What’s it like studying English?

Bailey Leis

Why study English?

I have always loved to read. I grew up consuming books one after another and still could not get enough. Within the first twelve years of my life, I had five different library cards from various county libraries within my home state of Minnesota and was constantly reading something. I was the kid who got into trouble reading during class in school or after bedtime when I was younger. I always had a book in my hand and knew that I wanted to read stories for the rest of my life.

Why Durham?

When looking at universities, my parents encouraged me to go abroad, and I stumbled across Durham totally by accident. It was on a list of schools known for their English programs and as I read about it, I knew that Durham was where I wanted to go. I consumed any piece of information I could get about Durham, from travel guides to student testimonies much like this one. As an international student, I had never been out of the United States before coming to Durham for my first year, not even for an Open Day visit. All I had to go off was stories written by those who came before me and their experiences here at the university.

So, I applied for a place in the English Literature department and was accepted for the incoming cohort in 2020. However, due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the pandemic, I decided to defer starting uni for a year so I could be with my family and not be alone in a brand-new country during a world health crisis. Then, in 2021, I landed at Heathrow Airport alone with two suitcases and a train ticket to Durham, where I met some of the best people in the world and study what I love every day. I have been in Durham for a little over a year now and don’t regret a single thing.

A lot of reading!

The classes I take are hard and honestly frustrating at times, but also fascinating and make me want to explore areas that interest me further. Some of my favorite classes have been ones I wasn’t expecting to love, but because of the passion that the professors bring to the topics and the challenges it brings, it makes me look forward to learning something new every day. Books that I despised reading ended up being the ones that I loved talking about the most with people in seminars. It pushes me to think in new ways and understand how those stories I loved growing up were made.

I spend a lot of time in the Bill Bryson Library doing work for my lectures and reading for seminars because doing English at Durham is hard. There is a lot of reading…to be honest it is mostly reading with some writing sprinkled in. The security guards probably recognize me at this point with how many times I have been there late at night finishing a summative essay due the next day!

I am happy that I chose to do English because it has great crossover to other disciplines as well! It is an interesting and versatile department in a unique and wonderful university. Being at Durham has allowed me to become part of the community through societies and clubs, and where I met some of my best friends in the entire world. I joined the International Students Association, the college badminton team where I am now co-president, and worked in my college library during first year. Being an international student can be hard, but Durham is a great place to be one because there are so many opportunities to find a home here!

Discover more

Ranked 4th by the Guardian University Guide 2022 and 36th in the in the 2022 QS World University Rankings by subject, the English Department boasts award-winning poets and a recently named New Generation Thinker amongst our teaching staff. 

Our broad subject range is made possible by our large and thriving community of more than 900 students, researchers and academics, with a busy programme of events including lectures, seminars, reading and discussion groups. 

Feeling inspired? Visit our English Studies webpages for more information on our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. 

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Bailey Leis

Hi! My name is Bailey, and I am a second-year international undergraduate studying joint honors English Literature and History at Durham! Originally from Minnesota, I moved to the UK for university and am a part of Collingwood College. In addition to my degree, I am the co-president of the Collingwood badminton club and a member of the International Student Association. Outside of studying, I love to travel, hike, and play board games!

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