Suhasini Vira (International Students’ Representative 2018/19)
I’ll start by saying congratulations, not only for getting into Durham University, but also for choosing the best college at Durham (completely unbiased opinion of course).
My name is Suhasini (I promise it’s not really that hard to pronounce). I’m a second-year Economics and Politics student from India and I’m super excited about being your International Students’ Rep this year.
While you’re all probably busy putting together your university shopping lists and to-do lists, our frep team is busy preparing to welcome you during the Induction Period. The Induction Period comprises 4 days of international induction followed by freshers’ week. The aim of the international induction is to help international students settle down, recover from jetlag, get the formalities sorted out and just have fun. The excitement will continue onto the next part of the Induction Period, freshers’ week, when you will be joined by the home students as well. The best part about having an international induction is that you’ll have more time to become familiar with the place (and also more time to do up your rooms). We’ve got loads of activities lined up for you for international induction, such as games night, day trips, intercollegiate socials and lots more. The freps are your guides and friends throughout the induction period and beyond. You’ll be learning more about your frep team, including me, in the JCR Handbook. So, the international handbook is going to focus more specifically on making the transition to Durham and Mary’s as comfortable as we can for you.
I know how daunting it can be to not only be entering a ‘new stage of life’ aka university, but also to be starting off in a different country. A year ago, I was both excited and terrified about moving from New Delhi, one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world, to Durham, a small but beautiful town in North England. And while leaving the familiar for something so new can never be completely easy, being at Mary’s and at Durham definitely made the whole experience a lot less scary for me.
What makes Durham unique is its collegiate system. At Durham, classes are held in your department rooms with students from across the university. So, your college becomes a place for you to relax, enjoy and socialise without the academic pressure attached to it. But to be honest, your college is so much more than just a place where you live and socialise. It also becomes your community and a part of your identity. Mary’s is known as the friendliest college in Durham and it definitely lives up to its reputation. From the very beginning, you’ll know that there’s a place that you belong, a place that you can call your second home. Because of the collegiate system, you can try out new activities that you might not want to explore at university level to begin with. For example, even though I haven’t participated in theatre in years, I had loads of fun while helping produce ‘The Comedy of Errors’ play at Mary’s last year. Whether it’s dance, sports, singing Disney songs, Mario-kart racing, bee-keeping… or pretty much anything else (if a group doesn’t already exist, you can always create one). Basically, there are loads of activities you can take up while at Mary’s.
This is not to say that there isn’t loads to do at university as well. The great thing about Durham is that everything is so close by on campus. So, you have a massive range of different activities just a short walk away. From conventional activities like debating, art, athletics to slightly more unconventional ones like Quidditch, Pole Dancing or LARP, there really is something for everyone. There are also so many people to meet and so much to learn. You can join one of the many cultural societies on campus, learn a new language, volunteer abroad and expand your horizons in such a significant way. When I go home to Delhi, I always find myself missing the ease with which I could just participate in so many different things on any given day at uni without having to stress. You can just drop in for Latin dancing, go for a theme night at a club, walk the ramp of fashion show all in one term.
So, while it’s completely understandable to be a little (or very) nervous, don’t forget to be excited as well. There’s so much that Durham has to offer you and that you have to offer Durham. You have the college support system and your frep team here to be there for you at every step of the transition. This includes assisting with administrative work (bank accounts, passport and security checks, etc.), helping you know where everything is and how everything works and just being around to talk and give advice. And that starts right here.
Below, we’ve included advice from some lovely contributors from the frep team about various aspects of preparation for your arrival at Durham. It’s a lot of information to process and it can be overwhelming but don’t worry. We’re here if you get stuck at any point. This is just a guide so that you have most of the information you might need accessible in one place. There’s also a summary of the most important links at the end of this handbook. That being said, take note that this information pack is only a student-written guide, don’t forget to check all emails from college for more information, including the deadlines you’ll have to follow!
