I knew Durham was the right place for me
During the summer of 2019, when I was in year 12, I took part in the Sutton Trust (ST) Summer School to explore my interest in English.
For me, the totality of my experience at Sutton Trust confirmed that Durham University was the place for me. The mentors I interacted with, who were warm, welcoming, and genuine combined with the other students I became friends with (one of whom I live with now and who is still one of my closest friends) created an environment that felt like the right place for me. I felt a real sense of belonging during my time at Sutton Trust, something which I did not think was possible after such a short period.
A different way of learning
Before ST I was pretty set on studying English Literature as I had a passion for the subject and the prospect of continuing to study it excited me. However, while I was set on studying English, I had no idea what this constituted, and this is where taking part in the Sutton Trust Summer School solidified my choice. I was always quite frustrated during my GCSEs and in Sixth Form as I felt like my interactions and engagement with literary works were always confined by model answers and my teachers’ opinions. As I did the International Baccalaureate and English was mandatory, many students in my Higher-Level English class were there because they were forced to be. It was incredibly frustrating for me, as I was not surrounded by students who have the same sense of passion or enthusiasm.
It was a pleasant surprise to be surrounded by others who were also fascinated by English Literature. To be able to hear new and different perspectives, some of which I disagreed with and some that I wish I had thought of because of how sophisticated they were, was a welcome feeling and one which I craved in my lessons at school. Being told by the academics leading our sessions that this was what studying English at the university level was like solidified to me that English was the subject for me.
The structure of my ST was useful because it gave a taster of what studying English at university looked like while also being mindful that we were in year 12, and that this style of learning was new. We engaged with various types of learning styles, like what I have at Durham now. For instance, we had a few which resembled lectures, some seminars and others which resembled tutorials. Also, at the end of ST, we completed a task (for me this was a written, assessed essay) that also mimicked what university study resembled.
More prepared for university
While it was an intense week, the pride I felt when completing the assessed essay, combined with the interesting conversations and the introduction to a new way of learning combined to create a fulfilling and enjoyable experience. Looking back with perspective, while the length of the days (some days were 9 am-5 pm) does not completely resemble the structure of my days as a university student, (I often don’t have more than 2 contact hours a day) I felt more prepared and comfortable than I think I would have felt if I hadn’t completed Sutton Trust. I had already had a taster, thanks to the structure and planning of the week, of what seminars, tutorials and lectures constituted and that comfort, in an uncertain time (I began my degree in 2020), and in a period of change (especially as someone who is naturally quite anxious) was very refreshing to me.
As a Durham Student Ambassador in a full circle moment, I mentored last summer at the first in-person Summer School since my own in 2019. Seeing students introduced to a new style of learning and being surrounded by like-minded students made for a fulfilling experience. The effects of my Summer School will be life-long, it helped to confirm that Durham was the institution for me, it introduced me to some of my closest friends, the themes engaged with actually influenced my module choice in my second year and finally as a first generation scholar from a single-parent household it made me feel that university could be an environment in which I can thrive and belong.
I would recommend ST to anyone especially if you are unsure as I was, which is completely natural in Year 12.
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