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The Michael Bruce Essay Competition

Michael Bruce

Every year we stage an essay competition in memory of one of our alumni, Michael Bruce. Michael was SRC President between 2000-01, a member of College Advisory Board and the Caedmon Ceolfrid Trust Board. Michael died at a tragically young age in 2016. This competition is open to first year undergraduates who come from backgrounds and schools and colleges where the experience of higher education is not the norm. This was Michael’s own background and in setting up this competition and award Michael’s family and friends seek to elicit accounts of ‘What Durham Means to me’, that speak of the experience of joining our College and University. The winning entry is shared with the entrant’s school with the aim of inspiring other students to consider us as a place where they will be welcome and flourish.

The Essay Competition

The competition is open to all full-time, undergraduate students who join the College and who come from families, schools and colleges with no tradition of entry to higher education. They are also required to be members of the Student Representative Council (SRC) of the College of St Hild and St Bede.

We launch the competition during the year. We have just concluded the competition for 2022 and anticipate that it will open again next  in 2023.

Essays must be a maximum of 1,000 words on the theme of 'What Durham Means to Me'. What we ask students to share is their story of living and studying in Durham. That might focus on the city, the University and/or the College of St Hild and St Bede. In any case, we asked, it should appeal to people who might not feel confident that University is for them. We  want to know, have they discovered exciting new things about their subject in lectures or the lab’, or debated long into the night in College among their friends? Have the views of the cathedral from the river inspired them? How have their views of the College and University changed and what might they say to the person that they were when they thought about applying? We wanted to read an interesting and unusual essay, one that can only come from the entrant's perspective.


What Durham Means To Me


The winning entry 2022

Dinah Patt, 1st year, Archaeology

I had dreamed of studying in England for years, and yet when I first arrived all those months ago I had never felt more lost. When my parents left the hotel to explore the city, I stayed firmly planted in my room, staring out of the window hoping to find some inkling of familiarity. The window pointed towards the sky, and when I finally managed to scale the table and peer out, I was not disappointed. There, looming above the brick and mortar below, were the spires and buttresses of Durham Cathedral, a fabled sight I had only just laid eyes upon for the first time. Bill Bryson was right: everything about it was perfect. My archaeologist’s brain was abuzz… so much history, so many stories! But then came the inevitable: What am doing here? What do I want to do here? How on earth am I going to survive in a new country at a new school with no support network, no self-confidence, and a remarkably volatile history with academics? As my thoughts raced, I tried to focus on the cathedral… how delicately each stone had been carved, how deliberately each was placed. I thought of the architects, the engineers, the builders, each of whom devoted their lives to create a masterpiece they would never see complete. I imagined centuries passing: thousands of worshippers flowing through its depths and visitors from far and wide who, like me, found the sight of the cathedral no less than magnificent. Perhaps they too dreamed of the thousands before them, taking comfort in the road more traveled, and maybe, just maybe, they left behind a trail for me. I stepped down and closed the window. The leap: it’s now or never.

The next morning, we headed to Hild Bede. By the time I made it through the obstacle course of freps and steps and finally turned the key to TH 34, any cathedral confidence had swiftly turned to dormitory despair. Too different, too many unknowns, too many people. My parents, likely sensing my frustration, excused themselves to go find us some food. I peered out the window and caught a glimpse of my beacon, still visible over the tops of the trees. And yet, as comforting as the cathedral was the day before, it certainly wasn’t doing any guiding now. I was overwhelmed and planned to ask my parents if it was too late to go back home. I sighed, picked up a stack of clothes from my suitcase, and opened the wardrobe. My jaw dropped. There, brightly lit by the afternoon sun, were dozens of names scrawled in marker on the side panels and slats. The more I stared, the more I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It seemed that every year, as far back as 1970, the residents of TH 34 had signed this permanent guestbook, making note of who they were, what they studied, and when they lived here. Some made jokes, some left advice, and a few others had added comments to messages from years before. My heart swelled as I thought, here it is, my new muse. Here were the signatures of decades and decades of visitors to this room, MY room, all of whom had made it through first year and lived to tell the tale. I was inspired, not just by their words of encouragement and stories, but also by my new mission: make it through the year, sign the wardrobe, and leave a note for TH 34’s next guests. I finished unpacking, grabbed a mask, and headed out into the great unknown. The high and lows of this great unknown have been wide and varied. What started out as promising academic and social performance turned into a constant state of avoidance and anxiety. I found myself missing events and activities I knew I would have enjoyed just because I was too overwhelmed to leave the safety of my room. Communication, participation– I couldn’t do any of it, and worst of all, I felt like I couldn’t explain it to the people I had begun to care so much about. Through it all, the one constant became the safety and comfort of TH 34. When I would finally manage to drag myself outside, I held onto the notion that at any moment I could return to the home I had made my own. This proved invaluable, as I frequently found myself fleeing social events and commitments either far too early or entirely defeated. And every so often, on those darkest nights, I would sit and stare at the endless web of names, or catch a glimpse of the cathedral in the distance, and try to remind myself of the decades and centuries of defeat and victory before me. It didn’t always work, but sometimes I could fall asleep a little easier that night.