Also, don’t worry, you won’t be dropped after Induction Period is over. Your freps and college exec will always be friendly faces to look out for. As your International Students’ Rep, I’ll be looking after your welfare throughout the year. This means I’ll be one message/email/chat away at any point to answer any questions you may have or to talk about anything that’s on your mind. I aim to take out some time each week to be in college and available for anyone who wants to talk about anything from homesickness to Bollywood movies. Another part of my responsibility is to help organise exciting cultural activities in college every term so that we can celebrate the diversity we have at Mary’s and at Durham.
If you have any questions at all, either before coming to Durham or while you’re at Durham, feel free to get in touch! You can message me on Facebook (by searching: Suhasini Vira) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can’t wait to meet you all soon!
International Students’ Representative 2018-19
Ellie’s Advice: Important information to read before arrival
Some of the more tedious tasks of International Induction are the visa-type admin things you will need to do. It might sound stressful now, but once you are here these things will be taken care of in no time, and we have Freps available throughout the Induction Period to accompany you and help sort everything out.
The link below gives you all the information you need regarding:
1. Collecting your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP)
2. Presenting your passport & visa for verification (Tier 4)
3. Presenting your passport & visa for verification (all other immigration categories)
4. Attending Medical (TB) Screening (if applicable)
5. Registering with the Police (if applicable)
While we don’t want you to stress, it is important that these steps are followed (if they’re necessary for you) so please give the link a read:
Naomi’s Advice: How to get to Durham University & St. Mary’s College
This is usually paired with a train journey up to Durham. An obvious choice would of course be Heathrow Airport (London). However, other alternatives include:
- Manchester Airport
- Newcastle Airport
- Edinburgh Airport (Scotland)
Durham Tees Valley airport is much closer to Durham but is not recommended as the only way to get to and from there is by taxi, which are (frankly) extortionate.
Trains are probably the predominant mode of transport to get to Durham (and around UK during term time). Trainline.com (and the mobile app) are really useful ways to find out train times and buy train tickets.
You should get a 16-25 railcard, especially if you are going to travel a lot. It gives you a decent discount off train tickets (often 30% off), which can make them more affordable. You can do this online, or ask for a form at any train station, fill the form out and give them a passport picture of yourself.
If you do wish to take the train to Durham from your flight, here are some simple directions:
- From Heathrow, London:
- Take the underground tube to King’s Cross St. Pancras (no changes required)
- Then take the train to Durham (around 3 hours)
- From Manchester:
- Take the train to Newcastle (should call at Durham but maybe have to change) – around 2 hours
- Take the train to Newcastle (should call at Durham but maybe have to change) – around 2 hours
- From Newcastle:
- Take the metro from Newcastle Airport to Newcastle Central train station (around 25 mins)
- Then take the train down to Durham (15 mins – only a few stops away)
- From Edinburgh
- Take the train to Durham (around 1 hour 45 mins)
The train system can be quite complex, try not to feel too overwhelmed as you will hopefully get the hang of it quick enough! If you need to do any travelling during term-time, feel free to ask one of the iFreps how to book tickets etc!
Mary’s Freps will also be at Durham Train Station – most likely dressed in purple from head to toe – so keep an eye out for them!
University Welcome Service:
This link will give you information on the Welcome Service, which depart from Newcastle International Airport and bring you to St. Mary’s College.
Make yourself known to the student volunteers at the platform.
Bus services during term time:
Any Durham student can currently get an Arriva Bus within the ‘Durham City Zone’ for a reduced fare of £1/day £5/week and from late September 2018 onwards the subsidised ticket zone is being extended to include the ‘Durham District Zone’ (everything within the purple zone on the map, including Bishop Auckland). You can also get to Newcastle for £1/day under this scheme
Staff and students must show a valid campus ID card to the driver to gain the discounted £1 per day. Tickets can be purchased directly from the driver using either cash or a contactless card payment.
To find out more: https://www.dur.ac.uk/greenspace/travel/public/bus/arrivadayticket/
For bus timetables, finding bus stops and planning your route: https://www.arrivabus.co.uk/durhamuni/
The service requires pre-booking, so please follow the procedures on the website.
