A letter to my past self

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Good morning,

I say that because it’s 5:59am on Sunday 30th September 2018, and your alarm is about to go off. In less than a minute, you are going to wake up, and by lunchtime, you’ll be somewhere new, that special state of existence known only as ‘at university’. I look back on you now, only a year since you were me, and already I know we are not the same. You will change so perceptibly and remarkably in the next three terms that, when you return in September next year, to frep for a whole new set of first-years, you’ll recognise them only as someone you used to be. Right now, you are naïve, earnest and frightened. You are socially awkward on occasion and prone to the anxiety that has followed you everywhere. In a year’s time, you will still be all those things, in a way – but you will also be confident, capable and, actually, kind of cool (well, as cool as you can be in Durham, which isn’t very). You’ll discover skills you didn’t know you had, find yourself put in charge of projects and plans that would have terrified you in the sixth form. And, you know, you’ll actually pull them off.

You will acquire a lot of things this year. A taste for cherry coke (which everyone else will tell you is disgusting, but they’re wrong), a few hundred Facebook friends, a few circles of good friends, a ridiculous quantity of stash, the ability to discuss the use of space in Jane Austen’s Emma. Eventually, you’ll acquire a sense of belonging too, in this strange home-from-home made up of you and 20,000 other students. You will laugh and cry and write and read and go out and stay in and fall apart and reassemble yourself so many times over, until your patchworked form resembles someone new.

You will acquire a lot of things this year

This city, which today will feel alien with strange twists and turns, will become a sort of home. The cathedral, that giant, will emerge as a symbol of comfort, a kind of anchor to point the way back when you get lost among the hill colleges or at the train station. Its quiet interior will become a good place to pause when you need some time to yourself. You’ll develop a fondness for the brutalist concrete of the DSU and learn that, did you know, the architect of Kingsgate Bridge was the design engineer for the Sydney Opera House? Durham will become so familiar that you’ll seek more, go on trips to Newcastle and Seaham and Beamish, and will count down the days to the end of term when you can see a different set of streets. This place is beautiful, but you need to get out now and again, trust me.

Durham will become so familiar that you’ll seek more

This room, this tiny set of bed, desk and wardrobe on the top floor where you can see the trees and the central courtyard, is yours for the year. Look after it, for it is uniquely yours. It is a tiny pocket of calm in what will quickly become your busy existence. You will have fairy lights and cushions and a tiny succulent named Colin bought at a plant sale, because you’re a fresher so all these things are virtually compulsory, but they also make it feel like home.

One day, you will find yourself saying ‘I’m going home,’ where once you’d have said ‘back to college’ or ‘to my room’ or ‘the flat’. And you won’t notice when this happens, because nothing will feel strange about it. Without realising, you’ll have finally started living in Durham, not just existing in it.

You will meet so many people this year, and you will regard all of them as smarter than you, more talented, more worldly-wise, capable, experienced– more deserving. Each student here will have this kind of glow about them, which you’re going to find terrifying. At first. It sounds odd, but you’ll learn to love it – you will recognise this place as a lighthouse for brilliant human beings, where ambition is contagious. Eventually, you’ll learn to count yourself among these people. Eventually, you’ll remember that you earned your place here as much as they did. Eventually, you’ll remember that you belong here, and eventually you’ll claim your three years here as your own.

It’s 6am. This, the first of so many days to come, begins. Good luck.

Best wishes,

A second year.

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