The most southern city in the North East

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Opinions like the one I will drone on through for the next 700 words are hotly debated anonymously via Durfess so maybe I’m quite unorthodox in my method here. However, my intrigue about the experience of Northern students in Durham is something that long predates my matriculation. Therefore, those who know me will be unsurprised to see my first editorial surrounding this much-discussed subject.

I live less than an hour from Durham – no, not in Newcastle – but just outside of Middlesbrough, a town I was very shocked to hear many of my university peers hadn’t heard of.

Durham was always the only University I actually wanted to go to, a beautiful city with parts reminiscent of my home town of Yarm, with a high-performing University, close enough to home to keep my season ticket at the Boro. Perfect.

However, throughout the application process, the reputation of Durham’s student body became apparent and I knew that – should I be successful – there was plenty to be nervous about in terms of finding peers who felt like me.

In hindsight, my preconceptions about Durham were admittedly hyperbolic and I have made friends from similar backgrounds to me and completely different ones. Surprisingly to my fresher self, there are students here that like football too, they don’t just play polo.

This experience isn’t everyone’s ideal uni life

From stories or rumours I’ve heard over the years, I don’t doubt that my experience as a relatively local student has been a stress-free one but it is hard to comprehend how moving 40 minutes north can make it feel like you’re in a London suburb.

Suddenly not hearing an accent like yours among your peers can be quite alienating for North East students. Even as a finalist, I seem to have developed and sustained a sensitivity to a Northern accent, even just around campus, it puts a smile on my face to hear an accent like mine.

One of the typical cliches is that Northern students will come to Durham and develop a southern accent from those around them although I think I was guilty of quite the opposite as a fresher. I remember returning home after a few weeks here to watch the football (and see my family of course) and my mam told me that my Teesside accent was broader than when I left and having spoken to proud Northern students here, I doubt this is an original experience.

I remember being amazed that no one else in my year group had opted for Durham but when the vast majority of my year group flooded to Manchester after A Levels the other factors became a little clearer.

The idea of formals, college bars and balls was always equally exciting as it was scarily unfamiliar territory for me, however when I have brought my friends from home to formals or Bailey bar crawls, I can see this experience isn’t everyone’s ideal uni life.

I expect that other Northern students have suffered from the same imposter syndrome that I did but the perks of being a quasi-local have really come to the fore to help me overcome it. I love that I can drive home regularly; that I can play on both sides of the ‘town-gown’ divide and that I can represent the North East in what is undoubtedly a microcosm of London and the home counties. These are hugely positive experiences, unique to a minority of students here.

More than just the student body represents the South here, even the housing market tries its very best to mimic that of London in both price and affordable availability. Also, the fact I still haven’t been able to find a takeaway that serves a real parmo makes me feel extremely distant from home too.

Believe it or not, I’m actually quite scared of making my regional background my personality, so I know this piece certainly doesn’t help my case but the imposter syndrome that must come naturally to local students is no doubt the reason why it feels like there are so few of us. If my peers at sixth form represent the region, there seems to be a general consensus that Durham is just a ‘southern uni’ almost as if they’re happy to leave it to the stereotypical Durham student but I hope that more will be willing to give it a chance in years to come.

Image: Hayleigh Mclean

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