Initially I was devastated to learn that the Hild Bede buildings we have grown to know and love would not last our lifetimes, let alone the cathedral’s many centuries. What would become of my first goal, to sign the guestbook? What will we come back to visit? As the weeks passed, I reflected on my time here. Somehow I had made those phone calls and sent those emails, somehow I turned in those assignments, and somehow I’m leaving first year with those deep connections I longed for and with my own stories to tell. Mine is just one of many tales of struggle and success that have unfolded here, in this room, on this site, in this town, and perhaps it is that unspoken comradery and those breadcrumbs that have guided each of us through to the triumphant end. Perhaps it isn’t the buildings that make Durham and Hild Bede what they are, but the thousands of people– past, present, and future– who carve the identity and beauty of our community. So at the end of the year, I will sign my name in the guestbook. I don’t know if anyone will see it, but I will know my journey, and others will know their own, and our collective stories will live on for generations to come. We should be proud to be a part of this legacy and excited for the future that we will never get to see.


Commended entries for 2022

Eve Jackson, 1st Year, English

Coming to Durham was the fulfilling fight of my life. Although I am proud of my achievements, I did not get here alone.

As visits by next year’s freshers have begun, I see parents stroll past the river with would-be Hild Bede students and I realise that I would not be here without the hard work and support from my family.

My dad, for instance, left school without a single qualification to join the army, and is now a veteran that has worked tirelessly and indepedently to be successful. He now navigates the world of post-Brexit Business Development the way he once navigated military camping in Europe.

My mam also left college, to pursue a career in the NHS. No one has worked harder to run our local hospital, going far beyond her job description during the pandemic. She did go into higher education eventually at our local university. Taking night classes at the age of 28, while raising me and being pregnant with my sister, can’t have been the easiest thing – and it wasn’t expected of a working mother.

Although this meant there was no tradition of university education in my family, with such role models I realised that nothing was impossible if you wanted it – and if you could put the graft in.

Coming from a state school, I knew this. My school was excellent, but was spread much thinner than the average private school. I knew I would have to prove myself by working harder, especially to get into Durham where almost half the students are privately educated. Whatever injustice this signifies, it did not get in my way. I knew my value even at the age of sixteen – the age I began applying – and I retain it now as a proud working-class Northern woman. I will always encourage women like me to pursue their wants, especially in the face of England’s class and education system.

And what I wanted, for as long as I remember, was to be an archaeologist. Old things were cool – that was all I knew as a little girl when my grandmother took me to Newcastle’s museums. I know a little more now, thanks to my lectures here; I have been taught that crumbling buildings tell stories, that things as small as fish bones and pollen are precious in discovery, and I’ve even learned how to find a body and identify a skeleton. With so much to explore, and with the tools I have been given – literally, when I’m out excavating with a trowel – the fascination with discovery has remained.

It was this desire for discovery that led me here. I remember asking myself not only what Durham could teach me about archaeology, but also what it could teach me about myself. What kind of person might I be when I graduate? I guess I’ll wait and see. And so, spurred on by curiosity, and despite feeling disadvantaged due to my background, I pursued Durham.

Although Durham is only a short drive from my hometown of Sunderland, it seemed rather magical to me in my childhood; the towering Catherdal and castle, the cobbled streets, students dashing in black gowns, and picturesque coffee shops. It always meant a book from Waterstones, or an ice cream in Market Square. Such images have stayed with me, and make me think I was destined for Durham: the place that gave me joy in the past has given me joy in my present, and hopefully will in the future.

