Welcome to Durham, International Freshers!

By -Carreno

A year ago, I took the biggest gamble I had ever taken: I chose to come to Durham University. Unlike many of my fellow students, I hadn’t been able to attend any open days or visits and I’d never even been to the North of England before. Though I was incredibly excited, I was also nervous: I was packing a suitcase and moving 10,185 km, travelling for 13 hours on a plane, and moving a 5-hour time difference away from the only home I’d ever known.

I was incredibly excited, but also nervous: I was packing a suitcase and moving 10,185 km

Looking back, although a lot of things in Durham are quite different from what I was used to in Lima, the first, unexpected, shock was speaking English all day long, to everyone, and relegating my native Spanish to messages to my family and friends back home. I have been lucky to find that, whenever I stumbled upon a language barrier, it made for a funny anecdote. At first, I was fairly self-conscious about my accent: most of the time, whenever I met someone, they spent the first couple of minutes of the conversation looking a little puzzled from trying to place it. However, I soon learned that this often came from good-natured curiosity, and people asking about where you’re from and about your native tongue can make a really good conversation starter. My takeaway from all this is that, if you’re an international student with an accent, own it!

Whenever I stumbled upon a language barrier, it made for a funny anecdote

A big worry I had was that, coming from a culture that tends to be quite warm and expressive, I would find the infamous English stiff-upper-lip attitude cold. Luckily, this was not the case at all. Few people have been as kind and welcoming to me as those I’ve met in the year I’ve been at Durham. The locals and university staff have been incredibly helpful since my first day here, and English students have been really friendly as well. Though it may seem that most people are intimidatingly polite, rest assured that they really do mean to be that nice.

I was worried I would find the infamous English stiff-upper-lip attitude cold

Even in a city as welcoming as Durham, however, homesickness can get quite intense. The first thing I learned about homesickness was that, though being busy is very good for keeping one’s chin up, it’s also important to let yourself take a break and sit with it for a while if you need to. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your roommate or flatmates when this happens: chances are they’ll be up for a chat and a warm cup of tea, and this can work wonders. That being said, keeping busy is a great way to avoid wallowing for too long. Getting involved in college societies, going to socials, and volunteering with the local community (I volunteered at my college library, which I highly recommend if you’re at Cuth’s) are great ways to establish a connection to Durham and make you feel like you belong here.

Getting involved in college societies, going to socials, and volunteering make you feel like you belong here

A final word of advice: don’t fear the food. Yes, there will be occasions where you will find yourself reaching for chilli flakes and wondering whether a dish so bland is beyond salvation (I’m looking at you, dining-hall mash). However, this will be far rarer than you probably fear. As with the other aspects of Durham that may seem unfamiliar, the best thing to do is to give the local cuisine a chance – if it can charm a born-and-bred Peruvian, it may surprise you as well.

Image by Tee Farm via Pixabay

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