Reflecting upon my first week at university, it is fair to say that this Freshers’ Week was like no other. It was pretty evident from the outset that our Freshers’ Week would not resemble the likes of a Jack Edwards’ vlog, but that was not necessarily a bad thing. If anything, the week proved the resilience of our year group in the face of great adversity. Every step of the way to our arrival in Durham has been clouded by tumult and worry, from the A-Level grades fiasco, to the overwhelming myriad of new restrictions in the North East announced less than a week before our arrival. Despite this, our first week in Durham was far more memorable than the situation we have had to navigate.
There certainly were some lows, such as the rushed goodbyes from our parents on move-in day at the end of our allocated arrival slots and the uncertainty which surrounded our return home at Christmas. News of colleges enforcing lockdowns in response to breached restrictions sent shockwaves of perturbation throughout households and acted as a reminder of the gravitas of the situation. In many ways, the week felt like our organised fun was time-limited and at any moment it could be cut short by a localised outbreak of Covid-19.
It is also impossible to ignore the pressure that has surrounded the bonding of our households, made up of those allocated to our staircases or corridors in college, with whom we are solely allowed to socialise. Whilst we haven’t been able to forge connections with a great breadth of people at a superficial level, the constraints of our social circle have led to the establishment of some genuine connections and a support network very early on. However, not every household has experienced this and the inability to meet lots of new people has exacerbated problems of isolation and loneliness which many people face in their first weeks at university.
One of the biggest blows we faced was the cancellation of the Matriculation ceremony in the Cathedral, during which we would have formally become members of the University. Whilst this was a necessary measure, one cannot ignore the disappointment that many of us felt. The grandeur of the Cathedral was missed, but college-run Matriculation was intimate and replicated the best bits of the ceremony, just on a smaller scale. If anything, this Matriculation was the perfect induction to my college and we were able to see the college spirit in action, with the Freps sitting for hours in the rain just to bang pots and pans as we left our household matriculation ceremonies.
Although online movie parties and Zoom quizzes are not the same as a night out in the famed Klute or a college bar crawl, it was clear that our Freps fought tooth and nail to throw some fantastic in-person events within our households. Dancing to WAP at a silent disco whilst mildly intoxicated in a Chapel was not how I pictured my Freshers’ Week, but that is certainly a memory that I will treasure for a long time to come. The level of support available was truly outstanding from college Welfare teams, who provided daily drop-in hours for us and empathised with our problems, from our struggle with the maze that is DUO, to the stresses of ensuring our households adhere to the guidelines.
During the week I wanted to cry, to hit something with frustration and uttered the phrase “I’m confused” more times than you could imagine, but equally I laughed harder than I had in a long time and ate more croissants than the catering staff have probably ever witnessed. Freshers’ Week no doubt took a hit from the restrictions, but I wouldn’t have wanted my imperfect, stressful and messy introduction to Durham any other way. Whilst the conditions of the week were a product of the ongoing pandemic, my new friendships and highlights are not. We truly had to make the best of a bad situation.
Image courtesy of Olivia Nevins