Freshers’: What to Expect From Your First Week at University

By Richard Dyer, SJCR Vice-President

For some people, starting university is an exciting prospect before they even arrive, whereas for others it can take some time. If you’re already excited, great! But don’t worry if you’re feeling a bit apprehensive. At home, the night before Freshers’ Sunday, I felt far more concerned than excited. If someone had come up to me and said that within a week I would feel completely different about starting university I wouldn’t have believed them and would have probably questioned how they had got in to my house.

Don’t feel that you need to start Freshers’ Week with any plans, preparation or preconceptions. The whole week has been organised so that you can take your mind off worrying about what to do and just enjoy it instead. Nevertheless, by nature of the fact you are reading a post entitled “What to expect from your first week at university”, you might actually be wondering what to expect from your first week at university. With that in mind, here’s what to expect from – well, you get the idea.

After settling in to your room, you’ll have an opportunity to chat to the Common Room Executive (Exec), Freshers’ Reps (Freps), your neighbours and other Freshers; explore Durham; unpack and do whatever else you might want to do. I definitely recommend doing all the aforementioned things at some point during the week, but don’t worry about squeezing them all in to the first few hours.  Slightly later on we’ll have a few talks, followed by some food. In the evening, there’ll be plenty going on. As always, there’s absolutely no pressure to do anything but there’ll almost certainly be something for you; whether that’s just chatting to others, going to one of Durham’s clubs or staying in with one of the activities we’ll organise within college.

During the day, amongst other things, there will be information and safety presentations, some tours of the college and time to spend doing whatever you want. There’s a good chance your subject may have inductions or talks during the week, so it’s worth looking out for those. There’ll also be a few events that are not to be missed including the Freshers’ SJCR (St John’s Common Room) meeting, Open Mic Night and our annual 5 mile run – don’t worry though, it’s so early in the morning it goes really quickly. Throughout the week there will be lots of Freshers’ Reps, Exec and college staff around to help you navigate the college, take you to your lectures, answer questions and chat.

At some point during the week, it’s likely fancy dress will be involved. Indeed, Durham is known for dressing fancy – in both senses of the word. If you have any fancy dress, bring it along but don’t worry if not. I didn’t have any but there’s a shop in Durham that survives exclusively off Freshers’ week fancy dress and, of course, there’s always the possibility of making your own. For instance, I once found myself having to dress up like an apple. My solution was to expertly clip a sign to my shirt that read “I am an apple”– categorically informing people what you are is a really good trick for a last – minute costume.  Of course, fancy dress really might not be your thing, that’s completely fine too.

During the evenings, there will always be events within college running alongside the trips to clubs. Typically, these are more laid-back nights in our common room or around St John’s and are ideal opportunities to socialise and explore the college. Regardless of whether you’re planning to go out or not, it’s definitely worth spending a few nights, if not more, relaxing to rejuvenate after what will undoubtedly be a busy day.

The end of the week will be full of celebrations. You’ll be matriculated in to St John’s and the university; making you an official Durham student. It all sounds very formal but this, for lots of people, is a highlight of being a Fresher – you’ll see why soon. There’ll be a huge meal for everyone and we’ll finish with an even bigger party involving the whole college; giving you an opportunity to meet everyone else in St John’s and experience true college life.

So how should you spend your Freshers’ Week? Maybe do something different, talk to some people, explore the college and Durham but, most importantly, do what makes you feel happy and don’t panic. It’s not as though there is one ‘right way’ to enjoy freshers nor is there a pressing need to make the most of any given activity. There will be plenty more time to try new things, meet new people, go out, stay in and do everything else. Yes, your first week at university is great but so are all the weeks that come after it too.

Sharing a Room

By Sarah Garland

When I first found out I was sharing a room, my initial reaction was panic. I hadn’t put that I wanted to share a room, I had no idea who my roommate was going to be, and I’m a person who NEEDS their own space: an introvert through and through.

However, by the end of my first day at John’s, hand on my heart, I’d completely changed my mind. This is me with my new roomie on our first day together and one at the end of the year, by which point we had become far more than best friends:

I know sharing a room isn’t for everyone, but if you’d asked me before university whether it was for me, I’d have given you a resolute ‘no’. So here are my honest pros and cons of sharing a room.


