Thinking back to results day
In a couple of days, thousands more students will be receiving their results – and even in a normal academic cycle, there are many mixed emotions. Thinking back, that day for myself and everyone going on in my year was both exciting and uncertain, with a fair amount of anxiousness thrown in the mix. It’s a nerve-wracking, gut-wrenching moment, and hearing from younger students, going through this experience in an atmosphere of wider speculation doesn’t help. So, with the especially tumultuous times post-lockdown, a huge amount of respect for everyone going through this process. If you have succeeded with where you want to go, congratulations! If you are expecting results, all the best! If it doesn’t go to plan, please, please keep your interest, and apply it! Whatever happens, just… well done on getting to this point, here, now. : )
For this blog, I’m just going to talk you through arriving at uni. In a weirdly reassuring way, results day won’t be the final time something heavy rests on your mind. The stress of starting something new is part of the experience, and often it’s getting there and meeting the people who came before who finally put the mind at ease. So, here’s how that experience played out for me. Hopefully, it’s a useful insight.
My first day at Durham
The clearest moment that stands out for me from my first day, or the short sequence of moments, is closing my door for the first time and standing in a still, undecorated single room. Driving up from the South West had taken most of the previous day, and only after piling all my belonging on the bed had everything slowed down. There was plenty of noise in the corridor; muffled bumping as parents and freps* struggled to move plastic crates, excited conversation below my window, even next door had evidently unpacked their speaker as a priority. Standing there, warm September light streaming in so that – very satisfyingly – the dust from every case I unpacked glinted as it settled (St Aidan’s College has wide, room-length windows and a slightly sloping roof on C-Curve) the enormity of the To-Do list hit me. I would have to unpack this box, then that rucksack, then setup my PC, then start socialising with people I had never met. Eat. Sleep. Find out what matriculation was. And eventually, start studying (I was perhaps overly focused on academic achievement – tip: numbers on a page are assessing the work you produce, not you). I would have to try new experiences, make many mistakes, figure out a subject I had only experienced at this level by proximity with other courses, and eventually in two years find something I was passionate about to research and write a dissertation on.
Of course, looking back with the benefit of hindsight this feels maybe even more enjoyable than we found it at the time; after a little settling in and getting to chat in the JCR** and corridor kitchens, there was a sense that, you know what? Maybe we all could easily click into a community. The nervousness was natural, and expected, but not necessary. And of course, there was finding (a pause for dramatic effect) … a cosy spot in the library.
Finding my place
While I can’t remember many of the specifics of the day, finding the library had been absolutely my priority for roughly a month beforehand. Each college has one or occasionally more small libraries, but exploring the main library, the study space with endless shelves to get truly lost in was the real goal. First, I tried the Palace Green special collections (for, of course, the aesthetic of studying between dark shelves packed with old book smell), to the bemusement of the librarian – she very quickly and kindly explained to me that this wasn’t quite the space I was looking for. But eventually I found my way to the Bill Bryson, or Billy B as every student in Durham has somehow mutually agreed to call it. And there I found a study home.
Snapping a few photos before heading in, making a mental note to bring along something more than a severely outdated phone camera next time, I eventually found my way to level 4 (perfect for working without distractions). Slowly drawing a chair back – trying to make the least disturbance possible for the years above and finalists as a nervous newcomer – and settling down, I had a moment of calm. The cathedral, stunning; soft music seeping of nearby headphones, reassuring. Both the success of A-levels and the uncertainty of what lay ahead faded a little, leaving only myself enjoying the moment. Now, in the three years since then I’ve spent – wow, hundreds of hours now sat at those tables; sometimes with course mates, sometimes with people we only met in third year after a fieldtrip, sometimes with house mates, sometimes in early winter nights, occasionally waving arms to keep the lights on, sometimes early one morning to finish off reading. It’s constantly a microcosm of the uni experience compressed into one, relatively comfy space. But it’s nice to think back to that first timeless afternoon as well.
So, whether you’ll be joining the community here in a few weeks, or re-joining it, or joining after several years away, or are maybe joining somewhere else, or having to take a year or two off to recalibrate and consider a redirection; well done again on getting to this point, find a spot to just relax, take some time to yourself, and savour this moment of relief – it seemed to make a difference among my group here.
*- Fresher’s Representative – Volunteers helping first-years in the first couple of weeks.
**- Junior Common Room – A group for all undergraduate students in that college.
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