Three years ago today, give or take, I headed north for the very first time. The car was packed to the gunnels with everything that I absolutely couldn’t live without (but wouldn’t even look at for the next three years). The M1 was full of cars similarly loaded, right down to the nervous fresher in the passenger seat. I was, for the first time in my adult life, entering the unknown.
I think most of us had the same worries when we started at Durham, however irrational they may seem now. I had convinced myself that I’d been accepted by mistake, that I’d show up at my lecture on Monday morning to find the professors waiting to give me the bad news. Little did I know that the lecturers never had a clue whether I was supposed to be there or not, and were most likely grateful for an extra face in their near-empty lecture hall.
Would we make friends? Would we manage the workload? Had we won our places at this prestigious university by accident? Once we arrived would we be told there’d been a mistake, that we were not at all clever enough to be there? Maybe this one was just me. And still, at the very backs of our minds, with three years to brew, the small question of: What job can we get with our degree?
We each had visions of who we would be at university, promising our parents that we’d join every society, play sports and go to all our lectures. I don’t think that anyone’s vision ever really comes true (kudos to you if it did), but that’s not a bad thing. I knew the second I stepped into the freshers’ fair with three of my new friends that I was going to bail out of stuff I’d been so confident about signing up to. I liked these people, and I didn’t want my quirks revealing themselves too soon for fear of scaring them off. I didn’t sign up to half the things that actually caught my attention. That said, it didn’t matter. I never even saw the people I went to the fair with again after freshers’ week. Instead, I found my group of friends, without the need of societies, and I never looked back.
This isn’t me saying that you shouldn’t join societies or throw yourself into the DU bubble. Rather, I’m saying they’re not for everyone. They weren’t for me, and if you bottle out of signing up to Harry Potter Soc it doesn’t matter – most people are Potter Heads anyway. Don’t regret not being the president of this society and the secretary of that, just because your friends are. Rather, do it if you want to, not because it will look good on your CV.
Looking back, it’s clear to me that there is so much more to Durham than the university brand. It’s about those first few years as an adult: leaving home, trying new things, losing the ability to ever drink rum again (again, maybe just me). It’s about learning and making mistakes. A dry run, really, for real adulthood.
And so, here I am three years later and to my surprise, not much has changed. I’m three years older, somewhat wiser, and slightly more qualified. But my worries stay the same. I’ve left the familiar once again (because that is what Durham had become), and now I find myself in London, to find my fortune like a modern-day Dickens character. And my old worries have come back to haunt me. Once again I ask: Will I find friends? Will I be able to do the work? Perhaps the only difference is that the once distant worry of finding work is rather more at the forefront of my mind, now that I no longer have the comfort of a student loan. The other difference is that I’ve done this before. I’ve ventured into the unknown and made it my home. It might be daunting, but this time I know I can do it.
That, and my hangovers are worse – oh, the hardships of old age.
Photograph: Ben Sutherland via Flickr and Creative Commons