Levels, but wasn’t enjoying doing them, so I decided to join the army at 17,” Callum explains. “I was a regular soldier in the Royal Engineers for three years, but my back injury worsened and I had to leave.”

This heralded the start of a difficult period for him and he ended up having therapy to help him cope with life ‘outside’. During this time, Callum had various jobs and was unemployed for a while, but he struggled to find any real direction.

“My doctor suggested that studying might be good for me and I had been thinking about doing a degree in philosophy but didn’t know if I could, without A-Levels. Then I heard about another way into university - the Foundation in Arts and Humanities at the University of Bristol.”

The Foundation in Arts and Humanities offers a route to an arts degree for people who have not followed the traditional path through education. Foundation students probably don’t have A-Levels, may have been out of education or work for a while, have been raising families or have had other life issues to deal with. What unites this diverse group of people is their obvious potential to achieve and, guided through a wide range of arts and humanities subjects at Bristol University, to flourish.

“When I found out about course, it sounded like the perfect chance to get on track, so I applied and got a place last September. I knew it was right for me – I even got excited about writing the essay in preparation for the interview!”

Initially, Callum was a bit concerned that his brain was ‘too lazy’, had worries about the workload, and wondered if he would struggle to get into the mode of learning and studying. Luckily enough, however, it all came flooding back. “I love writing essays,” he says, “especially philosophical ones. It’s just like having a conversation with someone!”

That must be music to his tutors’ ears indeed, but Callum really appreciates the environment offered by the course; learning what you love and being on first-name terms with the tutors. “There’s a real sense that we are learning together,” he says.

“As a group, we have incredibly rich discussions,” he continues. “Our ages range from 19 to over 70, so you can imagine the different experiences that each of us brings to an issue.”

Callum, in his own words, is strong-minded, not afraid of sharing his opinions. “However, since starting the Foundation, I’ve been able to see issues from different perspectives,” he explains. “I’m also much better at discussing things in a group now; I take a step back and slow down, and am getting more used to providing evidence to support my arguments. These days I go in as a more informed bull!”

Not all the classes are to his taste, however, but he understands the benefits of studying the spectrum of subjects to build a solid knowledge across the arts and humanities.

“We studied Bob Dylan,” he says. “It was two hours of agony! But I was still learning.”

When asked if there have been any surprises on the programme, Callum pauses to think for a moment. “I wasn’t ready for the workload at first,” he says. “But now I’m finishing the work too fast!”

The Foundation has provided a new focus for Callum. “This is the first time since leaving the army that I’ve had a goal,” he says. “It’s a very different life to what I had once planned, but now I can imagine having a career in academia.”

“I’m currently reading some texts by Descartes and Stroud. I was always pretty well read, but not academically. I’ve also realised that having read lots doesn’t necessarily make you wise; it’s how you apply that knowledge that makes you wise,” he says, somewhat…philosophically.

“My new dream is to become a professor,” says Callum.

And you know what? He may well get there.

Callum Wallace