Nonetheless, I have experienced impostor syndrome, and it sometimes creeps up on me even now. I’m proud of being from Sunderland, but the government’s historic neglect of my city has left scars. Durham, in comparison, felt preserved, a city that sat beautifully proud and without shame in a way I hadn’t seen growing up. Durham is more local to me than most students here, but it felt foreign  – a place I had to deserve rather than expect to welcome me.

Yet, I realised it wasn’t about getting anyone to accept me, it was about accepting myself. It’s too easy to hide and change yourself because of judgement. My advice to others, and to myself, is to know your worth, but also to exert both love and confidence. Your very being makes you a part of history, and if you can do something worthwhile with that knowledge, you are important anywhere you go.

Perhaps it’s not truly as romantic as that. However, I do feel something of endless, personal history here. I recently wrote an article on an alumna from the 1940s, and the connection I felt to her was startling. Her diary told me about her deadlines and charming dance partners, her hobbies and her plans. It showed me that life here is not simply academic and individual, but that there is evidence – here comes the archaeological terminology! – that connection can be shared not only with fellow students, but across time. Sometimes I look up from an essay in the library and wonder how many people have passed by these bookshelves, how many have gossiped with friends and strangers alike, how many have been successful, and how many have found happiness. I, at least, have found that latter treasure here.

I can’t speak for the other colleges, but Hild Bede is a happy, and pretty, place. When I first saw it, after being reallocated, I remember thinking wow, that’s a lot of flowers. I was feverishly ill at the time, so perhaps it’s not the most accurate impression, but as summer comes again I’m thinking the exact same thing.

My college is colourful, and sprawling. The corridors of Hild are still a maze. But that means there’s always a friend around the corner, there’s always a footy match going on somewhere outside, and there’s always a creaky but cosy room to study in.

I had not seen any of this when I arrived. There had been no visits thanks to Covid, and it was strange living in a building I had never been in.

Yet, I found myself at home. I have done silly things with amazing people, and discussed different subjects I had never thought about – why are there so many maths equations, anyway? And why did the Neanderthals die out?

Taking the exams to get here was tough, of course. After worrying how Covid might affect me, and facing reallocation to a college I had written off as “too far away” (sorry, Hild Bede), stress left its toll. But, now the sound of cathedral bells drifts through my window, as if welcoming me each day. I have written poetry about the way the sun glistens off of the boathouse, and I have toasted to long-lasting friendships. Ballrooms, and baby rabbits frightening me before a lecture. Working, and laughing. Making memories. Life.

To explain my experience, I can only describe it through such snapshots. It is filled with just as many coffee-fuelled afternoons in labs as it is covered in colourful memories, but it makes a happy picture nonetheless.

To summarise, the road here was winding but motivated, and not always obvious in the shadows of 2021. But it is nonetheless a road I have built, and am still building – like anyone in Durham’s history, I don’t know where it’s going. All I do know, is that I am content to be building it, that I am no longer doing so alone, and that I will always have Hild Bede as a place of refuge on the journey.


 Harry Bottrill

 When I was younger, I did not really know Durham, so much as know of it. My grandparents often spoke enthusiastically about their own stories from the North-East, as well as those of their own relatives, one of whom marched from Jarrow. Neither of my grandparents attended university, yet neither sought to do so. Apprenticeships with small pharmacies fulfilled my grandad’s passion for chemistry, and my nanny gained practical experience on a hospital ward. I did not, until shortly before the UCAS process opened, even know much about Durham’s academic side – I only knew the occasional thing about the city. However, it is from the stories that my grandparents told me that I became curious about the place.

Living only an hour away in Yorkshire, it was relatively easy to visit. I did so late in the summer of 2020, when coronavirus restrictions were beginning to lift, and approaching the year in which I would have to decide what I did after sixth form. This day-trip was the first time I had actually seen Durham in the flesh, and it took me through the Bailey’s cobbled streets, along the riverside towpath, atop Observatory Hill and, somewhere along the way, to Hild Bede College.

When everyone became embroiled in the second year of post-16 education and in the painful process of drafting and re-drafting personal statements, the impressions left with me from that Summer’s day were still as strong as when I visited. Durham easily made it onto my application list. Five months down the line, I had a sense of trepidation when opening the message from UCAS saying that my application to Durham had been ‘updated’, for the system did not inform you if it will bring delight or disappointment until the result is revealed when you sign in to the website. Until that point, I had only received one of my offers back, and had been rejected by another. This, though, made it all the better when I opened it with my mum, discovered I had been accepted, and leapt from the sofa in joy. My examination results soon returned, and my place was secured.

