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Student stories

We Made It: Graduating Durham


By Frankie Gilham – 18th June 2024

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Frankie Gilham, one of our incredible Durham Campus Ambassadors, takes us through her final moments ever at Durham University. On the precipice of her summer ball, she looks back on her time at university.

We made it out!

The dress has been purchased. Heels have been acquired. The whole family is set to drive 300 miles. It can only mean one thing… I’m about to graduate (fingers crossed!)

Safe to say in Michaelmas 2021 I could not envisage myself here - at the end of my Joint Honours English and History degree. Don’t get me wrong, I have really enjoyed my time at Durham, I’ve met best friends for life and we’ve made so many special memories - and I do have so much love for this city. But at times the journey has been challenging.

Coming from a diverse state-school in West London, I had lived in my own little bubble for 18 years and what I considered to be ‘normal’ would be considered abnormal to many. Befitting the London stereotype, before coming to Durham I had never been ‘up north’ and I was not the most geographically adept when it came to the map of the UK. And to be honest, I think my lola (grandma) still thinks Durham is in Scotland - bless her!

But there was more to the picture than my London-centric view.

Before arriving at Durham, I had heard some of the lore surrounding the uni: The classic Oxbridge reject destination. The fact it was a bit posh. And that it was out in the sticks. But I don’t think I deeped how different it would be to home.

I was massively surprised that so many people knew each other from school and those schools seemed to be overwhelming private and boarding schools. I didn’t realise it was a common conversation starter to ask which school you attended. These awkward first encounters were compounded by the fact that I felt a lot more aware of my race. I had never been in classrooms where I had been the only Filipino and now I was almost always the only person of colour in seminars, tutorials and sometimes lectures.

That being said, support at Durham is abundant and easily accessible. Here are three places to find support at Durham University:

1. The Collegiate System

The collegiate system made it so easy to make friends and have an immediate sense of community within a new environment. South College being the newest college seems to attract a more diverse fresher intake and tends to be more state-educated than other colleges. I’m happy to say I met my best friends to this day in my first-year college accom and being in the same college throughout my years at Durham has created loyalty, familiarity and comfort.

2. Forging YOUR Community

You can build your own communities! Durham has space for absolutely everyone. There’s so many opportunities to get involved in sport, music, drama and practically any hobby you can think of where you can find like-minded people with similar interests and values. Personally, I have been involved in MixedSoc (Society for Students of Mixed Cultural Identities) and we host potlucks where everyone brings their own cultural food. It’s so wholesome! It feels so heart-warming and reaffirming to talk and connect with people with similar experiences especially in a predominantly white institution. I’m also proud to say I’ve done a lot of work with Durham People of Colour Association running anti-racism workshops, holding events for students of colour and advocating for greater racial dialogue on campus.

3. Do Incredible Things and Get Paid

Finally, you can get paid to do really cool things! Last year, I worked as a Decolonising the Curriculum intern in English Studies which was so valuable. Alongside fellow interns we collaborated to critique, challenge and innovate our curriculum - this is a yearly initiative so if you’re interested, I would highly recommend. This year, I’ve been working in the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit of the University as one of their student interns. This has been a wonderful opportunity - it’s so interesting to see the ‘behind-the-scenes’ and to offer insight and the lived experience of a student. My colleagues are so incredible and inspire me everyday. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion can be an exhausting area of work but they remain so committed, motivated and positive.

To sum it up, my biggest piece of advice to freshers: just do it! Genuinely, it is so worth putting yourself out there. Although Durham may be out of your comfort zone, you can only find your people by going to things, getting involved and branching out. As a fresher, it sounds wet, but I went to lots of events alone but it’s how I met so many of your friends. Being at Durham has built my resilience, prepared me for the ‘real world’ and allowed me to grow so much! I know on graduation I will be sad to leave but excited for my next steps and most importantly, proud of myself for getting through it all!

Aw thanks so much Frankie - love this so much! Our huge online student community is full of incredible advice from people like Frankie, as our 20,000+ strong member base swaps advice daily. Plus, we've got masterclasses, career mentoring, job opportunities and internships, and enough advice on how to find a grad job that you can shake a stick at.

Frankie found her Community in part at Durham, and in part at Zero Gravity - we've always got your back.

Learn more about what we do here.

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