Conversations with Friends: Durham Edition

We often talk about THE student experience. This take can be comforting; we seek similarity with the people we meet, finding unity in what it means to be a student as we join the overall student body. But this one definition of what it means to be a student, or rather what this evokes in different people, is much more complicated. Every student experiences university differently. On  the first level you have being a student in Durham and how this inevitably varies from other universities, and then you have the difference between year groups – what the student experience looked like last year, even last term, is going to be different. Now let’s zoom in on the individual: the people they meet, what subject they take, what college they’re in, what they enjoy, what they don’t enjoy, going out or staying in – these are all factors that greatly influence what being a student actually means, and what the typical university experience is.

Some nights ago I sat down with three of my housemates and our conversation turned into a very informal interview-esque discussion about just this topic – how we found moving to university, our courses, Durham itself etc. So here is a summary of our conversation:

The university experience begins on the very first day – moving into college, and experiencing all that freshers’ week entails. For my housemates this meant different things, and it’s fair to say that the lead up to going to university did not, and does not, look the same for everyone.

One of my housemates (let’s call them housemate A) said they were still in a state of disbelief by the time they arrived in Durham last year; they didn’t know what to expect after hearing ‘crazy stories’ from their other friends at university and other ‘crazy stories’ from Durham itself. This all contributed to the feeling of ‘I didn’t even really think I was going to come here’, where the days before going to university feel more than slightly strange – unable to imagine yourself there, going into the complete unknown, but knowing once you’re in it, you’re in it. It can all feel like a bit of a dream – hazy and disorientating. My other housemate (housemate B) also felt this way and was ‘slightly terrified for freshers’ week’. We all talked about that initial feeling of ‘I’m alone for the first time in my life’ in a place you don’t know yet but one that’s going to be a home away from home for the next few years. However, my last housemate was ‘excited to meet people’ and had an overall positive view of starting uni.

But how did they enjoy Durham as a city once they found their footing? And how did they find living in college last year?

Well, again there were mixed views. Housemate A said Durham is ‘unique, not too big and feels safe’. Housemate C agreed with this, saying they felt that Durham, due to it’s ‘perfect size’ (or in their other words ‘not dead but not too big’) was the ‘perfect’ uni city. Housemate B exclaimed that they liked that ‘you can walk everywhere’! They all agreed that Durham as a university city offers the freedom to do what you want to do, and the combination of city and college/campus experience works well.

However, this glowing review of Durham was not a completely unanimous one!

When we began talking about how college fits into this definition of student life for Durham students, this idea that college is one of the best parts of the Durham experience was questioned. Whilst one of them loved that the college system enables you to ‘choose what you want out of your university experience’, with the ‘freedom of choice’ that the array of colleges give you, my other housemate said they felt college was ever so slightly ‘claustrophobic, like you’re back at school’. After leaving first year and ‘entering the real world again’ which doesn’t feel ‘artificial like the Truman Show’, as one housemate chipped in, they are enjoying university, being a student, even more.

And what about their experience of lectures and studying in Durham?

They all said that the enjoyment of lectures differs enormously from week to week; across the uni, across subjects, contact hours certainly vary. My housemates doing stem courses have a lot more lectures, tutorials and labs than my other housemates who take a humanities subject such as  English. Our days always look very different. Whilst my friends doing stem are constantly out – sometimes having 9 hour days – I often have days with no contact hours. This difference in experience lends itself to the feeling that no one student experience is the same day to day but also overall.

Thanks to A, B and C these nuances in what it means to be a student, and specifically what a Durham student’s life looks like, can be navigated; these conversations with friends show that no one definition can apply to all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Our YouTube Channel