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Day in the life of a Classics student

Thursdays are by far my busiest days; ask any first-year Classics student, and they’ll say the same: we have two of our core modules and two language classes. It’s quite a contrast to my Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays when I have no lectures at all. I found it hard at the beginning of the year to adjust to the variety from day to day, but I now really appreciate the days dedicated purely to independent study, comprised of reading, translating and essay preparation. I usually spend most of those days in the Cathedral Library, a hidden and blissfully quiet secret study space in Durham (although extremely cold in winter!). I try and take Saturdays completely off work, using the time to explore Newcastle, see friends, watch a film, or go for long walks, before preparing for the upcoming week on Sundays.

But it’s a Thursday today. The alarm pierces its way through the darkness from the opposite side of the room (the only way to make sure I actually do get up!) just as the Cathedral bells chime 7 o’clock. And so I heave myself out of bed, put the kettle on and hop into the shower.

Tea – an essential start to the day

Waking up an hour before breakfast gives me plenty of time to get ready for the day, and reply to any emails that might have come in the day before. I’m the Communications Officer for our college, so I often wake up to quite a full inbox or a set of minutes that need finishing. But it’s a fantastic way to connect with the college, and a unique experience to sit on a charity Trustee Board and gain experience. On Thursdays, I like to take the time to read over any notes I made when doing the preparatory reading for lectures, and arrange everything I need for each lecture into piles so that before each I can just grab what’s needed and go.

After breakfast in the college dining hall, I meet up with friends from college and we walk over to the first of our compulsory modules, Remembering Athens, which has been a broad but insightful module, introducing aspects of Classical Athenian society from theatre and religion, to politics and philosophy. It’s also one of my biggest modules, so it’s a great way to meet people with similar interests.

First-year classicists

I’m at St John’s College, which is a seven and a half minute walk (yes, we’ve timed it) from the main humanities lecture theatres, and so after my 9 am lecture, I will either pop back to college to do some reading or go to the Classics Department (the only Department to have its own library). I love that everywhere is so close and easy to get to. I work in the library as an Assistant Librarian, and we are in the process of creating a catalogue for all our books. It’s been a fantastic introduction to library work and the process of taking care of books, which is a great skill to pick up if you’re looking to go into the heritage sector. I’ll tend to do an hour’s shift, and then spend another hour working on translations or grammar work, and eat a packed lunch.

The next two hours are spent between a Latin Grammar Class, and Monuments and Memory in the Age of Augustus, the second core module. Language, either Latin or Greek, or both, is compulsory for the Classics course at Durham, but there is support offered from Beginner to A level standard at entry, and I’ve had a great year developing my language skills and translating un-adapted Latin from key authors such as Cicero and Caesar. The most challenging part for me has been writing from English into Latin, but it’s dramatically helped my understanding of syntax.

Before our final lecture of the day, a group of us tend to spend an hour having a tea and cake in a local cafe, Cafédral, which, in our opinion, is definitely the best place to discuss what we’ve learnt, go over any issues we’re having and just generally take an hour to relax in the middle of the day. On less busy days, I try to get in an hour in the afternoon to lie down and either have a nap, listen to some music or read something completely unrelated to my course. As a Type One Diabetic, I also find it really important to take time during the day to rest and take care of my blood sugars, and the college and department have been really great at supporting me through disability services, and making necessary adjustments so that I feel as safe as possible, and fully able to participate in everything I do.

Hebrew text

Then we wander back to Elvet and finish the day with a Latin literature reading class, before splitting up and heading back to college. On a busy day like today, I try not to do too much heavy work in the evening, so after dinner, I often walk along the river for an hour and then prepare a few chapters of Hebrew for upcoming seminars, with a compulsory final mug of tea. I chose to take Hebrew instead of Greek and I’ve absolutely loved it. I also take an archaeology module; I think it’s one of the greatest values of the Durham course that you can take elective modules in other departments, and it’s allowed me to broaden my experience, meet people from other degree courses, go on field trips, and make connections across different disciplines.

On other nights, I tutor GCSE pupils through the Durham Student Volunteering team, which makes me feel connected and supportive of the local community of which I’m a part. I also play the cello and sing with St Chad’s College Choir, and so attend rehearsals and sing evensong once a week. There is nothing better, in my opinion than music to make close friends, have a laugh, and relieve any stress (oh, and sometimes we end up in the college bar afterwards for a quick drink!).

By the end of Thursdays, I’m exhausted, and so I’ll curl up in bed with a book and a hot water bottle, and wait for the alarm to break the silence again…

More information

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Catherine Perkins

Hi, I’m Catherine and I’m a finalist at St John’s College where I study Classics with a splash of Theology in there too! During my time at Durham, I have worked as a Durham Student Ambassador and I am currently the Senior Welfare Officer at St John’s. In my spare time, I enjoy running around the Durham riverbanks and enjoying the beautiful sunrises and sing in lots of choirs around the city.
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