  • An instant friend. One of the scariest things about starting university is not knowing anyone. Luckily at Durham the college system helps with this anyway, but having a roommate means you instantly have a friend to go to meals and events with. But it helps across the year too: someone to wake you up for your lecture if your alarm doesn’t go off; someone to let someone know and bring you food when you’re ill; someone to take your photo before a night out…
  • Sharing Interests. College don’t just stick you with anyone when you share a room. They take a lot of time and effort to put you with someone who they think you’ll get on with, who gets up and goes to bed at a similar time and who might want to get involved in similar things to you. Obviously, they’re not psychic and they can’t always get it perfect (although the accuracy with which they paired me with my roomie might suggest otherwise), but chances are you’ll share some interests with your roomie. My roomie and I had both put Disney movies as an interest on our personality forms for college and so we were sorted, but there was also so much more we had in common! I learned so much about musical theatre from her as it was her passion, and it was great that whenever our friendship group had debates about politics that I knew we could sit quietly in a corner and have our own conversation as we would both equally have no idea what anyone else was saying!
  • Larger Room. With two people in a room, your space is necessarily going to be larger. This is great if you’re sociable because it means everyone usually comes to you for movie nights or gatherings due to the extra space, and you don’t have to go anywhere! This was great for me because I liked to meet up with people with as little effort as possible, preferably already in my pjs. But even if you’re not wanting to do that the extra room is great for other things, such as pretending that you’re into yoga or putting up drying racks if you don’t want to wait for the machines. Also, it means if you’re roomie is a little bit messier, you can just shove all their stuff on their half of the room and keep your side tidy and clean (I never had to do this at all, of course…). I wouldn’t say it’s a reason to share a room of itself, but it’s a nice bonus and you definitely don’t need to worry about not having much space if you’re sharing a room!
  • Blanket Fort. A shared room is just perfect for a blanket fort. Really this should have been Pro number one. Here’s our magnificent creation:

Sharing a room fort

  • They’re hilarious but are made much more difficult in college by the fact that everyone has separate rooms that are individually locked. Not so when you share a room. When I left late one holiday and knew my roommate was coming back first, I managed to get away with wrapping her bed and all her stuff in bubble wrap. The messages when she found out were priceless!

Sharing a room pranks

  • A Best Friend. I know that it isn’t the case for everyone, but I genuinely made my best friend at university because I shared a room with her. When else in your life will you get this opportunity? It’s such a unique experience, to share a room with someone for a year, to make a best friend in such a special way: it’s an opportunity I am so grateful to John’s for giving me.

Cons (and why they usually aren’t that conny…)

  • Sharing a room means you have no personal space. It is true that you will have less personal space sharing a room, but it is genuinely not as bad as that sounds. As an introvert I was really worried about the fact that every moment of my life would now be spent with another person, but this just does not happen: you both have lectures to go to, other people to see, lives to live that aren’t entwined with that of your roommate. Furthermore, you simply learn to be in the same room with your roomie without talking, having your own private time as if the other person wasn’t there. It sounds difficult, but my roomie and I learned how to do this very quickly, and it was fine. Of course, sometimes you really wish the other person wasn’t there to see you accidentally spill a cup of tea all down yourself or burst into tears, but largely it’s absolutely fine.
  • Getting ill. If one of you gets ill, within a week the other will be ill too. Fact.
  • When they go away. When my roomie went home for a weekend I genuinely became a hermit. I couldn’t remember how to function alone, so I spent the whole weekend watching an entire two seasons of Agent Carter because I had no-one to judge me for it. When I emerged on Sunday evening I couldn’t remember how to talk to anyone. This is easily avoidable if you make sure you see people—just don’t get sucked in to the habits of all those crazy people in single rooms and make sure you get some human contact
  • Getting dressed. Honestly, this isn’t a thing. You won’t be getting changed in the bathroom every morning, it really isn’t a big deal. Just trust me.
  • What if I don’t like them? Like I said before, college do really well at matching you up. They don’t always get it right, but the best way you can help them is by being completely honest on your personality form. There is little chance that you will absolutely hate each other, and if you’re not the bestest of friends then it’s a year of your life and you’ll simply benefit from the extra space and having someone else there when you need them. But the much greater chance is that you end up spending a year with someone who you will be gutted you can’t spend more time sharing a room with when first year is done. I was so lucky that I got put in a shared room—don’t let it be an opportunity that you let slip by without considering!

