My experience preparing for a physics degree at Durham

14 June 2019
International students outside the Durham University International Study Centre

My name is Paolo and I have recently completed my International Foundation Year in preparation for a Physics degree at Durham University. As an international student, I have had to grow and adapt in response to the many changes that result from living and studying alone in a foreign country.

Durham University International Study Centre student Paolo

As a science student, one of the most important qualities of a good university is the amount of support it can provide you in terms of developing your academic potential. Coming from a specialised science high school back in the Philippines, I was pleasantly surprised with the academic situation here due to the depth at which the lessons are covered, the sophisticated equipment available in the laboratories, and the emphasis on individual work outside of the classroom. These have allowed me to maximise the use of my time by immersing myself in the physics lessons and lab sessions, winning a merit award at the British Physics Olympiad, and working towards the publication of my high school research paper in a scientific journal. I feel like these achievements have significantly contributed to my overall development as a scientist by improving my critical thinking skills as well as my ability to work individually.

In addition to the academic support provided by the International Study Centre, I feel like the working environment here has allowed me to mature as a person. The multinational student community has provided me with constant opportunities to work and interact with people of different backgrounds and opinions. This has allowed me to not only improve my global perception, but also to increase my potential as a world-class scientist by developing my ability to work in culturally varied settings and with people who may or may not be scientifically inclined.

Aside from the students, the tutors here have also contributed to my personal growth as a result of their outstanding professionalism and approachability. One particular event that will forever remain with me was when they told us to address them by their first names despite their incredible credentials. This indicated to me that scientists should not become overly self-absorbed with their achievements as they sometimes do, but rather remain focused on the task of unravelling the mysteries of the universe and assisting those who also wish to do the same. This lesson, along with the others gained from working with my fellow international students, have truly contributed to my growth and will prove to be useful not only in my career but also for life in general. 

Besides working, the emphasis on out of classroom study here has also meant that I had plenty of time to pursue extracurricular interests and to appreciate living by myself in the UK. Most Wednesdays and Fridays were spent playing football matches organised by the students and staff, after which my friends and I would proceed to the student accommodation in order to try our hand at cooking, without burning the place down, of course.

Fortunately, performing chores around the accommodation was quite easy due to the in-house laundry facilities as well as the nearby grocery shops. The proximity to the train station also meant that my friends and I would occasionally visit nearby places for weekend getaways, such as Newcastle and Saltburn-by-the-Sea, which enabled us to maintain a productive work ethic while still managing to take breaks in between. 

Overall, studying at the International Study Centre has been an all-around beneficial experience for me, as it has substantially contributed to my academic and personal growth. The lessons and fun experiences gained both inside and outside the classroom have served as a useful introduction to life in the UK, as well as an appetiser for what is to come during my next three or four years at Durham University.