Former Student Profile - Anisha Gangotra - Class of 2002
What years did you attend WHS?
I attended WHS from 1996 to 2002.
What did you get up to at WHS in terms of study and extracurricular activities?
I studied hard at school which stood me in good stead for the future to focus my mind. I always felt it was important to balance studying hard with playing hard too. Having always enjoyed sport, I made the most of the many sports on offer including netball, tennis and athletics. I also enjoyed the drama and music festivals we used to do. The largest part of my extracurricular school life was spent playing hockey. Having pulled around a hockey stick since I could walk, I was able to develop and continue my passion by playing both indoor and outdoor hockey for WHS and reaching national finals on a number of occasions.
Do you have any fond memories you’d like to share?
I have so many great memories of my time at WHS including field trips to Israel, San Sebastian and Barcelona, hockey tournaments, doing the Millennium tunnel in 2000, Christmas history lessons watching Blackadder with Mrs Peers, having a form room ‘under the stage’ and all the fun we used to get up to down there, popping in to say ‘hi’ to Mr Merrick as he would be working on the massive paper timetabling system in the room next door to us under the stage and every now and then falling asleep in the library during free periods when I was tired from studying and playing hockey!
What did you do after school? Gap year, straight into business or Uni.
I went to straight university after finishing school. I didn’t feel that taking a gap year was an option for me at that time and I was also a little concerned that if I went off travelling around the world, then I may never have come back to get a degree! Instead I took a career break in 2012/2013 and spent some time travelling, volunteering and living in South America, thanks to my interest in the Spanish language which I studied to A-Level at WHS.
If you went to Uni where did you go and why did you choose it?
I went to The University of Warwick and studied Sociology. I had visited the Warwick campus one summer just to have a look around and had wandered into the Sociology building. I bumped into one of the professors who kindly offered to spend time with me answering all the questions I had and tell me more about studying Sociology at Warwick. I was impressed with how welcome I was made to feel and their patience with me. I also loved the beautiful campus and the feeling of being in the countryside which I felt would suit my personality.
I studied Sociology at A-Level and was fascinated by people and society. I didn’t really know what type of job or career I wanted so I chose to study a subject which I enjoyed. The Sociology degrees at each university differed enormously so I had to do a lot of research into it. I liked the flexibility that the course at Warwick offered – I only had two core modules out of twelve so I could basically tailor my degree to my own interests. At the time, Warwick was considered the best university in the country to study Sociology so that was a bonus too. I was taught by professors whose names I had previously only come across as the authors of Sociology books – I was a little star struck when I was actually being taught by them!
What are you up to now?
Where I am now has been shaped by my passions from school and two key events in my life. In 2008, at 24 years old, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC), a chronic auto-immune condition where my immune system attacks my bowels. Symptoms include blood loss, diarrhoea, bowel urgency, pain and fatigue. There is no cure so I work with a team of health care professionals to manage my symptoms.
Then in 2011, I was the victim of a traumatic, high-speed car accident. My life changed overnight. I had physical injuries - I struggled to get out of bed by myself, had constant headaches and more. I literally had to take everything one step at a time. I also suffered with PTSD, depression and anxiety, which took years to recover from.
These personal challenges led me to making a career change by working in mental health and becoming an Inclusive Dance and Zumba instructor.
Working within the NHS mental health service where I specialise in Employment and Mental Health, has allowed me to use my personal experience in a positive way to support others and make a difference to people’s lives by empowering them through their own recovery journey. I manage a team of employment and mental health specialists and develop the service that’s offered.
Dance played a key part in my mental and physical recovery from the accident and I wanted to provide a safe space for all, including those with disabilities, long-term conditions and mental health issues to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of dance. This is why I decided to become an Inclusive Dance and Zumba instructor. It’s also provided a space to have an open dialogue about the issues we’re facing and share our personal challenges. That in itself, has been truly powerful. I also continue to advocate in the mental health, chronic illness and disability sphere.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been shielding due to my UC and being on immuno-suppressant medication. I’ve been working from home as well as teaching my dance classes online. This has allowed me to stay connected with my work colleagues and dance students during a challenging and difficult time. I’ve definitely had highs and lows since the start of the pandemic. My mental health has been affected whilst I’ve been navigating the basics of how to get food and medication delivered, managing the increasing workload and demands at work from the pandemic to understanding technology to move my dance classes online. It’s been a challenge to say the least!
What do you know now that you didn’t in Year 13 that you’d like to share with current students?
It’s great to have goals, ambitions and a plan of how to achieve them but it’s also ok if you’re not sure what you want to do. Remember to enjoy the journey as much as the destination or result – it’s just as important. To be flexible and have the ability to adapt as life changes and throws things at you is a really important skill, as life rarely turns out exactly as you expect it to. 2020 has certainly proved that!