I come from College of St. Hild and St. Bede and my college has a mentor system where undergraduates are assigned to mentors in small groups – people from diverse backgrounds, age groups and experience who are closely connected with the college. While mentors do not really teach, yet they provide valuable inputs as personal guidance, signposting and fostering a feeling of camaraderie between themselves and the students, also allowing students to experience life in Durham outside the university and college more closely and integrating into the community well.
I am an international student and had never fancied a system like this back in my country. When I first heard of this, I was really excited to experience it. I had been assigned to Mr. And Mrs. Lyons, both former students of the university and alumni of my college. I received an invitation for a Christmas Quiz at their place and as much as the very thought excited me it also made me pretty self-conscious for a number of reasons – I was meeting them for the first time, I had never been to a British home and wondered how the culture would be similar to and different from the culture back home and coming from a Hindu family that doesn’t celebrate Christmas as grandly as it is celebrated in the UK, I was also worried about my performance in the quiz. The only little bits I knew about the festival were from primary school assemblies! In a nutshell, I knew nothing and was particular about my first impression!
I received a warm welcome from the lovely family of four and was joined in by some of my fellow college-mates for everything Christmassy! After a brief introduction we embarked on the Christmas Quiz that comprised about half a dozen rounds of all kinds – completing the carol, identifying the artist and album from the Christmas song, recognizing people who were in the news this year, Christmas General Knowledge and my favourite – identifying the languages from a huge list of Merry Christmas written in different languages (I am a lover of languages). I knew almost nothing about Christmas; however I got to learn so much more and had a great time teaming up with college-mates I had not even seen before! We finally treated ourselves to mince pies, mulled wine, wafers and traditional Christmas delicacies which I was having for the first time and relished it like anything!
It was a simple gathering, yet something one of a kind. As an international student, I admire the mentor system as it allows us to experience life here more closely. Being connected to mentors and their family here feels like an extended family miles away from home. It is great to have people much more experienced than us who act as friends and guides and give us a chance to learn about the people and culture of Durham and Britain. As common it might seem to home students, for international students like me, it is an altogether new experience and a vital step in mingling with life here. I look forward to more such pleasant meetings with my mentors over the coming months and years.