What I wish I knew before I started Durham University

From staying true to your identity to being open to new things, here is the advice I wish I had when I arrived in Durham

We’re now over halfway through Freshers’ Week, and Durham’s newest students are starting to settle in, which makes me think back to when I first arrived in Durham and what I wish somebody had told me.

So here are all of the things I learnt from my first year at Durham so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes.

Don’t change yourself

During my first term at university, I remember frequently being asked to repeat myself or being ridiculed for my strong Northern accent. Because of this, I assimilated my voice to sound like others around me, giving away a piece of my identity. Only to later meet friends who appreciate me for who I am.

Say yes to things, whether that be sports, nights out or learning new things

You are lucky enough to be at a university where the opportunities are endless. If you don’t take them up, you are only doing yourself a disservice. There are times where meeting new people or even leaving your room seems impossible. Still, the more you try, the more you reap the rewards of the university experience. Have you always fancied trying volleyball? Go do it.

Those nine AMs are worth it

We can all agree that waking up with a hangover at eight in the morning to make it to your lecture in time isn’t fun at all. But we all want to do well at university, and we’re paying a lot of money for the privilege of being here.

Attend as many lectures as you’re able to and catch up online with those you missed. Although missing one lecture here and there may seem negligible, you will thank yourself for attending them when exam season rolls around. After all, the last thing you want to be doing when revising is learning an entirely new concept for the first time.

Use the lecturers to your advantage; it is what they’re paid for

Lecturers do far more than just attend hour-long slots in the lecture theatre and take questions at the end. They are there to help you educationally and pastorally and will be happy to do so. Don’t feel too embarrassed to reach out to the course convenor via email if you’re struggling to grasp a concept; they will be more glad that you asked than to see you suffer silently.

Once you receive grading for your assessments, take your lecturers up on their offer of meetings to discuss your work. How can you improve – if you don’t ask, you won’t know how to do yourself justice come the following assessment.

Maintain your relationships with friends from home

While moving away from home can be hectic and overwhelming, keeping your connections from home is vital. You never know what your friends are going through without you, and there will come a time when you really need them. It is entirely normal to miss your old friends. Still, they’re not going anywhere – even if they appear distant at first after moving away, they are just adjusting.

In addition to this, don’t expect to meet friends like the ones you have from home straight away. You have spent years getting to know those people and, depending on one another, experiencing the majority of your life’s significant milestones together. Furthermore, something must have gone right because having them as your support system got you to Durham today.

You will find people at Durham that you can build strong friendships with, but unfortunately, this doesn’t happen overnight – stick in there.

Everyone is feeling just as embarrassed and awkward as each other

Ice breakers and small talk really start to take their toll on you during your first term. Remember that everyone around you (whether they’re loud, a mature student or have lots of friends at Durham already) is in the same boat.

Some people may be better at hiding their awkwardness than you are, but I assure you they’re all feeling it. Don’t let your worries over what others think of you stop you from getting the whole university experience.

Observatory Hill is the best spot to see Durham in its true beauty

One of Durham’s best spots in the city, a two-minute walk from the science site and a quick incline to the top for a view to rival all views. The perfect picnic location with its enviable sunset backdrop and everyone’s favourite late-night haunt after college balls.

Don’t burn yourself out

Not to contradict my previous tips on enjoying all that university has to offer. Listen to your body and do what’s right for you. We are all different and require different conditions to thrive. Missing one Wednesday night out because you have placement the following day doesn’t make you boring.

Having a night in your room with the curtains closed watching your comfort show when you need a self-care night is one of the most important things you can give to yourself. You don’t have to go to every event to have a social life or be deemed as fun.

You will find your people

Despite the stereotypes, not everyone at Durham is a Southern Oxbridge reject, but even if you are, that is okay. There are enough students at Durham for there to be a friendship group for everyone. During my first term at Durham, I regularly wondered whether I would find friends who were similar to me at all, and just as I did – you will too.

Think before you speak

People won’t forgive you as they do at home. If you have a dark or bold sense of humour that people have to know you to understand, keep in mind that other Fresher’s don’t know you in that capacity yet. Be tolerant and open, respect other people’s cultures and upbringings even when they vary significantly to your own – we learn more from those most different to us.

When you meet someone, you may initially think they aren’t your people. Still, as time goes on, you have more in common than you thought, don’t cut people off prematurely – they might just be your best friend by the second year.