New kids in the hall: a first report

As first-year students enter their second term, Celia Dodd peeps into t he diaries of three young people at ancient and modern universities, and gets the low-down on laundry, microwave me als, money ... oh yes, and work
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The Independent Online
Where are the weirdos?

Paul Denton is at Grey College, Durham, his second-choice university after Cambridge. He went to a boys' comprehensive in Hertford.

7 October (Freshers' Week): It's even better than I expected. I felt at home as soon as I walked in. Fresher's Week was absolutely brilliant. Thought the formal ball would be very upper crust but it was a good excuse to dress up and get incredibly drunk.

Yesterday I met everyone doing English. I walked into the room expecting to find some blokes to chat to, but I was the only man there so I stood in the corner trying to look inconspicuous.

14 October: The first tutorial was nerve-racking. I was thinking, does anybody else understand this because I don't, I didn't know what to say, I didn't know how good everyone else was, or what the tutor expected - he seemed so clever. When I did say something he was really nice and didn't make me feel a fool. Everyone is so much better at English than at school, where only two of us in the class were really interested.

People are definitely going wild. I suppose it's the freedom - you can have people drinking in your room till whenever you want, and there's quite a lot of sexual freedom. I don't think it will settle down, it's just going to carry on and on.

24 October: Getting my first essay back wasn't very nice - I expected an A because that's what I usually got at school, but I got a C. The work is a big step up from A-level. I'm definitely going to concentrate more on the next one.

The problem is self-discipline, which has never been my strong point - it might be the hardest lesson here. When it comes to 9am lectures I usually stay in bed. It's difficult to work when there's something different to do every night and you want to make new friends. I do about eight hours' reading and about three actually working every week - not bad as an average, although other people do much more.

31 October: The best thing about Durham are the friends I've made. I met half of them on the first day - they're all from this college. The only disappointment is that there isn't a wider variety of people. I thought there would be some really strange, interesting people here, but in fact everyone's quite normal.

7 November: University has taken some of the enjoyment out of writing my own poetry and short stories. It's made me more critical of my own work and worry about people reading it - everyone up here knows so much.

14 November: I was quite worried about suddenly having to live and work with girls but actually it's much better. In seminars and tutorials the girls are more open and say what they think without being embarrassed - it's a big change from the boys' school environment.

Another big difference is that at school the oldest book we read apart from Shakespeare was Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Here people compare modern books with classic novels and I don't know what they're talking about. That quite worried me at first.

21 November: Money is my biggest problem. I'm about £300 overdrawn. There are quite a few students in Durham with a lot of money. When you're in a group you end up spending more than you should without realising it.

I go to the bar here every night, and into town once or twice a week. The younger men round Durham don't particularly like the students so it's best not to go in the pubs there at weekends.

28 November: One of the things I enjoy most is living with girls. It's brilliant. It was very laddish at school - going out with the rugby team, seeing how much you could drink and singing stupid songs. You'd be with people all the time but you wouldn't get to know them. Here you find out everything about your friends, going through all their problems and stuff. I'm still playing rugby - just. But most of my friends are women. I've definitely changed for the better. I'm much more confident and assertive.

Newcastle Emma Buttle is at her first- choice university, Newcastle. Previously she was at an independent school for girls in Bedford.

3 October: When I first arrived, I felt like running after my parents. I hated it. The hall of residence is like a prison. I made the mistake of clinging to two friends from Bedford, which is the quickest way not to meet people. The best way is to knock on people's doors and introduce yourself, which people do desperately until the early hours. The freshers' events were disappointingly similar, but an excellent opportunity to drink enough to introduce yourself to everyone.

16 October: Work started this week and we've been given a lot to do. I have only 11 hours of teaching a week - six lectures, four seminars and one tutorial.

I finally got my grant cheque. I've already spent an enormous amount on Freshers' Week festivities and books. If my Dad wasn't giving me money, I'd have to take out a student loan.

23 October: I've started to enjoy myself. It's nothing to do with the course, it's because I've made some really good friends. There are endless different pubs and clubs to go to.

Quite a lot of people have become typical students, and got their noses pierced, or dreadlocks just to scare their parents. Most freshers get really drunk and there are a lot of drugs - most people smoke dope. People are beginning to slip behind with their work because of extra-curricular activities.

23 October: The language part of the course is getting increasingly difficult; it's not at all what I expected. Analysing sentences is not the most intellectually stimulating activity. The literature side is more appealing.

I miss school. At university there's no community. I went to the same school for 10 years, so I knew everyone. Newcastle is such a big place. English was more fun at school. I miss my other A-level subjects, politics and Spanish. Sometimes I think I should have done politics instead. I was top of the class there, whereas at university there are more clever people. Sometimes I think, I just can't do this.

