Experiences over time

In this section you will be asked to draw a timeline to plot your life experience. The actual time frame will be up to you – it can include your whole life since childhood, or you might want to focus on recent study or work experience, or on specific roles you might have (such as carer, volunteer or student, for example).

The timeline creates a graphic picture of your life (or a period in your life) that will help you to identify the ups and downs, and also any patterns or recurring themes that you may not have been aware of.

It can be very difficult to look back over our life or our experiences; for some people, this may bring to mind some issues or memories that they would rather not confront. If you find this activity distressing, you may want to omit it or to discuss it with someone you trust. Remember, you can also select which areas of your life you want to focus on. This might be very recent work experience (either paid or unpaid) or you might want to focus more on individual roles you have in life.

Before you try creating a timeline of your own life, we’d like you to look at a couple of examples and think about how they might relate to your own life and experiences.

Activity 2.1 Taking stock of my experiences over time

Timing: You should spend around 10 minutes on this activity.

Look at the example timelines and listen to the audio clips. Then try to answer the questions that follow.

Example 1: Mo’s timeline

Have a look at what Mo’s timeline might look like.

Graphic depicting high points and low points in Mo’s life
Figure 2.2 Mo’s timeline

Now listen to Mo talking about his adult life and the process of his coming to the UK and settling into life in Scotland.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: mo_audio2.mp3
Skip transcript


In 2004, during my last year at university, I started working on a research project with my senior lecturer. In 2007, during this project, some events happened to me and so I had to flee the country and come to the UK.

I remember then I couldn’t speak a word and I didn’t know where I was. I was in a new environment, atmosphere. It took about six months to settle in, in a flat. I had to change address several times because of the situation I was in, and because the condition of the flat wasn’t suitable.

Because I had a kind of bad experience in my career, I wasn’t happy to go back and do any kind of work in my degree subject, in my field. I decided to change my career so I started from scratch. The college places were full so I studied on my own, at the library.

I then got a place at college and was studying ESOL and HNC computing. There were lots of problems in Glasgow. Mostly the difficulties were in my first year living in Scotland. I was in a situation where people attacked me, threw many things at me, and after one year I decided to move to London.

At that time, in 2008, I got my ‘Status’. I tried to stay in London but I couldn’t because there wasn’t any support. It was just a big and crazy city so I decided I had to come back to Glasgow. I tried to go back to college but I had missed so many units on my course I had to wait to start the next year again.

When I came back from London I started working with the British Red Cross. I went on their journalist workshop and short course, and after that I started working with New Voices. From New Voices, I met many other organisations: Scottish Refugee Council, Venture Scotland and Bridges Programmes.

In 2009 Bridges helped me to find some subjects at The Open University. I was doing some of their units such as Learning to change and Starting with maths. I also continued with my study at college on ESOL and HNC computing.

I finished my HNC and I got good marks, and it was surprising for my lecturer because in the first year I was struggling with my problems – personal problems, language and many other things. Then I started studying HND, which was 2010/11. I finished the HND and I started university last year. It’s better now. Hopefully I will finish my degree and move to another city.

End transcript
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Example 2: Ying’s timeline

Have a look at Ying’s timeline.

Graphic depicting high points and low points in Ying’s life
Figure 2.3 Ying’s timeline

Now listen to Ying talking about her adult life and the process of change from growing up and working in China to moving to the UK for work and study.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: reflection_toolkit_ying_aud003.mp3
Skip transcript


My parents were not very educated: they were working to look after three children, and also in China you have to pay for everything. So I wanted to study English, but I didn’t like my teacher so I never studied beyond my entry-level pass.

I got a job in a factory. When I went to the factory, I just realised that other people could make quite good money that I could not. I couldn’t because of my education. And after we moved to a different city, I found it more difficult to find a job, because of my education.

Then my friend helped us. We opened our own shop to sell women’s clothes. The shop was OK – I think it wasn’t good if you wanted to improve your education. I could only sell, and make a small amount of money for myself.

After that I came to Britain. I couldn’t speak any English at all. So I couldn’t do anything, and it was quite bad because suddenly everything’s changed for me. I had my child. I went to college to study English for three years. I got information from our college and a charity (the Bridges Programmes) about the OU.

In this country, if you don’t have an education certificate, you cannot get a job. You can maybe get a job in a Chinese takeaway or Chinese supermarket, but that’s not what I want.

I think now I got a job because I was studying at the OU. It was quite difficult. Sometimes it is too hard and you don’t want to continue. So that’s why I say your friends and your family are quite important, to give encouragement. I am feeling more confident. I am working now as a finance assistant.

End transcript
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Reflection and discussion

Consider the following questions:

  • Have you had any experiences similar to Mo’s or Ying’s?
  • Do you have anything in common?
  • What is different about your life experience?

Make some notes in the activity sheet [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   provided or in your notebook.


Go to Activity 2.1 of your Reflection Log. Once you have completed the activity, make sure you save the document again.

If you are working in a group, you might want to share your answers and discuss your notes with each other, or with your mentor if you have one.