There is a taxi rank outside Platform 2 (To the North) at Durham Train Station. The ride should cost around 5 pounds. For your reference, the full address of Mary’s is:
St. Mary’s College
Elvet Hill Road,
Taxi from Durham to Newcastle Airport or vice versa: Around 30 minutes but quite expensive at £35-£50. If you are planning on taking a taxi from Newcastle Airport to Durham, you could also book in advance. A lot of people use Airport Express (http://www.airport365.com)
For taxi services during term time: There is a list of taxi companies at the Porters office in St. Mary’s College reception which you can note down if you require them for around town.
Drop a note:
Please fill out the above Google form, which gives us an idea of when to expect you so we can be ready when you are!
Teresa’s Advice: Opening a bank account:
To open a bank account in the UK, an essential document is a student status letter from the college that confirms your official status as a student at Durham University. In order to be able to request for this letter, however, you must be fully registered with the university, which basically means your online enrolment, registration, and verification of identity have been completed. Once you have done these things, you can contact Claire Basnett, the Student Support Administrator (email@example.com) to request for your letter.
Once you have received your letter, we suggest you open your bank account as soon as possible so that you have it out of the way and can start using your account in the UK. The best way to carry this out is to book an appointment early (ideally during International Induction because the appointments fill up fast) by heading down to your bank of choice. The bank staff will be familiar with the process so don’t hesitate to ask for their help, as they will explain the process to you!
There are five different banks to choose from in Durham. Barclays, Natwest, HSBC, Santander and Lloyds. Each bank offers different options for students, so it is up to you to find and see which one best suits your requirements.
These are the things that you will need for opening a bank account:
- Proof of your identity – your passport (or EU ID card) and visa / biometric residency permit, if applicable.
- Proof of your student status – usually a student status letter (available from your college or Student Registry upon arrival)
- Proof of your address – also usually on the same student status letter
Also, for convenience the University also provides a Barclays Pop Up Stand in the Palatine Centre where you can go and start your application process. However, be prepared to get there early and have no plans for after, as it is very likely that you’ll spend a while queueing.
Moreover, make sure to bring enough cash for at least the first month with you, in case you haven’t been given an appointment as early as you would have wanted it to be, due to the large number of students that will also be opening a bank account at the same time as you.
As an international student, you may want to consider if your bank is represented overseas, which may ease your travelling and transferring of money internationally, etc.
For more details, you can check out this link that gives you very detailed answers to questions you may have or information you may need (including a summary of what each bank in Durham offers to students!).
Lauren’s Advice: Money in the UK
Legal Tender: Currency in the UK is undergoing change. £5 and £10 paper notes as well as £1 round coins are no longer legal tender and therefore are not accepted by shops or any other businesses. The £5 and £10 paper notes have been replaced by polymer notes and the round £1 coin has been replaced by a 12 sided coin. A £20 polymer note is planned to be introduced in 2020 to replace the £20 paper note, and therefore the £20 paper note should no longer be legal tender from 2021. Unfortunately exact dates for this change are yet to be confirmed. However, if you do have any currency which is no longer legal tender you are able to exchange it for the new versions at any point at most banks or post offices, however they are not obliged to exchange it. If you cannot exchange your old currency at your bank or your post office, you can do so by going into the Bank of England or by posting your money and an application form to the Bank of England to the following address: Department NEX, Bank of England, Threadneedle Street, London EC2R 8AH. In both instances you will need proof of ID and proof of your UK address.
More can be found on this, including what is classed as proof can be found on this website: https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/exchanging-old-banknotes. It is important to note however that posting money is not the safest option and you will be doing so at your own risk.
£50 Notes: Also, whilst £50 notes are issued by most foreign currency exchangers, they are very rarely used in day-to-day life, so much so that many small shops are very reluctant to accept them. Vending machines which do accept notes will in most cases refuse to accept £50 notes also. It is advisable to deposit £50 notes in a bank account and only withdraw and carry a small amount of cash at one time so that if you lose your purse/wallet you do not lose a large quantity of money.
College bedrooms do have a safe in which you could put money but this still isn’t the safest option – it is best to keep money in a bank account.