Going ahead, I packed up my things and travelled to the city at the beginning of September rather than later for Fresher’s Week, having been invited to a pre-season trialling camp for the University rowing team. During this period, a second-year student was hosting me and I still recall their friendliness and hospitality; both they and the rest of the rowing squad spurred us all on during the camp, and looking back on my first year here, their determination and drive definitely characterised my perception of the Durham student experience. It is not only the faculty members who seek to derive every ounce of potential from every student; indeed, the people we surround ourselves are also central to our satisfaction and success in higher education, be it with course-mates, with friends from Hild Bede, or with fellow student-athletes.

With the squad, it was our choice to do the hard miles of winter training. We chose to wake up regularly at 5:30am. We chose to try squaring this with a degree-level course. Yet it was a decision which certainly paid dividends, for some of my fondest experiences so far have been on the misted Wear whilst the golden sun rose, sculling to the sound of the morning Cathedral bells. My highest point this year was collecting our gold medals, shoulder to shoulder with my crew-mates, celebrating in elation after racing on the Tyne’s Blaydon straight. Those memories, just like my first time seeing Durham, still retain their happy glow in my mind.

On the academic side, the transition to higher education obviously posed new challenges, yet certainly not ones to outweigh the opportunities. Going to law school, though not being one of those things which quote-unquote ‘I always knew I was going to do’, was definitely a goal which firmly cemented itself over the preceding couple of years. University education is perhaps more ‘hands off’ than what I had previously underwent, despite the 18 months of adapted teaching when the pandemic restrictions were more stringent. That said, meetings with my academic advisors, tutors, lecturers and the like nurtured me and provided guidance and direction to my studies; I learnt to love the subject. Even during the moments where I felt pressured by my joint athletic and educational undertakings, where it seemed as though I was burning the candle at both ends, it became clear that College staff and the fantastic pastoral team were there for me the entire way through, offering sage advice and resounding support.

It has thus far been immensely satisfying to pursue both these sides of my University career. I would not go back to change anything. Granted, the balance was sometimes difficult to maintain, and I often had to lean on the shoulders of my friends, yet the whole adventure has taught me valuable lessons. Degree-level academia has fostered my curiosity and commitment. University sport has developed my ambition and aspiration. Most importantly, along the way it has been repeatedly proven to me just how caring, considerate, and kind people are, be it with the rowers, with my course-mates, and especially with the Hild Bede family.

Durham has shown me to find enjoyment in the rigours of student life, to delight in difficulties. My time at Durham has so far been shaped by what I chose to engage in, how much I chose to engage in it, and by the people who were alongside me. To me, this has all demonstrated that Durham means whatever we choose to make of it, that it is as fantastic as we desire it to be.

The Winning Entry 2021 by Ellie Cottrill 

The depth and complexity of how I feel towards Durham will hardly be done justice in just words, which is especially odd considering I’ve spent less than fifteen weeks there, two of which in isolation.

However, I wouldn’t consider my introduction to University normal, I went to state schools my entire life and neither of my parents went to ‘university’ as such, my mum is a nurse who is currently doing a masters but her experience of university (other than nursing school at eighteen) has been in the last ten years. As for my dad, he had to go back to college to get any O or A-levels and never went to university but is now an extremely successful financial director. So, I was always taught that I didn’t need university, but it could be useful. Yet for me university became the be all and end all. I wanted to prove to myself that I deserved to do well, and it inevitably became this enormous goal that would prove that I was smart, resilient and all those other qualities you put on your personal statement and that I deserved to do well in life. This is also the general theme throughout high school and sixth form, being a gifted child, getting into Oxbridge, all this academic pressure. In hindsight the conflicting views of what University would be contorted my outlook. University doesn’t suddenly make you a better person or erase your insecurities, no university can do that, but I don’t believe any other university than Durham could have given me the tools I needed to work through by myself, knowing I had the support of my college, my subject, and my university as a whole.

After endless open days It felt as if I could have gone to most of the places we’d visited until I arrived in Durham, it felt like belonging. Initially I applied to St Chads I thought the old town was perfect for me but then I got re-allocated to Collingwood which was a little disappointing until I found out about the amazing facilities and the closeness to the Chemistry department and all the other qualities that make the hill colleges great.

