No such thing as a normal Freshers’ Week

Edoardo Lanfranchi – International Student

When I first arrived at Durham last year, I was picked up at the airport with a few other internationals. We were driven to the hill college area, where I had to wait until smaller cabs would come and pick us up again to deliver us to our respective colleges. It felt weird. First of all, it wasn’t rainy – which is how every Italian expects England to be all of the time – though it was freezing cold, and grey. I kept asking myself which mysterious world I had landed in. An impenetrable wall of wilderness surrounded me; I could hear its melancholic sounds coming from the bushes, its gloomy shadows all around, and it felt like civilisation was thousands of miles away. And that was my first and only encounter with Josephine Butler College.

Later on, things got a bit easier. Aside from the fight against a giant spider found in my room on the second night – may he rest in peace – the wilderness did not bother me any further. The rain did come in the end, but only after a couple of days, and the second nightmare of all Italians moving to England – the food – turned out to be acceptable (at least in the short run). Freshers’ week started, and, as one friend of mine recently declared, it was a ‘riot of drunken hedonism’. I soon learnt the meaning of expressions like ‘binge-drinking’ and ‘chunder’, and discovered that many English students seem to view social life as a collective renouncement of their psycho-physical abilities. But that wasn’t all. Without me realising it, the Durham spirit started to get hold of me. It was mainly in the quiet moments, at lunch or at a Welfare tea-and-toasts that it started to happen.

After only one week, I could already feel a growing sense of being part of… something. Durham and my college made me feel like I was in my place. My new home – built on diversity, rain and bad food, and occasionally inhabited by scary spiders. But my home, nonetheless.

Alisa Anwar – Teetotal

Freshers’ was one of the most exciting, nerve-wracking, and busiest times of my entire life. For the most part, my experience was quite similar to others. I took part in all my college events, talked to more people than I could have ever imagined, and signed up to far too many societies (and still receive weekly emails from every single one…). I finished the week worn out and exhausted, but completely settled into every aspect of Durham life. Yet, there was one abnormality: I didn’t drink. Before coming to university I was often met with the impression that not drinking would ostracise me from events and hinder making friends. I was anxious that I would feel peerpressured into going out every night, and apprehensive that I’d be forced to change my personality to fit in with the crowd. I even once found myself scrutinising the pages of ‘The Student Room’ to see whether being teetotal at university was a common thing. To my dismay, on the surface, it wasn’t. It is important to disclaim that I have absolutely nothing against those who drink or had the ‘typical’ freshers’ experience. It just wasn’t for me! However, I am glad to say that, when I arrived at university, all the myths and stories that I had found myself believing over the previous couple of weeks were completely banished from my mind. Not one person seemed to care that I didn’t drink! I met many people who didn’t drink, yet went out clubbing, in my block. It is a lot more common than people are led to believe. Moreover, not all freshers’ events even revolved around drinking. Colleges ensure that they organise ‘chilled events’ each night to coincide with the regular clubbing nights out, and to my delight I found them to be extremely popular. As long as you try to be sociable, freshers’ week will be thoroughly enjoyable.

Jack Schofield – Christian

On paper, I’m a top notch Christian bloke. Churched weekly from birth, two-time winner of St Stephen’s semiannual Bible Quiz, and a fearsome part-time apologist. If anyone has reason to boast, I had more. I also didn’t believe a word of it. Half of my life reflected that disbelief – in the form of nights spent blackout drunk, girls whose names I don’t remember, and all without a moment’s thought to any sort of savior. The other half had me sitting in the pew, going to the Christian summer camps, and earnestly trying to look godly. “This has got to come to a head,” reasoned my 17-year-old self… and to a head it inevitably came. I set out to prove Christianity false to myself and ended up doing the opposite.

After examining the evidence, I became convinced that Jesus had died and risen again for broken people like me. And it was in this frame of mind that Hild-Bede freshers’ week hit me. While home friends regularly remind me that Durham is known as ‘Dullham’, Dullham is still able to push a fair few drinks down its new freshers. How did I handle it as a man newly striving to live the way Jesus teaches as the best way? Badly. I drank way too much. I did things that I’m not proud of. And that is why I’m so thankful that we’re not saved through our actions – everyone would fail by that measure. Instead, knowing Jesus has taken every punishment that I deserve on himself, I can be confident that my many failings are not going to bar me from an eternity with Him. You can find the full roster of Christian Union events on the Facebook page. These events are open to everyone, particularly if you have your own questions about Jesus or the Christian faith.


Photograph: Alisa Anwar

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