Things I learnt in my first year at Durham

Here’s a couple of things I found out the hard way, so you don’t have to.

Starting any university is a nerve-racking time, and Durham is certainly no exception. With a new city and a new series of faces to get used to, first year also serves as one huge leaning curve for us all. To help incoming freshers as they prepare to navigate their early days, here’s a series of things I learnt along the way when I experienced Durham for the first time…

Freshers Flu is REAL

R.E.A.L. You CANNOT escape it. You’ll think yourself smug because it hasn’t hit you yet by week 3, but trust me, your parents, your cat, your dog; at some point within the first half of Michaelmas Term you will fall victim of a runny nose, an uncomfortable headache, and a wish to stay in bed the whole weekend. If you think about it, logically you are susceptible to getting a bit ill when you’re in a new environment and exposed to a whole lot of new people, places and germs.

You can’t be an all-rounder

If you have been this year, I mean, good for you, I wish I could’ve do that. You see the thing is at university, a place for new experiences and continuing passions, everything is either expert or beginners’ level, so people start to specialise. Due to social and motivational boundaries, it was a challenge to start something radically new amongst semi-professionals and therefore I couldn’t be an all-rounder- not even to mention that we have a degree to do as well

If your room is the social hub of the corridor, be prepared to host every pre-drinks and get no work done in there

Especially if it’s a shared room. There’s nothing that gives you more satisfaction than knowing that your room- YOUR ROOM- is the go-to place for pres and social interaction of your corridor or friendship group.I mean, what a pleasure to hold that title- that honour- to know that your room makes up a significant part of yours and other first years’ memories.

But it comes with its cons also: you will try your hardest to adapt your room from a party space, littered with the boys’ trashy John Smith beer cans from the night before, into a pristine work zone, but it’s near impossible when your bedroom basically has a revolving door. I guess that’s a plus though, you’ll have to go to the library where you’ll get caught up in the infectious anxious energy of study-bots and get work done.

Turns out silent discos aren’t as lame as they seem

The library vs The Library

The library = Bill Bryson Library = Billy B. The Library = A Bar.

Confessions pages?

Apparently anonymous confession Facebook pages are also thing at university. Looking at you, Durfess and Tindur.

Washing is a pain

We all know this, despite it being such a simple system to navigate in college. People WILL take your things out of the washing machine or dryer and they WILL put them on the floor, and it WILL get lost. Setting a timer while your cycle is on is so easy, so try not to fall victim of this (you’ll thank me later).

Top Tip: don’t do your washing on a Wednesday, or the weekend. I did mine on a Monday at 10am and surely enough I have never lost a significant item of clothing (However, I’m pretty sure the washing machine feeds on trainer socks).

Just because you are at university doesn’t mean you have fully escaped the high school cliques

I mean, sure, friendship groups are definitely more fluid at university, but you’ll mostly be able to tell who is who by their fashion. We all know what I’m talking about: The London Girls who wear a low bun, hooped earring, puffer jacket and flares. Depop central. No comment.

Speaking of fashion…

College Charity Fashion Shows are definitely a thing and definitely a good way to raise money for charity. For some unknown reason they are very successful, but obviously very fun too (DUCFS is the best, you must go within your time at University).

Durham is very small

VERY. SMALL. Life is moving from one bubble to another and Durham is no exception. Expect even the Porters and Housekeeping to know the gossip too as they greet you with a “Hello, flower”.

The students of Durham University do not go out on Saturdays

This is an unspoken rule that is sensed throughout the colleges and us, the students. Shock horror that our customary carnival culture has been flipped on its head. Durham is already saturated with students who get plastered on a daily basis that the least we can do is show our respect to the equally fiesta-inclined local residents who enjoy their Saturday night-fever.

Besides, you’ll need the Saturday to recover from your incredible hangover of Friday’s Formal, Bar Crawl and Players/Jimmy’s antics, and the inevitable self-disgrace if you don’t complete your seminar prep for Monday.

Another note on clubbing: if you are lucky enough to live on the Bailey, you will seriously come to appreciate this as all the clubs are max. 5-minute walk away from the snug of college.

The “thing” to do every day of the week is as follows (although this can depend on your college culture or friend’s routine):

– Wiff Waff Monday

– Fabio’s Tuesdays

– Players /Lloyds/Babylon Wednesdays,

– Jimmy’s Thursdays

– Jimmy’s/Players Fridays,

– No Saturdays

– Klute Sunday (aka SNK (Sunday Night Klute)).

You’ll realise pretty quickly which team you side with: Team Jimmy’s or Team Klute. However, they are just as bad as each other (we love to see it), so a night out in Newcastle couldn’t come sooner.

You will have a love-hate relationship with your degree

One moment you want to dedicate your life to academics, the next you want to make a drastic change in degree choice. Just me? I say this from my personal realisation that a degree is essentially just a validation of one’s intelligence, unless you’re one of the world’s chosen ones doing Engineering, Law etc.

You won’t go to many lectures when you discover lecture Encore recordings, unless you do Engineering/STEM subject. As a Classics student (arguably the most doss subject at Durham), I seriously do not envy their 20+ contact hours a week. Skiving a class has never been so easy.

Finding housemates can be quite stressful…

Partly because it becomes intrinsically involved with social politics. It is true you should wait as long as you can when it comes to finding a house, but you should also try and balance this with the fact that there are more students in Durham doing the exact same thing than you think. And yes, the myth that your freshers’ friends may not be your friends by the end of the year exists for a reason. Lots of things to consider but ultimately its level playing field for everyone, so only you know who and what is best for you.

Savagely vetoing people you don’t want to live with isn’t always a bad thing either: they say not to ignore your gut instincts for a reason. You’ll make friends who you completely adore but would be completely incompatible in a house with you. Not living together isn’t the end- there are greater tragedies to happen in friendships than this, and besides, they’ll be coming to visit more than you think (especially if your mates have an Xbox in the second year house).


A note on budgeting. In the first few weeks at uni you might think, “Pfff, I don’t need to budget! I’m in a fully catered uni, with cheap Northern prices, I only have to pay for a few nights out!”. I at least thought that, until I had to rethink my strategy when I started paying for society memberships: Champagne Society, Gin Society, Polo Social membership….. and forgetting to take into account LAUNDRY (!!!), which sucks money out of your account like a hoover. Not to mention the Tesco meal deals or Deliveroos when you realise that college food doesn’t quite cut it sometimes.

roommates. Gods gift to student-kind <3

The Hatfield Hate is real

And no, it won’t wear off after first time. It’s always brought up when you have drunk encounters with strangers in the smoking areas outside clubs. They hate us cause they ain’t us though, amirite?

It is completely normal to have ups and downs, and highs and lows

This is the last (but by certainly no means least ) valuable thing I learnt from first year is that it is completely normal to have ups and downs. You’re in a new environment and expected to make new friends while navigating different academic pressures and life expectations. So, it can almost be expected that you might feel a bit lost at some point, I know I felt at sea at times in the vastness of university life, but this is part of one’s personal growth and makes the university experience such a unique one.