Then COVID happened, I stopped college in March and instead worked full time, I moved out of my mum’s house to live with my partner. It all felt like I was already having to be an adult when I certainly didn’t feel like one. The thought of moving to Durham, ‘student life’, doing a subject I love, meeting new people and doing it in such a beautiful, supportive community kept me motivated but yet again COVID had other ideas… Results day came, and the algorithm had lowered my chemistry grade by three grades and my offer had been withdrawn. Heartbroken, hollow, cheated, I couldn’t even fathom what had happened.

Following an incredible effort from my teachers and sixth form (as was seen nationally) my grades were reinstated as was my offer, but it wasn’t until two weeks before arriving that my college was re-allocated, Hilde Bede. I knew very little about it, the rushed, unplanned feeling to everything left me feeling apprehensive and sick with worry. I arrived in the sweeping grounds and met all the kind, bubbly freps who seemed so happy to meet me. I moved into my rooms and I couldn’t have been more glad, I was enveloped in the sense of community that pervades every Durham college, subject and society and I started to realise what Durham means to me. It meant a place for me to learn who I am and the sort of person I want to be, it meant support and belonging.

I still get terrible imposter syndrome especially when considering what could have happened with my grades however, I know I’m not the only one and I know that Durham will do everything it can to help me succeed.

Considering the regulations, the fact we had any semblance of a fresher’s week should be applauded and I know its down to the passion and drive of the freps that we did, they embraced the Durham attitude and showed me what I meant to be part of it.

Two weeks after fresher’s week my household got COVID, being young, active, and fit, I did not expect to be bed ridden for 4 days. By the second week walking made my chest tight and I struggled to catch my breath. It was terrifying, nothing had ever incapacitated me before and even after this I was fatigued for months following my infection. Before the lockdown in November, I knew I needed to go home, I was ashamed, I felt like I’d failed, putting my mental health first seemed weak. After discussing working from home with my principle, academic advisor and so many others the overwhelming support convinced me otherwise and allowed me to do my very best, through it all my department was flexible and supportive, college made sure we were well fed and could exercise and the welfare team were there for a chat whenever we needed, zoom wasn’t just for tutorials. The passion to deliver excellent and accessible academic material, and wellbeing during a pandemic is just another way Durham strives to get the best from every student.

In a ‘normal’ year with the structure of a normal science course I may have done ‘better’ but the year has taught me a lesson that I desperately needed. I have done my absolute best despite a pandemic, despite limitations on clubs and societies, despite not having many friends. I have completed my first year, the friends I have made I never want to be without, I have not only survived but thrived in an especially difficult time. I have joined an equestrian society, I’ve been to Hamsterley forest on my bike, I’ve been climbing, I’ve done labs, I’ve been an SSCC rep despite only knowing one other person on my course.

There is nowhere else I would have rather been this year, and only Durham with all its individuality could’ve helped me learn the lessons I’ve learnt. Durham doesn’t mean growing up, it means growing into the person you want to be and being continually proud of your growth and knowing everyone around you is proud too. Durham means learning to love yourself as it pushes you to be the best you can be.

A Postgraduate Perspective and PG winning entry

Qiqi An

Coronavirus has made everything complicated, but it makes me firmly believe I did a right thing - study at Durham, and chose College of St Hild and St Bede.

When I arrived in Durham, I was excited to tell my family and friends that this place was so much like my grandma's hometown. It is just rural idyllic life in a different place. Uneven stone paved paths, ground floor houses built brick by brick, long riversides, quiet little villages surrounded by lots of green vegetation, a laid-back life and friendly natives... It is exactly a place to get away from the worldly chaos and take my mind off the anxiety pushed by big data media. Unlike where I come from, people don't have to be busy socialising after work and saying complimentary and polite things amidst the mingling. People can choose to go to the nearby bars and have a drink or chat with friends. Sometimes it's nice to go out for a walk with friends and sit in the sunny lawn. So, I didn't feel like I had to get used to the Durham environment. Of course, it is also worth mentioning that the Durham Cathedral is really spectacular.

