Anxiety, gratitude, Felix the Phoenix: first year reflections from Durham Freshers’ Week


I first entered Grey College, a tense, silly, confused mess, convinced that I was not ready for university. Maybe, in very Durham fashion, I need a gap year ‘to find myself’. Nevertheless, I decided to embrace Durham, and develop along the way.

My parents and I were warmly welcomed by the Principal and the Freps (and Felix the Phoenix, a core aspect of Grey). Still, my underlying feeling was one of worry – about doing ‘the social stuff’ right; keeping up with studying; and functioning without the support of my amazing parents.

After getting everything sorted, I went on a last walk with my parents – starting with Van Mildert (my mum’s old college) where we certainly could not and did not marvel at any of the architecture (sorry), before setting off into town where I bumped into a number of friends during the course of the walk, even benefitting from a coffee in St John’s. I get the sense that being a student at Durham makes you feel a little famous because you constantly see people you know due its size. I then said goodbye to my parents, and, quite literally, I was alone.

For the next few days everything felt, quite frankly, horrible and overwhelming, and I wanted to run home. I felt sick. My Freps, Trisha and Christian, were fantastic, helping us with such warmth and energy, as were my floor who I am so lucky to be with (shout out to the Penthouse!). However, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I had reached such a mental low, feeling utterly helpless. It helped having people both at Durham and elsewhere who could listen at such a volatile time. I’d advise any fresher to establish a couple people at Durham who you can speak to about anything whenever something goes a bit wrong.

I’d advise any fresher to establish a couple people at Durham who you can speak to about anything

As I say, this was more a me problem than anything else, because I’m convinced the welcome I received was way better than any other university could offer. Dedicated Freps, caterers and college staff ensured our week was filled with a range of activities to help us mix with others and settle in. Grey College had club nights, a neon bop, inflatables, and more. It was of the highest standard.

The tide turned from Tuesday onwards. Something happened. I had a mentality switch. I became warmer, more open, more relaxed, and more aware of the fact that despite what facade we put on, everyone here is a ball of nervous, confused energy like myself, thrown into a new world. I remember walking through Durham and just marvelling at the beauty of the town, the university and the number of opportunities I now have. I am so very lucky. Gratitude often helps my little problems fizzle away for a while. Sometimes it’s important to stop moaning and realise how wonderful so many aspects of your life are.

Everyone here is a ball of nervous, confused energy like myself, thrown into a new world

As mentioned, the week was enhanced by a floor that gets on well and features wonderful personalities, and we went on some great nights out. We threw ourselves into the Durham nightlife, one of the wildest clubbing scenes in Europe (definitely not lying), and had a great time in the Greyhound Bar at college.

There was also the chance to sign up for societies. At the Sports Fair, I must have seemed like Durham’s most elite athlete, ‘committing’ to everything from squash to hill walking to futsal (although I question the extent of this ‘commitment’!). It’s easy to get drowned in the number of societies, and best to put your name to anything and everything, and throw yourself in.

Freshers’ Week took a toll on me in so many ways, but I also learnt and experienced so much. I learnt the importance of loosening up and embracing every possibility, and I was reminded of the need to be grateful for all the opportunities in the present and future. On Monday evening I felt the most useless I have for a while, but it was a change of perspective that really made Freshers’ Week fun. It won’t be ‘the best week of your life’, because, as mentioned, we are a ball of nervous, confused energy. It’s okay to feel worried and anxious, I certainly did. But recognise that everyone is feeling the same, and no one will judge you.

Image credit: Thomas Tomlinson

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