Four Johnians share their Freshers Week experience, including a recent graduate and current students who joined St John’s in four different years (2018 to 2021).
By Joanna Robbins BA and MA Music (recent graduate)
I remember my first day at John’s vividly – being the first to arrive meant that all eyes were on me but I recall feeling very welcomed by the friendliness of the staff. My room was excellent and had a view of the cathedral and John’s grounds that most university students would envy. I was also very lucky to make several good friends within the first week, two of which I am still friends with. After a whirlwind of a first day with meeting lots of new people, I settled down for the evening with some hot chocolate whilst watching Doctor Who – I don’t regret it!
I cannot talk about my experience of fresher’s week without mentioning university matriculation. After a busy start to the day which involved me balancing in heels on a chair for the John’s photo (my feet hurt a lot afterwards!), I was honoured to be asked to sign the register on behalf of the undergraduates. For some reason I was less nervous about signing the register in the cathedral with hundreds of people watching me than I was at the College matriculation earlier in the week!
There were many highlights of fresher’s week, but the biggest one actually happened the week after fresher’s week, at the fresher’s formal. Having been held up with two of my new friends we arrived at the formal a bit on the late side and there were only three seats available. I opted to sit opposite a guy I had seen was on my Music course but had never spoken to. I still find it an amazing coincidence that he is now my fiancé!
By Annabel Jenkinson, BA Classics (3rd Year)
Arriving in Durham for freshers’ week is of the highlights of my time at Durham. I remember driving to the Park and Ride with my parents and being given a letter to put in the car windscreen and parked up in lines, just as if we were going on the Eurostar! Then we were directed by people in yellow jackets into a convoy of cars which drove up onto the Bailey with locals beeping horns and waving. The convoy of cars filled the length of the Bailey from Cuth’s to Hatfield with cars of Cuth’s freshers at the front and castle freshers at the back so we all could stop outside the correct college. On the way to John’s we passed all the freps from different colleges cheering, hitting pans and playing live music in the street which was incredibly exciting. I distinctly remember a “should have gone to Hild Bede” banner across one of the bridges which was quite funny as to get to the bailey everyone had to drive past Hild Bede which is located a little by itself. Once the set of John’s cars stopped outside college, what can only be described as a flock of freps descended on the car and took all my luggage to my room while my college parents took me to the hall to get my key, gown and other necessities. How this was organised so efficiently I will never know!
I was more excited than nervous about coming to university, however, it would not have been easy for me to feel homesick or worried in Freshers’ Week as there was so much going on every day from fancy dress in the college bar, planned John’s nights out, dinner with the college family to matriculation. Don’t worry, there are always things going on in college in the evenings from movies, to board games to table tennis when you would rather have a quiet night in. I remember playing a game of “around the world” table tennis with some freps and freshers until the early hours of the morning.
I can’t talk of fresher’s week without mentioning matriculation. There was not only the university one in the cathedral, where gowned John’s freshers join other freshers’ in the cathedral for the service and afterwards when walking back to college are once again greeted by fellow Johnians applauding in the street, but there was also a more intimate one in John’s chapel. John’s did separate matriculations for different disciplines which was really lovely because, since John’s is quite small, you were able to find fellow Johnians doing your course and then you had people to walk with to lectures in your first week. The matriculation in the Cathedral was magnificent, however the smaller one in the college chapel was very personal as everyone, not just a representative from the college, got to sign their name in the book. The fact that John’s does this personal matriculation is very telling of the caring and inclusive community in college.
By Lucy Irving, BA Music (2nd Year)
As a fresher of the ‘covid generation’, my fresher’s week was very different to previous years! I arrived in Durham and was greeted by the banging of pots and pans before being shown to my room in Cruddas. I was filled with both excitement and nervousness- the people in my corridor would not only be my neighbors but also the only people I would be allowed to see for the next week due to covid restrictions! The first few days went by in a blur with freps holding virtual events through zoom, very unlike the in-person fancy dress nights, formals and clubbing that I discovered to be the ‘normal’ experiences of fresher’s week the next year through being a frep myself.
Despite being confined to my Cruddas C corridor, I look back at fresher’s week with only happy memories and feel lucky that the restrictions meant that I got to know others within my household very quickly! We would spend our nights playing card games, getting to know each other and started a Bake Off and bagels trend! A particular highlight would have to be matriculation. Although I wasn’t able to go to the cathedral for the usual ceremony, household gatherings were held on Linton lawn where the principal, David, gave a speech. It was beautiful weather and provided an opportunity to get some lovely photos with my new housemates- it really felt like a new beginning and the start of my university experience!
By Kaylyn Lu, BA PPE (1st Year)
As an international student whose arrival was delayed by visa issues, my freshers’ week got off to a bit of a rocky start. I landed at Newcastle Airport on that Tuesday, having already missed the first day’s activities (and college matriculation). Nonetheless, I remember feeling excited — and more than a bit nervous — as I caught my first glimpse of Durham through the window of my taxi.
The Bailey was largely empty that day, as most of the freshers had arrived on Saturday and Sunday. When we arrived at John’s, I immediately went to check in with reception, who provided me with my student ID and room key. Two freps volunteered to help with my luggage and show me to my room.
Since I flew alone, I had to pack quite tightly. I had one large suitcase, a carry-on, and a backpack. Amusingly, the freps selected the latter two bags (i.e. the lighter ones), and we made our way down the cobblestone street toward my building, Cranmer Hall. As it turns out, lugging a suitcase up 3 flights of stairs (while wearing a mask) can be rather strenuous. I was quite happy with my room; I had a single standard. It was sizable, larger than I expected, and had a lovely view overlooking Library Lawn.
Unlike the previous year, our freshers’ week was relatively normal (despite still being in a pandemic). We weren’t confined to our corridors, and college put on a wide variety of events, allowing us to meet many of our fellow Johnians. I didn’t end up making it to many of the evening socials and clubbing events, as I had underestimated the power of jet lag. Sure, a classic night out at Klute was not to be missed, but at the time, there was nothing my jet-lagged brain (still on New York time) wanted to do more than collapse onto my bed.
As a result, I met most people in the one other place we all gathered — in the dining hall. Meals, if I’m honest, felt a bit like speed dating — you sat with someone new each time, went through the ‘script’: What’s your name? What are you studying? Where are you from?, and so on. And, for the most part, you never sat with the same people twice.
There were a few conversations that I really enjoyed, but I didn’t really click with anyone until that Thursday, my third day in Durham.
By then, I had devised a bit of a strategy for meal times. It was best to go alone, then strike up a conversation in the queue (if there was one). Otherwise, you’d have to scope out the tables; parties of two were generally your best bet.
Crucially, you also had to pay attention to their plates. There’s nothing worse than sitting down, “Hi, what’s your name?” already on your tongue, only to find that they had just finished their meal and needed to dash. Or worse yet, oblige them to wait as you wolfed down your food, awkwardly attempting to make conversation in the meantime.
The main advice I had heard about freshers’ week was to put yourself out there. And after experiencing it for myself, I have to say — it’s true. Everyone at freshers’ week is in the same boat; chances are, you won’t know anyone going in. Some people find their friends immediately, for others, it might take a few more days. But if you put in the effort, introduce yourself to others, you will find your people. And really, they are what makes the university experience worth it.