 Before I came to Durham, I applied for Research Methods (Education) just because of my passion for education and three years of experience as an education volunteer as an undergraduate. At the beginning of the masters course, I encountered many difficulties in learning, for example, when other foreigner students could not understand the theoretical content explained by the lecturer, while I was still stuck in the level of vocabulary the lecturer said and what the meaning of the each word was. I had been focused on watching the English subtitles or voice synchronization translation software. Especially when I knew I was the only Masters student in my pathway, and my parents was nothing they can do as they didn’t lucky as me have access to university in their time and I was in a foreign country. Intense uncertainty scared me to send an email to my pathway convener to apply for a pathway change or a gap. I am truely grateful to my pathway convener in the School of Education and the MARM activities of the School of Sociology, they encouraged and supported me when I was in lost, patiently listening to my poor English speaking and helping me solve problems. Both of them become my tutor in study. What's more, I feel most Durham teachers and staff members strongly respect international students. I know my Chinese name is a bit of a tongue-twister for non-native speakers, but I've had a few teachers who really respect me and call my Chinese true name and pay attention to their pronunciation.

 The teachers at Sociology Department and the School of Education are really supportive and inclusive. When a module lecturer knew that I had the idea of pursuing a PhD, he shared inspiring words and realistic steps with me to recognize my abilities. I was shocked but excited, but my lack of confidence led me to question my abilities over and over again in the beginning. In overcoming my self-doubt, some very kind foreign friends and teachers who help me sort out my thoughts without expecting anything in return. Unexpectedly I got my PhD offer from Durham in early February this year. However, due to my lack of time in preparation, I withdrew my admission after I failed to get the scholarship. However, my supervisors had been very patient and kind throughout the process, emailing me that they are willing to continue to support me and give me the opportunity to be the best version of myself.

 Durham University has an excellent academic platform. I have attended several professionally relevant and interdisciplinary academic seminars and meetings, both online and offline. In this process, I met some amazing people from different background with passion. I felt the tolerance and diversity in communications. When I saw students from different countries actively sharing their research and asking questions, it inspired me to change my usual silence. When I plucked up the courage to share my research idea, I received opportunities to learn, share and invaluable feedback.

 What I like most about Durham is the positive, patient and powerful friends I have made here. To be honest, from last February to this March, I went through a lot of unexpected downs, and my pent-up feelings piled up highly. When I broke down after a bit of a rollercoaster of a time, I were overwhelmed with positive comments and supports from friends and teachers. It felt like a beacon of light and hope in dark times. In addition, Durham university and the two departments gave me time to concentrate on solving my personal problems, and then focus on my studies. I did spend a lot of time on it, but it made me a lot more mature and happier than I was before.

 I think the Durham union students team do a very good job of fighting racism, because so far, I have not seen racist people in my social circle. I meet my good friends in Hild and Bede college, they are cheerful, considerate, and easy-going. Since I don't live in the college accommodation, I don't know much about the college and people. My friends enthusiastically introduced me to the facilities of our college, introduced me to their friends, and invited me to participate in college activities.

 In short, my mentality has changed a lot. As I walk on the road in Durham, I often think of every bit of what happened here. I feel lucky, the people from different countries I meet are so warm and nice, and it feels like a dream. To be honest, during my study in Durham, I never envied my friends who had gone to university elsewhere, because I had all I wanted and also have chances to achieve the best myself and beyond study!


The Winning Entry 2020 by Olivia Campbell

What Durham Means to Me

I am not from the type of background which people may associate with Durham students. I am the first student from Ken Stimpson Community School to get into Durham and the first person in my family to go to University. I am from a low social-economic background and before this year I had always taken every opportunity in front of me, but I never had the chance to travel much or experience many hobbies or activities I had always wanted to do. I didn’t have any professional contacts or any work experience in a profession before coming to University. Durham has given me opportunities, incredible friends and tutors, and a network that I couldn’t have imagined. Durham represents not who I was or am, or where I come from, but what I can be and where I can go. Durham to me stands for diversity, inclusion, support, and opportunity.

Durham is not just a University; it is what the University stands for and the opportunities here that make the experience second to none. The portfolio of experience I have built over this year has been incredible. As a member of Durham’s Women in Business Society, I was matched up with my mentor and Durham alumni Clare Hunter who works at Coltraco Ultrasonic in Marketing. Clare has given me invaluable advice, become a professional contact, and a supportive friend. Through Clare’s encouragement and support I became equipped to apply for multiple internships and experiences. For example, I have been a member of UpReach and attended webinars with top law firms like Slaughter and May and have recently applied for work experience in September with them. I also secured two internships with Bright Network. The first working with companies such as Google, P&G, GSK and Enterprise-Rent-A-Car in solving problems with feasible solutions, such as advising Enterprise on the best location for opening their next business and advising their long term strategy in adapting their business model and becoming a multinational and first-mover through expansion into LEDC’s and emerging economies as a significant untapped market for their product. My second internship takes place later over this summer and will be with top law firms such as Clyde and Co, Herbert Smith Freehills, and Allen and Ovary- all industry-leading firms which I never thought I would have the chance to engage with. I also have an internship in Estee Lauder’s head office in London in August and will be working in Marketing and Strategic planning for the launch of a new product in the UK beauty market.

