For an international student like me, choosing a university is essentially choosing a place to call home for the next three years. Below are the top 10 things I’ve loved about studying at Durham, and hopefully they’ll become yours too!
Durham’s collegiate system is very unique and a huge part of the student experience. Things like the JCR, formals & college sports are instrumental to fostering a community which first welcomes you to University life. Apart from connecting with your own college community, learning about the different stereotypes and friendly rivalry between colleges is also super fun.
As I mentioned above, formals are an opportunity for members of a college to gather together for a feast. Every college has their own traditions, but they all typically consist of a three-course dinner in formal attire (some colleges are ‘gowned’ as well). It’s a great chance to immerse yourself in the college community and just get to know people!
The Durham landmark that signifies the beginning and end of your degree (seeing as both the matriculation and congregation ceremonies are held here!). The cathedral is the beating heart of the town, its presence is unwavering regardless of which corner of Durham you find yourself in. This magnificent World Heritage Site is most famously known as a filming location for Harry Potter, earning the University its reputation of being a real-life ‘Hogwarts’ for international students.
Durham has a range of societies on offer, from academic ones to interest-based ones and ones that celebrate international cultures. There are just so many things to get involved in and societies are one of the best places to meet people as well. It’s also nice to look up events hosted by your culture’s society in order to meet people with similar backgrounds as yours – oftentimes this helps with homesickness and feeling more at ease with new surroundings. Of course, it’s also great to mingle with people of different cultures and backgrounds once you’re comfortable.
As a small town, Durham is filled with cafes & shops owned by people local to the area. You can support local produce by shopping at places like Robinson’s or look out for independent vendors at the weekend markets. Cafes like Riverview or Flat White are also popular brunch spots for students. All of these businesses make Durham as a town so diverse and distinct from any other big city in the country.
If the cathedral were the beating heart of Durham, River Wear would be the blood vessels that permeate through the streets and houses. It is the iconic strip of water that created the peninsula which is the “Bailey”, and it is impossible to go about town without crossing at least one bridge over the river. In summer it is particularly relaxing to hire a rowboat, cruise along the river and admire the scenic view.
Durham is known for having an undulating terrain, thus every walk to a lecture feels like a hike to me. Nevertheless, they are largely enjoyable due to the scenery you get to enjoy. I used to love discovering new paths to get from one place to another, from walking on cobbled streets to listening to the gushing currents of River Wear – walking around Durham can be a new experience every time!
Beyond Durham City
There is so much to explore beyond the city centre, and transport is often just £1 with a student ID! You could head to the beaches in Seaham, or travel back in time at Beamish Museum, even visiting the castle at Bishop Auckland. If you’re looking for a more urban environment, Newcastle is just a 15-minute train ride away. The proximity to so many hidden gems makes weekend trip planning that much easier.
University can be tough, but Durham offers a range of support services to help you in times of need. Each student is assigned an academic advisor in their first year who is there to offer you advice throughout your time here. If you just want someone to talk to about anything, the University has mental health services if you’d like to speak to staff, or Nightline is also an option if you want to speak to a fellow student.
Durham University Volunteering and Outreach (DUSVO) has over 40 projects for students to get involved in, many of which are in support of the local community. It is such a rewarding experience, and a refreshing break from all the studying you’ll be doing at University!
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