By Lily Gershon
It was over a year ago when I was struggling with my two suitcases trying to get off the train from King’s Cross. My life was packed into these two suitcases which sparked the beginning of a new chapter – Durham University. I get off the train and immediately notice my surroundings. I have swapped the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers for Durham’s cobbled streets and captivating cathedral. I begin to make my way to my new hexagonal home by taking a taxi, trying to convert how much I’m spending from Pounds to Hong Kong Dollars as we drive along. “You are about to have the most incredible experience,” the taxi driver says to me as we make our way through Church Street. I smile, trying to mask my anxious feelings. As we drive along and I take in my new surroundings, I begin to think about the future ahead of me; the new societies I can join, the friends I will make, but most importantly, the person I want to be.
University offers a fresh opportunity for personal growth, self-discovery, and transformation, allowing us to project the best version of ourselves. We can say goodbye to our old, sixth-form selves, get rid of any past anxieties and embrace the unknown. The best part about the unknown is that no one knows us, we can be whoever we want to be.
Personally, coming from a small international school, a place where everyone knew each other inside and out, I could not be more enthusiastic about this change. I was finally at a moment in my life where I could embrace this element of anonymity and be who I wanted to be, not float around on eggshells scared because this person knew this person and so on. I was able to decide who I wanted to be, beginning my journey of discovering my ‘true self’. I knew deep down I was not a shy girl, afraid of my surroundings. So, I set myself a goal, to say yes to every experience and to stay out as much as possible.
I finally arrive at the hexagonal fortress and immediately am questioned about where I’m from: “It’s so cool to have an American here”, “Can you say that word again?” “Are you really from Hong Kong?” I repeatedly get questioned. As I explained how the default international student accent is American, I very quickly realised how important keeping true to your identity is despite wanting to reinvent yourself. Although it soon became taxing having to justify the way you talk and where you are from, you can never change who you are, or your home and it is always something to be proud of is a lesson I quickly learned.
As freshers’ week progressed, I was still adamant about saying yes to every experience in the hopes of reinventing myself from an introverted city girl to an extroverted Durham student. I suddenly found myself chatting with scores of people, my friends and I being given pizza by random boys as well as ending up in numerous college bars in a single night. To finish off the night of venturing into the realm of extraversion, I, along with a group of newfound friends ended up in Babylon and stayed until closing, something my former self would be shocked to hear.
As I came back from Babylon and walked into my room in college, the first thing that immediately struck me was the photo collage on my wall. The first 19 years of my pre-university life in picture form brought a wave of homesickness, bringing me to my first hurdle of reinvention. I will always cherish the memories I’ve made growing up, the friends I made as well as the convenience of city life. However, change is good. Durham will never be Hong Kong, but nor should it! Durham is a special city packed with its own memories and laughs waiting to be shared. It is important to say yes and to build on the experiences you encountered at home to progress as an individual.
As I progressed through my first year and now entering my second year, I have kept to my goal of saying yes to every experience. I have now surrounded myself with an incredible group of friends and have joined societies I am proud to be a part of. Ultimately, university is not about completely changing who you were before to fit into Durham life. Rather, it is about staying true to your roots, building upon your former self and moulding it around your newfound experiences to be the very best version you can be.
Illustration by Hayleigh McLean