Durham has also offered me continuous support and challenge. There are events and experiences in every department imaginable from dedicated coaches at Maiden Castle sports facility to an Entrepreneurial support team and careers development center. For example, In February I took part in the Game Changer Challenge. The challenge was an entrepreneurial challenge focused on innovative solutions to contribute to one of the UN Sustainability Development Goals. Our challenge was to ask ourselves ‘How do we prevent infection during an epidemic?’. My team and I came up with a feasible solution, 1st in the competition and the support from the Enterprise department to further our idea if we choose to. Over the coming year I will participate in Durham’s Leadership Academy and further my progress in achieving Durham’s Inspired Award.

Since being in Durham I have also helped found Scoop Durham, a non for profit that sells environmentally-conscious and zero plastic alternatives of food products such as pasta at a competitive price with market leader Tesco. Starting in October we have secured a permanent unit in Freemans Quay that will become the main sales site and storage facility.

The collegiate system at Durham is more than just a collection of people. It quickly becomes a home and a support network, a familiar friendly face if you ever feel upset and there is always, always, someone to talk. At the beginning of the year, I suffered from imposter syndrome, but by the second term through my friends and the community support network Durham became a source of motivation and comfort. Durham itself is also unbelievably beautiful with its hills and Hild Bede’s acres of gorgeous grounds, river views, and historic buildings. But as big as the campus may be, it is never not full of life and possibility whether there is a ball going on or an ultimate frisbee game, a bar crawl in the college bar, or just a group of your friends sitting around the grounds.

There are always events running on Campus from coffees with successful entrepreneurs or companies like J.P Morgan networking with students, or formals and society events. Durham has also been so much more than advancing my skills. I have tried hobbies I never had the chance to do before but have always wanted to like gymnastics and there is everything available you could imagine from Dance and aerial arts to Cheese and Chess or rock climbing.

Whatever I choose to do in the future, it is closing to being in my grasp than ever, and I sincerely believe that if I hadn’t chosen Durham I wouldn’t have had the experiences, the memories, the friendships or the opportunities that have only just begun to change my life. Durham has shown me it doesn’t matter where I came from, it is about what I am capable of and what I can do, and it is here that I have the resources and support to do it. Durham is academic excellence, but it Is also a family, a community, a network, and the platform which can change your life. So, simply put Durham to me is opportunity. The opportunity to do things I haven’t had the chance to do before, the opportunity to do things that I never knew were possible, and the opportunity to be supported throughout them. The opportunity to make my family proud and be a role model for my little sister, and the opportunity to achieve my potential and do whatever I choose to do in my life.

This winning entry comes from Oliva Campbell. Olivia is a second-year student at St Hild and St Bede studying English Literature. She says, ‘I applied to the competition because I wanted to encourage pupils from my secondary schools, and schools like it, to apply and attend Durham University. Durham will give you opportunities to pursue things that you do not even know about yet while feeling fully supported throughout them. I would encourage anyone thinking about Durham and worrying that they are not the right 'fit' to apply because I assure you, you are’

Highly Commended Entry

Olenka Bordakova

Do dreams come true?

This is the question I used to always ask myself whenever a new implausible thought of something happening popped into my head. Going to one of the world’s best universities was one of them. In fact, even going to a British school was a dream to me. Most of my life I spent trying to do my best even though I was unsure why. When I first came to England with Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline, I came to a realisation that everything I had been doing up until that moment had incredible value to me, my future, and my aspirations. Coming from a simple family like mine, I never even hoped that my parents would be able to finance my higher education at home, let alone abroad, in one of the wealthiest economies in the world. This made me realise the importance of being given a chance or an opportunity, in return for which you just had to be brave and not afraid of showing the world who you are.

