Leaving the Nest

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Living out isn’t for everyone. Last year as a fresher I was convinced that 1) I did not belong in Durham, 2) I would end up drowning in my own stress bubble and 3) I would not survive until Christmas surrounded by complete strangers instead of familiar faces.

But here I am finding myself approaching December with the following questions: when does it become socially acceptable to buy a five pound Christmas tree from Paperchase for my place? And when does one start caring about formative essay deadlines rather than which Christmas jumper to wear to a lecture? I guess you could say I’m a hell of a lot more relaxed this year, even though I have more summatives to write, more books to read and more library days scheduled in.

The thing is though, university isn’t all about work. It’s about self-love. It’s about finding your independence. Damn it, it’s about feeling like you’ve just won Bake Off when all you did was make yourself some nice pasta.

This is the feeling I get whenever I cook myself dinner instead of succumbing to Domino’s Pizza or Sweet Tooth – which, in theory, none of us can really afford anyway. It’s a feeling of pride. It’s a ring-your-parents-and-tell-them-you-know-how-to-adult moment. In second year, I live for these moments.

Being a fresher was hysterical. Not hilarious, like when you’ve burnt something in an attempt at cooking a satisfactory meal, or because when you eventually come to clean up your house even the hoover can’t distinguish between strands of hair and carpet fibres; you don’t get to experience those kind of blunders in college.

No – being a fresher was hysterical, because one minute you’re content, hiding away in your little cocoon of bed sheets and books and chocolate from the vending machine, and the next you find yourself wondering what everybody else on your corridor is doing. Are they having a Colin Firth movie marathon that you weren’t invited to? Are they doing far more work than you? Have they already been down for dinner and back down for seconds while you’ve obliviously had your earphones in the entire time?

This was the paranoia of living-in.

It was my worst enemy for a long time last year. Living in college was slightly too confining for someone as paranoid as myself. Many people you speak to may disagree – in fact, I can guarantee most students you speak to will sing songs of praise for college life. But, it isn’t for everyone.

Don’t get me wrong though, I enjoyed living in college. I lived for the honeycomb desserts, the two hour long landing chats with my corridor, and the knowledge that I never had to worry about cooking or washing up – undoubtedly the part I miss the most. Even if you are not the going-out type somehow you find yourself being dragged out to Friday nights at Klute and Monday night Cheapskates by those on your corridor who you hear pre-drinking in the kitchen whilst you already have your pyjamas on eating chocolate buttons. Essentially, living in college occasionally makes you feel as though your university experience is out of your hands.

For me, second year isn’t like that: you choose to live your university experience the way you want to, not the way others expect you to live it. You don’t feel like your every move is being heard, watched or judged and you don’t have that harrowing sense of dread going into a dining hall feeling absolutely clueless as to where your friends are sitting.

Alternatively you may attempt to make a genuine effort with dinner, choosing to make homemade garlic sauce to have with your chicken, only to burn the bottom of the pan, undercook the chicken and forget add half of the ingredients. The effort is there though, right? So is the experience. Cooking has never been my strong point, but having a chance to at least try to cook is a whole lot of fun. In the end, even if your lasagne is abysmal and doesn’t live up to your parents’ version, you still made the time to cook, and for that you deserve a pat on the back.

Living out puts an entirely different spin on university life altogether. Although still being part of your college and attending events has a cosy, family feel to it, not living in college has its definite perks.

Most people live with friends, but I opted for the less generic living choice – living with my boyfriend in a studio apartment in the middle of town. I can already hear your ‘Wow, that’s brave’ and ‘Oh, really?’ comments, and that’s fine. Everyone’s different. Clearly, the uni thing to do is to move out with friends – obviously I didn’t get that memo.

But despite not having those housemate bonds that one gets in a typical student house, I have definitely noticed an increased closeness with not only my boyfriend, but with those friends I choose to spend time with. Having the choice is nice, I’ve noticed. I don’t feel like the inner sesh-queen within me is forcing me to leave behind my uber-soft Primark blanket to venture out – unwillingly – into the gloomy November night. And I don’t feel bad about that. Instead, if I want, I visit my friends in their houses, and have a chat over a cup of tea and a bit of Bake Off. Or alternatively over cider. Or wine. Or we just go all out and go to Jimmy’s, all depending on the mood.

Whereas back at my place, my boyfriend and I catch up on the latest TV shows that we’ve missed, or pop down to Sainsbury’s if it’s 10:30 and we’re in desperate need of some late night snacks – which, for us, is a regular occurrence. Living in town is so unbelievably handy. Obviously the noise is pretty on-going and it makes you really want to make that trek down to Bill Bryson sometimes, but it’s so much different from living in a hill college – good different. I feel like I’m experiencing Durham, as a town far more than simply the Durham where I attend university. I appreciate it a lot more.

Photograph: Arthur Dimsdale via Palatinate Flickr

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