To any and every fresher who might be apprehensive about the experience of starting university, I am here to reassure you that I was once just like you – if not ten times worse! Having never moved house nor school, let alone continent, I was an absoulute wreck – dramatically and realistically – when it came to leaving behind everything that I had ever known and loved in the ‘safe-bubble’ that I call my home. The move seemed all too daunting and filled with uncertainty and dread that was difficult for me to digest and handle. Not only would I be in a foreign environment surrounded by ‘foreign’ people and places, I would be focusing on only one subject at a more advanced level, and in a manner entirely at odds with one I was used to. The challenges that lay ahead of me felt immense, and I was not fully confident that I would be able to cope. Notwithstanding my trepidations, I was a nervous fresher who managed to make it through, and who has absolute confidence that you can too.
Having not visited Durham before cementing it as my ‘firm’ choice, I remember feeling completely disoriented when I first arrived. Please do not fret if you feel out of place! Fresher representatives – otherwise known as ‘Freps’ – are on-site throughout Freshers Week to answer any and all queries that you may have, and to direct you to all the places you will be frequenting most, for study hours and otherwise! Every new student will be finding their way, and you will, I am sure, be surprised at how quickly the unfamiliar becomes familiar with just a little bit of time.
If you feel you are overly struggling during this time as I felt I was, I strongly encourage you to consider speaking to someone at an early stage in college who will be able to provide you with reassurance and information. Welfare members are students trained in providing pastoral support and may be approached during confidential ‘drop-in hours’ with various concerns – of which none is too minor – or for a simple chat and some sweets in a safe, non-judgemental space. Contact can be established with the Student Support Office if you would like to speak to someone more senior, too. Strangers will quickly become friends and taking advantage of the people in place who are willing and able to help can truly ease the transition. One thing that I would like to stress is that you do not have to be miserable 24/7 before seeking help – students and staff are acutely aware that different students adjust differently, requiring varying levels and types of support which they are prepared to provide.
In terms of a workload that may seem unmanageable and overwhelming – especially when others seem miles ahead – I would keep at the forefront of your mind that you are so much stronger, smarter, and braver than you think that you are; your hard work has seen you through thus far, and there is no reason why it will not continue to see you through! Checking summative assessment methods and rubric requirements for each of your modules at the outset is extremely useful in terms of managing workload expectations throughout the year; you may, for example, discover that despite a hundred-plus page reading list, you are only required to write on three or four authors or texts for a particular module. This means that you may be able to read and attend lectures more selectively, using the additional time to explore the various societies and events that Durham has to offer. First year is formative, which means that you ultimately need to pass each of your modules to proceed onto the next year of study, and that the summative grades that you do receive are not counted in the final classification of your degree. With this in mind, the year is an invaluable opportunity to not only explore your chosen subject in greater depth, but to venture into other arenas that catch your fancy.
I would like to extend a huge ‘congratulations’ to all of you for making it to this point. It could not have been easy, and you are one hundred percent deserving of the exciting opportunities that lie ahead. It is also one hundred percent alright if you are not feeling your absolute best in the present moment; starting university is a milestone, and one that is challenging on multiple fronts. That being said, I am very hopeful that, with a little patience, a support system around you, and some faith in the fact that everything works out as it is meant to, you will find yourself feeling much more settled sooner rather than later.