First to fourth years reflect on the past academic year

With summer almost upon us, Comment asks students from years one to four to reflect on this year’s highs and lows.


Name: Georgia Bower
Year: First Year
Degree: English Literature

I find it surreal that my first year at Durham is practically over.

It has been such an unforgettable year for me, especially because it marked my return to my home country after ten years of living in Bermuda. I was nervous, but once I arrived I was relieved by the friendly atmosphere of Trevs and all the smiling faces there to greet me.

When I look back at my first year here, there are so many happy moments: the Freshers’ Events, formals, Trevs Night with the awesome laser tag arena… but equally, the nights my friends and I stayed in and watched horror movies with some Paddy’s takeaway stand out in my mind.

I somehow managed to make Freshers’ Flu last all of first term

In terms of my degree, my course mates are amazingly supportive and always willing to help. I am also grateful for the inspirational lecturers who remind me why I love English Literature.

As for some low points, the first thing that springs to mind is the Freshers’ Flu I somehow managed to make last for the entire first term, on and off. Alongside this actual sickness, however, I also suffered from homesickness. I had never spent more than a night away from my parents and the fact that they were over 3,000 miles away and could not visit me did not help. Yet, I do feel like I have grown in independence as a result.

In my first term, I had to battle with moments of doubt because of a grade that had me fighting back tears of disappointment during a feedback session. However, I can triumphantly say that I have improved since then and I now reflect on it as a moment that sparked my resilience.

After the blissful month of freedom that is June for us here at Durham, there will be the low of actually having to leave college accommodation. I have loved living at Trevs and will miss this quirky hexagonal palace because of everyone who has made it such a special place.


Name: Eden Watkins
Year: Second Year
Degree: Theology

I did not enjoy my first year at Durham.

Having spent a year out of education, working in a supermarket and saving up for nights out and holidays, I’d almost started to feel like an independent human being, and so going back into education was something of a culture shock.

Illustration: Melissa Frateantonio

I was partly unlucky: I didn’t feel comfortable or welcome in my college community, which is a vital part of Freshers’ Week, but on top of this I was lazy and more than a little bitter. I also lived in Castle’s very own Moatside which, and I don’t think this is an exaggeration, is the most horrible place in the world.

But then second year rolled around, and something strange happened. I started working, on my friendships and on my degree. I moved into a house with my friends, and now I have my very own kitchen where I can cook whatever I want whenever I want. I started going to church more, I picked up music and writing again, I even let my hair grow out – which, though I’m sure I’ll look back on as an embarrassing phase one day, I’ve secretly wanted to do for years.

I’m finally living on my own terms in a contented way

Recently I’ve stopped drinking, finally admitting to myself that I’ve never really enjoyed it, and found new ways to balance socialising with my own tendency for introversion. I play pool occasionally, and go to brunch. It’s fun, it’s nice.

This year is the first time in my life I’ve felt like I’m living on my own terms in a sustainable and contented way. It hasn’t all been fun or easy, but I know who I am and I know where I’m going, so I’ve got the basics covered.

In a couple of months, I’m going to get on a plane and fly to Germany where I’ll study for the next year. I will miss this city very much, and when I come back, it will feel like coming home.


Name: Sophie Gregory
Year: Third Year
Degree: English Literature

“You can easily convert your 2:1 to a first,” a recent graduate I bumped into on the street said to me in first term, “I just had to drop hockey and socialising.”

This sentiment framed the first few weeks of the year: third year is about your degree, and nothing else. Apparently.

I soon abandoned that. “Converting” my 2:1 into a first at the expense of everything else, including my mental health, seemed ludicrous. Instead, I took on Editorship of this paper and continued my work for Thorn, as well as spending time on a few other outside interests.

Focusing solely on academics seemed like a waste of what Durham offered me

Yes, I will most likely graduate with a middling 2:1, but I know it was worth it. Coming to university from a state comprehensive, I was presented with a wealth of opportunities; spending all of my time staring at poetry seemed like a complete waste of everything else Durham could offer me.

Of course, third year is actually also about your degree. Prioritising my extra-curricular led to an unwanted extension on my dissertation, going nocturnal for a few weeks, and once almost crying in front of my dissertation supervisor while he quoted Shelley at me with disarming rapidity. Sitting in front of a blank screen, surrounded by books containing concepts I just didn’t understand, I was often struck by a paralysing feeling of inadequacy; I repeated the mantra “I shouldn’t have come to Durham” a number of times to friends.

Third year has been more fulfilling for having the bits that weren’t my degree

Much of this year was me frantically playing catch up, and then being too burnt out to do any work in the holidays. That’s my one big regret about third year: I love English, but my failure to invest time into it meant that this love soon became unrequited.

Looking back, though, I don’t think I would change any of it. I’ve eaten plentiful Lebeaneats with my brilliant housemates, some of the kindest, funniest, and most generous people I have ever met; I’ve had the pleasure of contributing to Durham’s arts scene; and I’ve been privileged enough to work with talented students on this newspaper.

I may not have “converted” my 2:1 to a first, but I wouldn’t give up the time spent with my housemates dissecting the problematic undertones of 13 Going on 30 for anything. I’ve had a fulfilling third year – more fulfilling, I think, for having the bits that weren’t my degree.


Name: Grace Bentham
Year: Fourth Year
Degree: French and German

I had expected my year abroad to be a year to be full of challenges – and not just linguistic ones.

Abroad, I was five hundred miles away from the Durham comforts of familiar faces and College support networks, where it would have been – or so I had thought – easier to fit in.

On returning, Google diagnosed my ‘Reverse Cultural Shock’

I quickly learned that to avoid isolation, I would have to integrate myself into the community. Through singing in foreign dialects at Karneval, joining an art class taught in German, and attending weekly integration cafés with friends from all over the world, a ‘Zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl’, or a sense of belonging and togetherness, displaced my unease.

Illustration: Melissa Frateantonio

But as I returned to Durham for my final year, I was overwhelmed by what Google diagnosed as ‘Reverse Cultural Shock’. Why did fluent conversations in English, my mother tongue, now have me perplexed? Why did I get odd looks for paying for my pint in euros?

A year behind everyone else, I was out of sync – local businesses had changed hands, my friends had graduated, Durham was expanding, and even the Cathedral had changed its appearance. I felt homesick, but for what?

Had I changed? My friends insist that I am just as accident-prone as before. The year abroad did, however, allow me to escape my own bubble. Others’ acceptance of me made me aware of the potential we have as a student community to return the gesture and strengthen solidarity in Durham, celebrating difference in language and culture. Durham for Refugees and City of Sanctuary – organisations I had never heard of before my year abroad – have enriched my student experience and made this year the best yet.

From teaching English and running craft sessions for refugees and asylum-seekers to helping with pop-up restaurants and attempting Syrian dances, I have never felt so connected.

Photograph: Zoë Boothby

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