Find out what life is really like at Durham University

Durham CityInternationalStudent experience

Dear students who are currently feeling out of place…

Before I begin, I just want to say: You’re doing okay.

Not everyone is good at meeting new people. Not everyone will have ‘the time of their lives’ in their first year of university. And I’m here today to remind you that you’re not alone. So let me start.

When someone asks me “What’s Durham like?”, the first things that come to my mind are the clear skies during the day and the silvery stars at night. The sunrise and sunsets just seem exceptionally therapeutic in Durham. And the foggy skies and misty mornings in winter… And how all these make Durham such a peaceful place.

But.. it was different. Even though I’ve been moving around countries for almost my whole life, adjusting to Durham life has been one of the hardest things to do.

The animals near Old Durham Gardens

Durham was so different

Why? Well, firstly, I’ve stayed in cities with lots of tall buildings and fewer trees and animals….and llamas (you should definitely go see them!!).

And my previous moves were all within Asia. So being in a European country with such a different culture really confused me. I remember reading the lyrics of “Englishman in New York” quite frequently just to feel like I’m not weird for not being able to adjust like everyone else.

Most importantly, I was so homesick. All I did was talk to my family and friends back home, stay in my room, and I didn’t even want to go to lectures. In a way, I wasn’t opening myself up to Durham either.

But I did try. I went to societies, events, clubs and bar crawls in the first few weeks. But being an introverted overthinker didn’t help. And I have to admit, I made myself feel inferior about being an outsider. So at some point I just gave up on socializing.

Back to my comfort zone

And then the pandemic happened. It was a devastating situation that took a toll on everyone including myself, but I was just happy that I could be back home, back to my comfort zone.

Being back home, I objectively re-evaluated my first year, and I realized: I’ve really grown through it.

I’ve become so much more independent, learnt how to be myself no matter what and whoever I’m with (from forcing myself countless times. You know, fake it till you make it!). I also realized that forming relationships between individuals can’t be a one-way effort. I should have also been putting enough effort into really getting to know the person. But instead, I ran away and cut the person out the moment I felt a bit of awkwardness/judgment. But at least I’ve realized that it’s a bad habit of mine and that I should really work on it.

So I guess anything and everything has something to learn from. If you’re the person that is currently struggling the way I was, really, don’t worry. You’ll turn out to be a stronger person than you ever were by going through this phase in life.

Thankfully, after returning to Durham, I was able to meet some amazing people that I could click with. And I’m finally learning how to really make the best out of being here. I’ve been busy going to all the cafes and restaurants that I didn’t get a chance to go to in my first year. I’m just regretful of how focused I was on finding ‘my people’ as fast as I could and giving up so fast.

The BEST pancakes

It’s okay not to be okay

I guess what I’m trying to say is: it’s okay to not be okay. Everyone has those days. Even the ones who seem to be friends with everyone. On the days you feel overwhelmed, just light a cinnamon-scented candle, have a Netflix marathon (I highly recommend Friends and Gilmore Girls), or turn your favourite playlist on, draw, write, explore new hobbies. Mine was drawing and writing daily journals which I used to think were pretty boring… people change.

Don’t feel overwhelmed by comparing how you’re living your life to how someone else is. You’re not doing anything wrong, or less, you’re just taking extra time to adjust to life out of your comfort zone (i.e., you’re maturing!).

Honestly, writing this has been like writing a letter to my past self. It’s just the exact words I needed to hear in my first year 🙂 I hope it has reassured you as much as I intended.

P.S. You can ALWAYS ask for help, the university staff members were far more understanding and helpful than I had expected.

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For help and support at Durham visit the Student Support and Wellbeing pages

Hayun Park

Hi everyone! I’m Hayun and I’m a finalist international student studying Psychology. I’m from Korea, but I’ve lived in China and Singapore and now I’m here in Durham, looking to pursue further studies in the UK as well. I wanted to share my story of being an undergraduate in Durham, and give some reassurance for those who need it.
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