ATM Machines: The nearest ATM to Mary’s is situated outside Dunelm Foodstores Ltd opposite the Durham Student’s Union Building at 29 New Elvet, DH1 3AL, and other ATMs can be located on this website: https://www.link.co.uk/consumers/locator/
Michaela’s Advice: Mobile Phones and SIM Cards
We are very lucky in the UK that we are spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding which phone company to join, though that does make choosing which one a little more difficult! The following companies are generally the most popular, and more importantly all have stores in Durham centre (except Giffgaff!) to assist you with further enquiries/issues.
A number of tariffs are available with each company, and it is definitely advisable you shop around to find the one best fitted for you. Here are a few reasons why as an international student we recommend you do shop around!
- Your needs will vary, and some companies offer better pay-as-you-go deals and others better SIM-only deals.
- If you intend to rely more on data usage than minutes and texts you will want to find a better company for data deals.
- Please bear in mind that some phone companies can make international students pay a deposit which can be a little high at times. This is because there is usually no permanent UK address for international students. Therefore, finding companies that balance this deposit with a good deal is highly advisable.
A few things to note:
- The university does have wifi all around Durham, and you will not often be very far from wifi access if you need it! This may mean you find yourself not using as much of your data as you thought you would, but no worries! You can always adjust your tariff with your company to reduce the number of GBs in your deal.
- Reception around the college can be unpredictable, and I have often found myself searching for the best signal locations, so whenever possible, I do find myself using the wifi or data to communicate.
- There can be a charge for cancelling a phone contract early if that is something that you will be doing when you go back for the holidays. This is not necessarily always needed, for example I kept my Hong Kong SIM card for when I was home and swapped between the two. However, this may swing your decision towards a pay-as-you-go deal, depending on how much time you intend to spend in the UK at once and how much data and minutes you intend to use
- European students may be aware already, but the European Union has introduced a law that means that there are no data roaming charges when moving between the UK and Europe. However, in light of Brexit, nobody knows how long this will last, though for the first year this may help!
Yuk-Ting and Georgia’s Advice: What to Bring (and what not to!)
Things to Bring:
Apart from the usual list of items you should be bringing with you to university, which should be mentioned in the JCR Handbook, international students should also consider bringing:
- A bank draft/cheque (payable in British pounds) from your country to set up a bank account in the U.K
- All immigration and health documents (see Ellie’s segment in this pack)
- A few passport sized pictures of yourself for your railcard if you choose to get one, or if you are interested in obtaining a UK Driving License.
- Food that reminds you of home (don’t worry too much about it as there are quite a few specialist supermarkets in Newcastle but if you do decide to bring food check first that it’s OK to bring into the UK. Also, check out Chris’s section on Food).
- Adapters to convert to a UK three-legged pin.
- Flip flops/slippers as there are communal bathrooms. Comfortable and cozy slippers can also be useful for walking around your room and college.
- A warm coat! Or several warm coats… (however, as mentioned below, you can always pick one up once you get to Durham)
- Pictures/posters/decorations from home to make your room unique – use White Tak as Blue tak/tape isn’t allowed
- Bath Mat (helpful if you are lucky enough to have an en suite but also if you don’t because you can place the bath mat below your sink)
- Door stop- great way to be approachable and make friends during Induction Period by keeping your room open for people to drop by
- Shower Caddy- helpful for taking your soap, shampoo, lotion, etc. to the shower
Things Not to Bring:
It’s natural to want to be as prepared as you can before coming to university. However, as international students, many of you will be struggling to adhere to the airline weight restrictions. So, we’ve also given a list of things that you can easily buy in and around Durham once you get here. We’ll be taking you for tours around town, as well as on a shopping tour to Newcastle during International Induction.
- Duvets- These can be brought through college before you arrive. It is also possible to buy them in Durham/Newcastle if you want more choice.
- Bulky clothes- Do bring your favourite clothes, but if you’re lacking thick and bulky clothes , you would be glad to know that you can get everything you need in Durham! Durham has a Mountain Warehouse, Superdry and several other shops if you would like to purchase warm clothes suitable for North-East weather. We also have H&M, New Look and Topshop here for basics! A warm coat, jumpers and good boots are all essentials!