Freshers’: Formals?

By Caragh Aylett, SJCR President

A Formal Hall (or Formal as it’s more often known) is an opportunity to dress up, put on your gown and enjoy a (free!) three course dinner with your friends. At John’s we have these once every week and, if you’re quick with signing up, you can expect to attend every fortnight. Twice a term we also have ‘Mega-Formals’ which cost £5 and include a cava or soft drink reception and wine or soft drinks (usually shloer) on the tables.

Before I came to John’s, one of my biggest concerns was what to wear for formal so I put together this little guide just in case you’re also having the same worry!


Regular, weekly formals require a lounge suit with a tie, while ‘mega’ formals require a dinner suit with bow-tie.


Now, this is where it gets a little more subjective. For regular formals, knee length cocktail dresses, formal jumpsuits, or lounge suits can be worn beneath your gown. You’ll be forgiven if your dress is a little shorter than knee-length but will be asked to change if it isn’t considered appropriate. For Mega-Formals, full length dresses are encouraged but not essential, other dresses should be knee-length or you are welcome to wear a dinner suit if you would prefer.

Still unsure?

Hopefully the pictures below will offer some more guidance:


Christmas Feast.jpg

‘Mega-Formal’ without gowns


‘Mega-Formal’ with gowns


Regular formal


‘Mega-Formal’ with gowns


‘Mega-Formal’ with gowns

Freshers’: Helpful things to know before coming to St John’s

By Molly Byford

A lot of people will give the same old advice to prep you for university and lots of it is true. One thing is for sure: don’t worry, you will make friends extremely quickly! However, here are some thoughts and more St John’s specific advice from a former fresher.

Firstly, plenty of people will say they’re nothing but excited to start university. But, for lots of people (like me) Durham is, and can feel, very far away from home. Being nervous before you turn up is completely normal. To lessen any nerves, do make sure you give yourself ample time to pack and prepare yourself. It can be good not to build up too many expectations. Keep calm and embrace the excitement if you can.

On arrival, there is going to be a lot to take in. As soon as you drive up the Bailey and you arrive outside St. John’s, its supportive community is blindingly obvious. With a team of second year students ready to make unpacking the car as swift as possible, hopefully you will feel at least partly at home. Most people have family helping unpack and saying their goodbyes, so don’t feel like you must rush your parents away. I know that I found having them there to help me settle in was extremely comforting. It can be helpful to bring things to share on your first day whether that’s cake, drinks or to just lend a helping hand – this adds to the friendly John’s community and aids friendship making. Nonetheless, remember that it’s okay to take time adjusting and it can be nice to slowly unpack your room to let it all sink in. And, if meeting lots of new people seems too intense that’s okay. But, please remember there are a team of John’s students there to chat to you if you don’t want to be alone. There are always people around to help you on Fresher’s Sunday.

Freshers’ week is a different experience for everyone; you can do it sober and club, stay in with a drink, club every night or chill in college all week. No one can judge you for the way you wish to spend the week. The most important thing is to acquaint yourself with the college, staff and students. Some friendly tips: introduce yourself to everyone you meet and make an effort even if it’s just the one time you talk to them (impossible in John’s), use fancy dress occasions as an excuse to make friends and knock on doors, and bring a doorstop so that when you’re unpacking your room people can pop their head in. At the end of Freshers’ we have a Mega Party to introduce you to the other years, so use it to mingle with everyone. The one academic note to make which some people may miss is checking the Durham blackboard Duo – I may have missed tutorial sign up deadlines due to thoroughly enjoying Freshers’. Spend Freshers’ how you want to, try something new through societies and you won’t regret a thing. The week can seem the be all and end all of your first year experience, but it doesn’t need that pressure. Just enjoy it!

