You can be as involved as you want to be
The great thing about college is that you can be involved as much or as little as you want – it’s about having the option if you ever want/need it. I was never the kind of person who ran for school council in primary school, I didn’t know everyone’s name in my secondary school, and I won’t be running for any role in college politics now either, but I do appreciate having a touch-point that I can always go back to if I want to feel like I’m a part of something.
Chad’s – small but mighty
St Chad’s College, my college, is the smallest in the University, so it’s the most likely that you’ll know, or at least be aware of, almost everyone in college, but it’s definitely still possible to feel independent of it all – if you wish. Of course, anonymity would probably be easier in one of the larger colleges, but I can only speak for my experience at Chad’s; as it is a catered college, I spent my first year attending meals at college every night, looking out of the window in the hall onto the Cathedral, and seeing many of my peers at dinner and formals quite regularly. But, I imagine the experience at a self-catered, hill college would have been pretty different. Chad’s is small and comfortable, and friendly and I think its the right place for me because even though, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t really want to get involved in college life, it forces me to be a little bit more social than I might otherwise have been. It’s also nice to be able to walk through the town and see some familiar faces, or some unfamiliar faces sporting Chad’s crest on their green ‘stash’ (Durham word for ‘merch’).
Campus and city – somewhere in between
I think that Durham is unique because unlike a campus university, (which felt a bit insular to me when I visited on open days), it still functions primarily as a normal town, so it doesn’t feel like the world outside of the university stops existing, it just gets a little bit smaller. The experience for me was like taking in adulthood in bite-sized chunks, making the transition from living at home to living alone, very digestible. Though I should mention that I grew up in London, so it is no surprise that in comparison Durham feels very small and manageable to me; my friends in universities in London had to rely on socials, societies and talking after classes to meet people, but Durham gives you access to all of this as well as an extra system that is designed to build connections among the students. If nothing else, it gives you another typical opening question when meeting someone new: alongside the classic ‘what’s your name’ and ‘what do you study’, you get to ask a stranger ‘what college are you in?’
Living out of college
Another important thing to note is that most people move out of college accommodation in their second and third years of study. I currently live in a house with some friends and we are all part of Chad’s college because that is where we met in our first year, but many people have multiple-college households because of friends they make outside of that environment. There is also a Facebook page where Durham students can advertise rooms available in the houses they are letting if they do not have enough people to fill them before signing the contract, so you may be living with people that you might not be great friends with, and that works too. Because of where I live now, I only really go to college for formals and events, and I spend the rest of my time with my housemates, but there is always the opportunity to be more or less involved in college life if I want to.
At no point do I feel like I have to spend time in college, nor do I feel like I cannot show up because it would be awkward as I haven’t been there in a while – it’s not like a club that tracks attendance. Your college is a significant but not defining part of your Durham experience, ideally, it is a safe social space where you feel like you belong, even if the only proof of that belonging is the label on your campus card.
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