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Arriving and Getting Oriented

When I told my friends I would be in England for four weeks, they not only were extremely excited for me to have this surreal experience, but they also always assumed London was our destination.  Having been in Durham, UK for only two whole days, it feels more normal and less surreal, but that’s not a bad thing at all.  In fact I think it’s awesome that we’ve been able to integrate ourselves really well so far.  Soon after arriving from the airport on Sunday, we all went to explore downtown a bit, even though our intentions were more logistical (groceries, sim cards, etc.).  Now it’s Tuesday, and I can comfortably make my way around many of the main streets in this area.

We were introduced to our supervisors on Monday, when they gave us an overview of our duties and roles for the next few weeks.  Since we are mainly working with populations deemed vulnerable and hard-to-reach, they informed us on certain precautions and preventative tactics for dealing with certain situations and conversations.  I had not thought about how different my work would be here compared to at OEWD, where most of our work took place in an office.  For Experience Durham, our work weighs heavily of interactions and handling of various scenarios with the children and adults.  I’m pretty nervous about the work, but I’m eager to push myself out of the comfort zone of office space and into an atmosphere where I can really learn about individuals in the Durham community.

Exploring the City

Learning about Durham, UK has been gradual and natural.  Of course, as we interact with locals we start to pick up on little phrases that they use, such as “that’s brilliant” or “ring me”, which are neat to listen to.  At the same time, I’ve come to understand certain differences in culture and dynamics which I think will be nice to keep in mind as we explore the city more.  We already learned how Durham UK is similar to Durham NC in that the post mining industry of Durham UK caused some neighborhoods to fall into poverty and struggle, just like in NC.  With the idea of poverty in mind, I naturally began to think about the conversations around racial divides in Durham NC, and I had to mull over the fact that Durham UK has around a 97% white population.  This is not surprising, since it is England and not the U.S., but I think it’s interesting that while poverty is often inseparable from the topic of race in America, here in the UK, race and poverty may be less correlated.

We went on tours of both the Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle today, and it continues to amaze me that some students of Durham University live inside of architecture that has been here for longer than the U.S. has been around.  It seems like a completely different lifestyle that these students have become so used to but we find spectacular.  There is one enormous room in the castle that is used by students as a dining hall, but that is also used as a venue for events such as fancy dinners and weddings.  It’s walls were decorated with paintings of important individuals and the high ceilings were outlined with ornately carved borders–I can’t imagine spending time for things as simple as eating during the school day in such a fancy and historical place.

I’m looking forward to the next three and a half weeks here in Durham.  There is plenty to learn about a place that is completely new to us, unlike the first Durham we worked in, and I know every minute spent doing something will go towards new knowledge.  Even besides the work and the tours that we partake in, I’m excited to spend time with my peers more here, whether doing organized activities or hanging out at a pub.  We definitely spend a lot more time together than in Durham, NC, at least so far, and it also makes me happy to come back my single and reflect on a long day’s journey.  Cheers to the next several long journeys ahead.