30 October: The hall doesn't seem so bad any more. It's nice to live on a corridor surrounded by friends, and you can come and go as you please. The only horrible thing is seeing your bag of dirty washing mount up.

Lectures and seminars vary a lot, depending on who's taking them. We've had a couple of really bad lecturers. And a lot of the time we're very tired, so people are always falling asleep. Seminars can be really awkward and embarrassing, especially Literary Theory, which everyone's scared of because it's new.

It's completely different having a male point of view in tutorials. They pick up on things we don't and vice versa. There are only two men on the course, so they are victimised in some ways.

14 November: I've heard several reports of attacks on students by local people. You learn which pubs not to go to and stay in the halls of residence when there's a football match. I miss my friends, the dogs and nice food.

27 November: I went home this week, which put a complete stop to any homesickness I felt. Everything was quiet and there was nothing to do.

Having so much free time makes it very difficult to motivate myself to write essays. I work about 10 hours a week on my own, but I've found it quite hard organising myself. It's got harder. At the beginning of term it was a new course, and I was excited by it, but now there are distractions all the time. Having a boyfriend is a big distraction.

5 December: Everyone has stopped working. We're having lots of parties and no one wants to go home. First ever nice meal in the hall - Christmas dinner. We've already decided who's going to be in our house when we move out next year.

Luton `Real' university? Thanks, but no thanks Luisa Ciurleo is at Luton University (formerly a college of higher education) reading English and European languages, a new degree course this year. She took her A-levels at a sixth-form college in Penzance and was offered a place at Luton through the clearing system for vacant places.

30th September: Freshers' Week. I've been out every night and I'm shattered. I've met so many people.

The Freshers' Fayre was rubbish. I found out about it by chance when I went to the Students Union bar. The only thing I signed up for was the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, which I was doing already. We're also trying to set up a literary society.

This is so different from home. I'm dreading shopping for myself. Fortunately, so far my microwave meals have held out.

9 October: I can't believe we've been given an essay already: "What do you consider the function of literary criticism to be?" What sort of question is that?

13 October: I've been offered an interview at a "real" university. It was hard to refuse, but I've realised I'm happy here, though I must admit that for sheer snob value I had wanted to go elsewhere. But I'd probably feel lost in a big university, whereas here people know your name.

19 October: This was worth struggling through A-levels for. The tutors are really friendly, they treat us like equals and they positively encourage us to make up our own minds; you can come up with any wacky idea as long as you back it up. At sixth-form college I got used to putting down what I knew they wanted me to.

31 October: The bloke scene is looking quite good and I really like Luton, despite the fact that my hall of residence is in a rough area of town. There's a huge fence round it and security guards. I'm in a flat with three girls and two boys. At home I refused to eat anything but name brands, but I'm already going on about how cheap Tesco's bread is.

4 November: I miss my family. I think I'll go home soon. I get lonely and homesick sometimes, especially when the pressure's on. It's tempting to go home, curl up and say forget it all. But you just have to take a few multivitamins and plough on.

Everyone fits work around their social life. No one goes to bed before 2 or 3am, so enough sleep is out of the question, and getting work done is difficult. I thought I had loads of freedom at college but here you get much more. I have to be careful because I'm becoming lazy and putting work off. But I'm lucky that my friends are workers. I have to work hard on essays because I know I'll let myself down in the exams.

14 November: Monday morning is a real killer - a two-hour lecture on structure of English starting at 9am. But we always struggle in, bleary-eyed, even though there's no register. I think it's because a lot of us fought to get this far that we take 9am starts very seriously.

We had a course committee meeting today which I attended as a student rep. I thanked the team for extending our deadline for the essay that no one could do: it was a commentary from a Marxist or feminist perspective, which made everyone panic.

21 November: Talked to the faculty leader about the severe lack of books in the library and our dud reading lists.

We are reading Jane Eyre. I don't like the way we fly through our books: it all seems a bit skimmed over. We're the first year to do this course. Sometimes you can tell the lecturers are blundering along with us. What's nice is that it feels like the course is being tailored for us. And the tutors are very encouraging because they want it to work.

7 December: Doctor's appointment. Apparently, I'm not suffering from glandular fever, just from a lack of vitamins.

14 December: I just about got my third assignment done, but it was close.

16 December: I'm off home. Spent the day defrosting the freezer. For dinner I had two chicken kievs, lasagne, steak and kidney pie, a double hamburger and an egg sandwich. I feel like crying, it feels like a holiday coming to an end. I can't wait for next term.