- Toiletries- Don’t worry about trying to stock up toiletries for the entire term in your suitcase. Durham has Boots, Superdrug and other shops down North Street that provide cheap toiletries.
- Stationary- Can be bought at local shops like Rymans or WH Smiths.
- Candles/incense- These aren’t permitted in college. You can however buy fairy lights or battery-powered ‘fake’ candles
- Crockery – Having mugs, cups and cutlery is important but these can be easily found in either Durham/Newcastle.
- Clothing racks/extension cords/bookstands- These can be bought at the Market Place.
Elisa’s Advice: Cultural/Religious Societies and Events
Even though Durham may not be a big city, there is still a huge international community here, and definitely loads of ways to get involved in the multitude of cultural societies and events – university wide or within college.
There are Durham Student Union societies for countless cultures and countries, which anyone can become a member of. These are great to be part of if you want to meet people from home, learn about a new culture, learn a new language or want give your taste buds something new to try. Whatever your reason for joining, there will definitely be a place for you. These societies organize events throughout the year, from celebrating festivals, organizing performances to simply having meals out. An annual wine and cheese night is held by the French society, the Indian society holds a Diwali ball and the Jewish society has weekly Friday dinners. A lot of these events can also be attended by non-members.
This is a list of just a few of the cultural/religious societies within the university:
- African and Caribbean society
- Anglo Japanese society
- Arab society
- Bangladesh society
- Catholic society
- Christian Union society
- European Union society
- Hong Kong society
- Indonesian society
- Italian society
- Korea society
- Latin America society
- Malaysian society
- Mexican society
- Nigerian society
- Pakistan society
- Singapore society
- Turkish society
This isn’t all! You can find the full list here (https://www.durhamsu.com/groups?group_type=groups-societies&group_cat=international&search=) And if you can’t find a cultural/religious society you’re looking for, you can easily set up your own!
Apart from these societies, you can also immerse yourself in cultural activities such as Aikido (Japanese martial art), Latin dancing or Thai boxing.
Mary’s itself has lots of cultural/religious societies and events. Our Christian union has run picnics, and our international representative organizes a variety of cultural activities in college. Last year for example, we had an international food fair and dumpling making for Chinese New Year, which all Marians could take part in. Our college also has a partnership with the university of Teikyo (from Japan). Japanese students are able to come to Durham for 6 months to learn English, and reside in the Teikyo building that is located right next to Mary’s Fergusson building. Marians can sign up to become ‘parents’ for the Teikyo students, and it’s a great way to meet new people and learn about Japanese culture.
Hopefully you’ve gotten a sense of the opportunities that Durham has in the cultural/religious sphere. If you have want to find out more you can look up the Facebook groups or visit the stalls at the DSU Freshers’ Fair in October!
Chris’s Advice: Food in Durham
Meal timings: One important aspect of College life is the food that is provided to you. If you don’t know already, for every day of each term there will be 3 meals: Breakfast (8:00-10:00), Lunch (12:00-2:00) and Dinner (5:15-7:00). Sometimes because there is a formal dinner or another event going on, dinner might be a bit earlier, but you will be notified every time this is happening.
Meal Cards: You will get a meal card on your first day that you must show every time you get in the cafeteria to get food. The last 10-20 minutes of each lunch or dinner you will be able to get seconds (or even thirds if you’re up for it). If you lose your meal card (shame on you) you can have a replacement that is going to cost you a whole 5£.
Alternative Arrangements: Moreover, even though it’s Durham University policy that you must have an hour free for lunch, sometimes it might be hard to get back in time for it. So, you can request a packed lunch (via the JCR website) that you can pick up at breakfast, but you will need to hand in your meal-card that you can get back at dinner. You can also request a “late dinner” where they will keep a portion for you for a bit later, after Dinner has ended.
Food Options: To start with: Breakfast. From 8 until 9 you will be able to find “warm” breakfast. That means eggs, sausages, beans and much more. After 9 they will not make any more of that stuff but coffee, tea, toast, cereal and milk can always be found throughout it.