There are a couple of ways to expand your network of friends: college families, other accommodation and societies. Using your college family as a support network, if you really click with them, is fabulous. There’s also potential for academic advice from them. Also, don’t limit yourself to your corridor; the more friends you make the more people you can talk to. Small groups can be great until you need an outside perspective. Dive into every sport and society you’re even vaguely interested in – try football, rugby, frisbee, vegan cheese, netball and everything else. Gaining friends inside and outside of college through societies is a great way to feel part of the college and university. It will take you longer to get to know friends from university socities, but it will be so worth it.

It may be daunting to already look towards the rest of your first year. However, if I look at it with one point in mind, it is taking ‘you’ time. You’ll be in a complex of rooms and buildings that can sometimes feel demanding in terms of social time; it’s perfectly okay to take some alone time. Have a night in or travel to a different city to explore and escape the ‘Durham bubble’. Also don’t put pressure on the idea that Freshers’ friends are the ultimate group for you. Sometimes the people you meet in the first few weeks aren’t going to be lifelong friends and if you gravitate to another set of people don’t deny that shift; the ways that you spend freshers and the people you spend it with may not translate to the rest of your year. University is often a time of massive change, but if that change becomes worrying please use college support. So many people in John’s are there for your wellbeing so embrace it. The most important thing is to prioritise yourself; do what makes you happiest and enjoy being a fresher.

Freshers’: Packing Essentials

By Caragh Aylett, SJCR President

1)  Things to make your room feel homely!

It’s so nice when your college room becomes your home away from home and it’s useful to have a few things to help with that – bring along some photos of your friends and family or a poster to stick up on the wall, you could also bring a teddy (we’re not judging!) to help you settle on or even just buying a couple of plants could help.

2)  Cooking Essentials

 While one of the great things about John’s is being fully catered, it can be useful to have a few  things for making a midnight snack. A pan, a couple of plates and some cutlery is usually enough, and don’t forget some mugs for all those revision coffees.

3) Medicines

I know that getting ill isn’t what you really want to be thinking about right now but freshers’ week is often very busy and mixing with lots of new people often leads to the well-known ‘freshers’ flu’! It’s useful to have some paracetamol, lemsips and vitamin C tablets handy for when it hits.

4) Room Additions

Depending on how many clothes you’re planning on bringing, it’s really useful to bring some coat hangers as your room won’t have many. You might also want to bring a extension lead in case you don’t have as many plug sockets as you need. It’s also useful to bring a door stop to prop your door open – helpful for making friends in the first few weeks.

5) Stationary

Pretty soon you’re going to remember that you actually came here to study! It’s helpful to have a planner to seep track of your deadlines, paper (or your laptop) for lecture note-taking, folders to organise your modules and plenty of pens and highlighters!

From Down Under to Durham

An exchange is a place you go to to give the person sitting behind the bullet-proof glass pieces of paper of some value that you possess in exchange for new and different pieces of paper of value that will be more useful to you in the time to come.

You might be confused as to what I’m rambling on about, but I feel that this is a good analogy for my exchange over the past 6.5 weeks. I have flown here to the beautiful Kingdom to offer what I have, and in return, have received so much more (I think I got the better end of this deal).

Over the past 6.5 weeks, I have been putting my 2 cents in to several different departments at Durham University, on a number of different and interesting projects. I created surveys for Experience Durham to help evaluate the staff volunteering and post-graduate volunteering programs, and compiled a report on the findings of the barriers people were experiencing with these volunteering programs. I also worked with the Careers Centre, researching and writing spotlight articles on the top inclusive employers in the UK, helping to create a disability guide for the centre, and heartlessly listing out areas of improvement for the centre’s diversity and equity website.  In addition, I have also hiked down to St John’s College to conduct an accessibility audit of the college, as well as to deliver an interactive workshop to increase the understanding of disability amongst the 25 staff members and students who succumbed to the bribery of a free lunch.

