From the North of London to the North of England…. Expectation v’s Reality

Cynthia Lawson

Applying to university is not always a straightforward choice for everyone. Some students have aspired to go to a particular university before they even choose their A-levels, others still struggle to decide on one even after they have received their offers; I happened to be the latter.

How did I decide to study at Durham?

Well, before coming to Durham, I was actually a part of the Sutton Trust Summer School programme which really helped me to get a feel of the student life in Durham. I was able to experience college life and food, touring the town, and even taking Criminology taster classes with one of the Professors at Durham.

Even though I enjoyed the summer school, it was still a really difficult choice, mainly because I knew how different Durham is from London which scared me a lot because I haven’t lived anywhere except for London before. But I decided on Durham because I knew of the reputation it carries and, to be honest, I actually felt as though a change was needed, you know? Growing up, getting older… I felt I could really live an independent life away from home.  

Bill Bryson Library

So, what were my expectations before arriving at Durham?

  • Feeling out of place as a Black woman in a highly-populated White area
  • Feeling lonely in a place so far from home
  • Having to teach myself with little to no help from Professors
  • Being a target for racism
  • Nearly all students would be posh and middle-classed
  • The weather would be freezing
  • Would not reflect the summer school at all

What were the realities?

When I finally arrived at Durham, everything was far from what I expected. I literally had nothing to worry about. Durham definitely is a white populated area but it is not as bad as I thought it would be. Everyone is super friendly, in college, on my course, and the local residents treat you like they have known you forever – which is way different from London! Different in a good way of course!

Also, I can’t really tell who is middle-class and who isn’t, so feeling left out in that sense has not been an issue at all. Sometimes I did feel lonely though, especially when I started missing my friends and family at home, but when I found about Railcards and LNER discounts, that was easily resolved!

The events in College definitely did resemble Summer School which I found hilarious because of how much it still makes you remember your inner child. Before I arrived, I was expecting it to be all seriousness and books only. I really did believe Summer School was just a front but, trust me, it’s not!

Lastly, it definitely is cold in Durham but not as cold as I thought it would be. Sometimes it’s even colder in London than it is in Durham.

Overall, my expectations and preconceptions of Durham did not match the reality of it. A lot of people have worries but that is normal when moving to a new place, but it’s better to go in with an open mind rather than a closed one!

Find out more

Durham University’s STEP programme here

Sutton Trust Summer School here

Download our latest prospectus here.

Follow our students on Instagram and YouTube.

Cynthia Lawson

Hi! My name is Cynthia. I graduated from Durham in 2021 with a degree in BA in Criminology and I am currently I post-graduate in the field of Social Research Methods. In Durham, each student is assigned a college, and I was assigned to unarguable the best college in Durham (with the best bar), Collingwood!

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