Besides getting constantly confused for a fresher and hearing everyone’s music from my room (the only reason I haven’t told the guy living in the floor below me to turn it down is because he actually has good taste in music), living in college as a finalist is nothing like the first year.
I chose to live back in college due to convenience. I was in Argentina on my year abroad at the time of housing choices, and signing for a house or agreeing to live with people seemed like a rushed decision that I would most likely end up regretting. When I found out I could opt to be self-catered in Grey as a fourth year, my decision was immediate. Furthermore, most of my closest friends were graduating, and college is always a good way of getting to know new people.
One of the aspects of going on a year abroad that feels the most surreal is watching everyone’s life in university carry on, whilst you are in a remote part of the planet. It seems like time has stopped for you and your life until you open social media, and you realise Durham will look nothing like second year when you are back. I believe choosing to live back in college has helped me cushion this shock.
Yes, it is a bit weird. Due to the fact I didn’t Frep (students in other years who come back to college early to welcome freshers), so no freshers know who I am, which means I constantly get asked whether I am enjoying Durham and my first year (looking 18 doesn’t help!). Furthermore, being away last year means second years don’t know me either. I also very often get, and I wish to continue thinking this is a compliment, that I don’t look like a ‘fourth year’. Honestly, fresh make 4th year sound like we are some 45 year-old veterans who were left behind by their class. It’s not that bad, you know!
Being self-catered allows me to cook, which to me is a means of distraction and a pleasant break, and I don’t need to work around the college meal times. Considering most of my tutorials are 11 am -1 pm, the flexibility of eating when I want is great. Apart from that, it does feel a bit lonely to eat by myself while my friends are in the dining hall. I overcome these lonely moments occasionally paying for Sunday brunch; this makes me feel like I’m going out, but I can eat as much as I want and it’s only a fiver. Having the dining hall right there is also incredibly handy when I’m running out of food and don’t have time to put in a Tesco order. I know food will always be available, no matter what.
Fourth years feel like the oldies of college. We are close to the President and VP (Vice Principle), know everyone in important exec. roles and cannot be intimidated by ‘popular’ fresh. If we want to head to the JCR or the bar, no group of new students will put us off going. This, I can guarantee, is an underrated improvement from first year. To people we may seem on top of things, applying for graduate jobs and keeping up with work; really, we just don’t have a care about what other students think of us, so there’s no need to pretend we are doing work and no pressure to go on nights out in the fear of getting branded as ‘boring’. Nights out become a lot more rare, unless you have socials, so they also feel a lot more special; we are a lot more likely to stay in the bar and play games. Friends are heavier weights than in first year, which also means less likelihood of having to carry someone home or waking up with a headache.
For many of us, a year abroad allowed us to realise what we wanted to do, or at least what we did not want to do, with our lives. We come back ready to finish our degrees, and we are aware we will be the smallest year group. As a result, we seem close-knit and difficult to get to. In reality, we are not that-much-older than everyone else, that-much more on top of things or mature, and we still enjoy Durham as much as you. Fourth-year has allowed me to build new friendships with people I hadn’t interacted much with before, strengthen existing bonds and get involved in activities and societies that seemed a bit too intimidating previously. Joining a DU sports team, the Durham Student interns or the Palatinate team have made this year stand out. I know what I want and what I am good at, and that makes a huge difference in the university experience.