Lunch and dinner, both have 4 different main meal options, 2 of which are always vegetarian. There is also 4 side meals (most of which are potatoes because why not) and there is also a salad bar with around 7 choices. You can find a dessert station where there always is flavoured yogurt but also things like apple pie, brownies, cake and other treats each day. On Fridays, lunch will have fish (Fish Fridays) and on Saturdays it is replaced with its brother, the Brunch™ where you can find a typical brunch menu. On Sundays lunch is replaced with the Sunday Roast. Menus are on a 3-week rotation that is changed each term and uploaded on the JCR website for you to see.
Cuisines: While there is a lot of British food, Durham University is doing a great job at having a lot of other cuisines as well. You can find Greek, Turkish, Chinese, Taiwanese food and many others.
Home Food: If you are an international student, it’s most likely that you will miss your home food. It’s good to bring some snacks that last, for the nostalgic nights. Especially because, there is an international food fair just after Christmas where you get the chance to cook or bring some food from your home for others to try.
Eating Out: If, however, for whatever reason you want to skip a meal there are a lot of great restaurants in Durham (and most of them have affordable prices). Food chain places like Pizza Express, Bills, Subway and Nandos are always a great choice but there are several local businesses that have both great prices and quality of food. Some of the more famous are Patrick’s Pizza, Pizza Uno, Urban Oven, Fat Hippo as well as some international cuisine: Nadon Thai, Thai River and Lebaneat and many, many more.
There are also a lot of coffee shops and many places that do brunch-like food (i.e. Flat White) that is a great space to get some work done as well. Furthermore, there is a food market in the city centre that has a range of different fresh products for you to get. There aren’t any stoves, so your choice is limited on what you can make by yourself, but on weekdays there are a lot of food stalls and trucks set up there, with many kinds of food. The highlight of the food market is the Full Moon Market that takes place once each month and has some of the best food that I have ever tasted!
Lastly, if you still desire more food options Newcastle is just 20 minutes away by train and has a range of different restaurants and stalls for you to choose. It also has bigger supermarkets, but you will get to see the city for yourself and get a feel for it as we will be going on a trip for essential stuff there.
As an international student, I was mostly satisfied with the food. I’m very picky when it comes to it and truthfully there are some days that the food is not great, but ordering is cheap and easy and it’s always great going out to eat with some friends.
Final Note: Links and Groups
Congratulations again! This time, for making it all the way through this handbook. I know that it’s a lot to take in but don’t worry. Take your time going through this. The aim of this handbook is not to inundate you with information but to provide you with details that you can refer to whenever you need to. Your frep team is here to answer any questions that you may have. Again, feel free to message me on Facebook or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org!
Also, Mary’s has a Facebook group for the entire college every year. This group will help you keep updated on all things Mary’s throughout the year, in a very chill way. This year’s group will be up soon so you can search ‘St Mary’s College- Freshers 2018’ on Facebook or find a link on our college website soon!
You can also follow/join other Durham University society group pages on Facebook to get an idea of the events that have been organised in the past. Just enter ‘Durham University Society’ on Facebook and you should get quite a few results. However, keep in mind that not every society will update their facebook pages regularly as some prefer to communicate via email. So, it may be worth waiting until Freshers’ Week to really get an idea of all that Durham has to offer.
Finally, here is a summary list of the most important links you should read or fill out, already mentioned above – including the Google Form I mentioned previously. If you struggle to access the Google Form, please contact me via email to tell me about your approximate arrival time!
Summary of important links:-
- Google form for arrival details: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeePDfYSuAHyAjDaFtkv9xK-1HaXAiatTTSnVvfU-EiNeeA6A/viewform?c=0&w=1
- Immigration procedures: https://www.dur.ac.uk/immigration/arrival/
- Welcome Bus Service: https://www.dur.ac.uk/international/newstudents/airport_trainstation_welcomeservice/durham_autumn/
- Bus timetables: https://www.arrivabus.co.uk/durhamuni/
- Banking procedures: https://www.dur.ac.uk/international/newstudents/lifeatdurham/banking/
- ATM locator: https://www.link.co.uk/consumers/locator/
Have a great summer and see you all soon!
Frep Team 2018