I think it takes incredible courage to be able to get out of one’s comfort zone. This is what I had to do when I started my university application process. The University of Durham did not make it on my list of prospective universities at first. I was apprehensive that Durham would not suit my personality due to its existing reputation of having little racial, social, and economic diversity amongst students. I was worried that I would struggle to fit in, and my social life would be complicated by a lack of like-minded students. That, however, made me feel like I was hypocritical and afraid to be brave and take another chance I had been given. So, I decided to apply. Durham was obviously at the top of my list.

Next came one of the most important stages in the application process – picking a college. After hours of deliberating which college was the best to apply to, I made the decision to leave it to chance. I just wish I had known then how lucky I was having been given a place at the College of St Hild and St Bede. This was how my new life began.

I remember my first day at Hild Bede as if it were yesterday. The first thing that stroke me was the enormous poster saying, “It would be rude not to…”. It really took a few months for me to realise what it meant, as I am sure was the case with every one of us Hild Bede 2019-2020 freshers. Throughout the year, the college became my real home, where I felt free to be myself and take more chances and opportunities as part of being a student at Durham. I felt like I had made more friends in my first week at university than in my whole life. They are the most open-minded people I have ever met.

I quickly realised that most of my apprehensions and fears did not have place at Hild Bede. I believe that the collegiate system at Durham is the reason that is the case. Being at Hild Bede allowed me to build my social life and made it easier to cope with existing pressures through the college student support facilities. The staff have always been willing to help and easy to communicate with.

Today, I am a happy member of about a dozen societies both university and college-based, which allows me to make the most of being a Durham student. Every day I get a chance to learn something new, try something new or speak to someone new. From being a strong apprehension, going to Durham turned into an opportunity of a lifetime. Every day I am a part of this wonderful college and university community, I recognise that it is indeed the students that make the university great and not the university that makes the students great.

There is one thing that does upset me about this experience today. The 2020 pandemic. My first year at university turned out to be short and unfinished. No College Day. No Summer Ball. No more formals. But what I do have is the warm memories of evenings spent with my friends, college brunch, the view of the Cathedral and the river. Hild Bede made this year special, and the unprecedented crisis we are all going through today makes me realise how incredibly valuable this experience has been. I believe that everyone who becomes a part of Durham community begins to write the new story of their life. Whilst I cannot speak for each one of us freshers, I know that this one year at Durham has turned me into the confident, determined, and resilient woman I am today.

A Postgraduate perspective

Amira Chergui

What Durham means to me

Being always that brilliant student among my classmates, I was that girl who fought against her family’s will of forbidding her from going to university after succeeding in the final exams of the Baccalaureate, as the tradition says ‘girls places are in their husbands’ houses not university streets; you have learned how to read and write. That’s enough’. I stood against this unjust proceeding and went on registering to get enrolled in a university that is near my hometown and eventually got the approval for my choice of studying the English language as a subject. I kept on the same track of excellency despite the bad circumstances until the final year of my master’s degree graduation where I have got a governmental scholarship for completing a PhD degree in the United Kingdom. “No! That is impossible. You cannot go” everybody says, but nothing was impossible for me and here I am now writing this essay to be participating in a ‘HILD BEDE’ competition in a lovely city that I have never had the chance even to imagine visiting one day.

Durham university is a very welcoming place for thousands of international students like me. An educational environment that is considered one of the most desirable and magical places to study in and a well ranked university that has been at the forefront of knowledge centuries ago. A city that when I first arrived had taken my breath to the extent that I kept looking left and right as really got amazed by its architecture and buildings. Truly, it is a charming place, very lively, highly inspiring and most importantly keen to the heart.

I always find myself walking in its streets with a cup of hot coffee, heading to the river bridges through the city centre or gazing at the astonishing antiquated cathedral, castle and bridges. Other than this, I am also enjoying the Bill Bryson library so much as it is quite large, very well- equipped and highly motivating. I believe it is a cherished accomplishment for my personal, academic and professional experience as studying at Durham university is giving me the chance to appreciate myself and my decisions besides teaching me to be that person who will always be responsible and independent; additionally, it is contributing to the knowledge that I am learning and assisting me to improve my creative, critical and analytical skills. Henceforth, studying at Durham university is a golden opportunity that is paving me a way to get further and greater in my life journey.

From this humble experience that is still continuing in Durham till graduating and getting My PhD , I would like to live the moment whether it could be happy or sad and think always how grateful I am for this precious opportunity.