Welcome to Durham – and stop worrying

By Kleopatra Olympiou

Deputy Creative Writing Editor

You will arrive in Durham bearing parts of your life thus far, packed into suitcases or boxes or bags, a collection of the objects that have played their part in shaping you. You will move into your new room – its emptiness might scare you, its daunting neutrality will seem to be whispering that there is nothing special about you being its current occupant. You will wonder about the people who lived in your room before
you, about their thoughts when they lay in the same bed and stared at the same ceiling.

You will be very aware of how small you are in the vastness of the student population. You will also learn that there is enough space for you in that community. The size will not smother you; it will fit comfortably like a snug, homely jumper.

In time, you will conquer Durham. You will begin with your room- your posters, or photos, or happy bedding, the little things that are you will carve out a space that is individual to you. In the absence of pets, you may entertain the company of plants. Your plants’ resilience will grow alongside your own.

You will soon become familiar with the city. The streets will lose their off-putting novelty, the buildings will shed their stiffness. They will greet you every morning with a friendly nod as you walk to and from your lectures. Some days, you will venture beyond the necessary route, to make a new discovery or simply to walk past your favourite bridge. Exploring will give you a sense of belonging. You will make friends. The strain, the awkwardness will go away. Bashful days will give way to happier ones. You will connect with people, share your life with them, be told their stories.

You will begin to refer to college as “home”. At first you will notice, almost blush. Then phrases like “I’m walking home” will roll off your tongue casually. You will not feel their awkwardness; you will have a new home.

While attending lectures, you will start to feel less and less like an impostor. Before your first lecture, you may be overwhelmed by the very idea of it. It is wise to expect the ordinary. It may take until after Christmas (or, indeed, Easter) for the ‘university student’ part of your identity to be worn without a sense of being totally and completely lost.

You will have your first visitors, and will watch with unfathomable joy as your two worlds meet. Durham will feel doubly yours – being a guide bestows upon you the most triumphant sense of belonging. You will confidently profess to know where the best pancakes, coffee, dinner are to be had.

You will feel a great tingling at your fingertips when perusing books in the library. Great power lies at your disposal, and the very thought that you have access to the library’s vast resources may have a slightly vertiginous effect. You will probably get lost in the library. Not to worry, you’ll find your way out. You will learn to study in the company of others – in the library, in coffee shops, on the corridor floor outside your room. The presence of other people will reduce the isolation of studying for hours on end. The idea that everyone else is off having fun when you are studying will cease to trouble you. You will treat yourself to some great cups of coffee to go with all that work.

You will try new things, and find yourself in situations entirely strange to your pre-Durham self. Whether it’s a team T-shirt with your surname on it, football boots, artwork, tickets to a show you’ve been part of, you will watch your room fill with tangible evidence of a comfort zone long departed, the excitement of new things. You will smile knowing that the people who have known you in the past could never picture you where you are now. You will grow.

You will witness the passing of time. You will walk next to auburn leaves in October, then observe their slow disappearance. You will soon start to miss your other home. You will look forward to Christmas, but when the holidays come, you will miss your Durham friends, and be shocked to realise your new life will involve missing people on a year-round basis.

You will watch the trees grow bare, then your spring walks will be peppered with pink blossom, the promise of tiny daffodil shoots, the happy arrival of daffodils themselves. The sun. You will be welcome and, most of all, you will be happy

Photograph: Phoebe Dill

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