Blog of Justin Cheuk, home to writing on London, Hong Kong, Studying Abroad, Trains and Travels.

Goodbye, Durham

Justin Cheuk: When HK Meets UK

The date was 2nd October 2012. A pretty ordinary day at first sight: cold, windy with the trademark rain that had come to characterise the English autumn. I was once again travelling on a train, staring out at the rain-tainted windows while passing the time by dozing off intermittently.

After what seemed liked an eternity of passing through forests, farmlands and Yorkshire townscapes, the train eventually began to decelerate and it trotted through a viaduct and into the station. As I rose from my seat and got myself ready, in typical English fashion rain ceased and the sky opened with that glorious sunshine – that would quickly disintegrate back into rain in 10 minutes or so.

However, it was in those mere 10 minutes that I was first exposed by that view so beautiful and breathtaking that I, along with so many of us, would come to embrace and treasure.

‘We’ll shortly be arriving at Durham,’ the tannoy sounded.

Nice to meet you.

I never thought I’ll end up going to Durham, so much so that I’ve neglected to visit the Durham open day (a foolproof method to skive school.) Even then, had it not been a case of self racial-profiling (“You’re Asian Justin, you can’t be that bad at Maths!”), Durham would most likely remain nothing but a word flashing on my UCAS form. Though as Murphy’s Law had it, I had to get off the train at Durham. That would turn out to be perhaps the best un-decision I’ve even made.

Having not got a clue on the whereabouts of St. Mary’s, I took a taxi- and within 10 minutes I arrived at what I think is the prettiest college at Durham. It took a while for me to believe it, but unbeknownst to me I’ve stumbled upon one of the best places to study in the country.

Durham is a magical place, with its mixture of ancient history, northern charms and collegiate comfort. It’s an ancient, historic city, to the extent that Harry Potter had in its earlier films projected it as Hogwarts. The towering cathedral and the castle keep, along with a well-preserved medieval city centre certainly gave credence to all my Hogwarts and Hogsmeade dreams. The rolling hills by the river provided idyllic walks (despite also being a logistic nightmare). For a collegiate environment, I am unsure whether I could’ve asked for me. Suck it LSE.

Of course, Durham’s World Heritage Sites merely headline the long and formidable list of the city’s ‘stunning architecture’: the concrete Brutalist mess that was the Durham Student Union that still managed to outshine and be more imaginative more the lecture halls next door at Elvet Riverside. I mean, while I was privileged to have a castle+cathedral view from my room, I also happened to live right next to a prison…

That didn’t matter though, since what the buildings lacked, the university and the collegiate community had more than made up for it. Simply put, I was utterly blessed to have been a member of St. Mary’s. And I am not just referring to its location midway between my lectures and my department, but the fact that the community had also changed my life.

Initially, I was suspicious about the collegiate system: having spent far too long in a boarding house environment, I was hoping that leaving school would be the end of it. What I didn’t realise though is how much I appreciated the company and the opportunities that you have in such a system. The societies, the sports teams, the balls, boat parties, full college bar crawls. Through these, I’ve had the possibility to live and hang out with some of the best friends I’ve ever met in my life. Had I gone to a London university, my introvert self would probably have taken over, and these experiences would simply not happen.

It’s easy to fall in love with a Norman cathedral, yet it was with you guys that I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy even the (supposedly) more dire bits of Durham. A night out at the worst nightclub in Europe? Not so terrible when you have your crazy friends dancing with you. (alcohol may or may not have played a part) Without you guys, I really cannot fathom how I would’ve ended up.

It has really been three amazing years in Durham and the North East. I’m  glad to have had the opportunity to come there, study something I’ve really enjoyed, meeting people from all over while bursting out from my previous London bubble. It’s been worthwhile.

After another rain-soaked day of graduation, I boarded the train once again, southbound. The weather has far more forgiving, with Cyprus-like temperature and glorious sunshine that lasted, giving me the best sendoff.

As the train slowly pulled out of the station the head south, I once again saw that great view of the castle and the cathedral. But this time I’ve seen a lot more, also the less distinguishing buildings, the rolls of houses, even the trees. I will definitely embrace and treasure this Durham view, but not only for the majestic cathedral or the impressive castle but also for what this view meant to me in the past few years. The experiences. The friends. The emblem of my university days.

Durham, thank you and hopefully see you soon.

3 Responses to “Goodbye, Durham

  • I’m going to start my studies at Durham this October. As a fellow introvert and Harry Potter fan, this has given me a sense of comfort and something to look forward to, so thank you!
    -From a nervous HK Fresher

    • Hi Clara,

      Thanks for the comment and I’m EXTREMELY PLEASE to hear that’s another Dunelm! Which college are you in?
      Despite being totally bias, Durham will be one of the best choices you’ve made in your life. I mean it. I’ll have more Uni-related stuff, please do stay tuned! Justin.

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