In return, I have received way more than2 cents back from Durham. I have learnt quite a bit about the UK and its culture through my work and research, and through the 3-hour office chats with my fellow colleagues. I have gained much valuable work experience, grown my work skills and built my confidence in them. I’ve also been taught the love of cheese and crackers, and now always appreciate a cup of tea with good English biscuits.  Not only that, I’ve also learnt so many interesting things about countries all over the world through all the whacky people I’ve met at Ustinov college. It has been amazing being able to meet and talk to people from places I would never have imagined being able to meet. And lastly, I have collected so many unforgettable experiences through my weekend gallivants around the Kingdom and Ireland.

Sadly, there seems to be a rule dictating that all good things must come to an end. I become attached to places and people quite easily; and the friendliness of everyone I’ve worked with and met here, the (unusually) sunny fields and fairy-tale-like woodlands that surround these cobblestone streets and old stone buildings, and the amazing accents make it absolutely heart-breaking to have to leave. Though I will be soon gone, I promise that there will always be part of me here in beautiful Durham.

‘Checking In and Checking it Out – A Blind Survey of St John’s Accessibility’?

By Ming Luo, University of Western Australia,

Ming is visiting Durham this summer 2018 as a Matariki Global Citizenship Fellow


What does it mean to be a good citizen?

Each group and individual has their own understanding of citizenship, but many would agree that It means being respectful to your neighbours; that it means giving back to your community; That it means being law abiding and that it means participating in improving and strengthening your country’s institutions.

But what does it mean to be a good global citizen?

I’m an undergraduate student from the land down under, and I have ventured here to the great Kingdom on a quest to explore the concept of global citizenship.

Personally, my current understanding of being a good global citizen is taking all the principles of a good citizen and applying them to the global arena. To me, it involves showing respect to all, wherever you go; being accepting and inclusive of all, independent of nationality, sexuality, wealth, or ability. To me, it means playing a role, in whatever capacity you can, to fulfil the cheesy line of ‘making the world a better place’.

So today, I set out to St John’s to see what I can contribute as a global citizen. As a person living with a vision-impairment, I am particularly passionate about accessibility and the integration of people with disabilities into communities. I believe that it is also an important part of global citizenship, and hence am eager to check out what St John’s college has to offer.

I have conducted experiential accessibility audits as part of the youth disability advocacy organisation that I am a member of back home, and St John’s has so kindly (and bravely) offered up their facilities for my scrutiny. I arrive at the college, and am greeted by a row of beautiful Georgian structures. Though thee seem to be separate structures to the regular street-walker, the buildings have all been amalgamated into one interior, creating a college that is a quirky maze of steps, small windy corridors and half doors. Though this fills the college with a sense of mystery and history, it probably also fills it with many accessibility complaints.

As disability awareness is quite a relatively recent concept, it is no surprise that accessibility was not an aspect that the Georgians considered in their buildings. This unfortunately means that it is practically impossible to make the entire college physically accessible without flattening and re-building the entire thing. However, St John’s has quite an inclusive and egalitarian culture, and have already taken initiatives to work around the restrictions of the physical environment to ensure that people with physical disabilities can be accommodated in the college. I was particularly impressed with the accessible rooms, which were adequately spacious and included a device that would make the bed vibrate if the alarm system went off.

Though there may not be much more St John’s can do to improve the ease of access for wheelchair users, there are little things that can be put in place to increase the accessibility of the college for people with other disabilities. For instance,  contrast markings for stairs and tactile indicators could probably save quite a few vision-impaired or blind people from face-planting down the stairs. Simple English and pictorial signs could be put in place, which could benefit who have difficulties with reading. Dedicated quiet spaces could also be set out to provide break-out spaces for people that may suffer from sensory overload or anxiety. The fact about putting in place such adjustments that many people often overlook or under weigh is that they not only benefit people with disabilities, but can also be useful for a variety of demographics, including the older population, children, or the wider population in general.

 However, perhaps the most important element to access and inclusion are open, friendly and understanding attitudes, and this is a major asset at St John’s. All the staff members I have come across today are warm and eager to help. Negative attitudes are the most difficult barriers to change, and St John’s is already one big step ahead of many, with their open-minded and open-armed approach to accessibility.