Could it be Magic?

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One of the major factors that draws exchange students to Durham is the Harry Potter factor. It’s most apparent during the first and last weeks of the year, when hoards of students dressed in long black gowns gather for the matriculation and graduation ceremonies in Durham cathedral (umbrellas may be also be present in large numbers, we haven’t mastered the Impervius charm just yet). If you are lucky enough to be assigned to one of the more formal colleges, these gowns will also be an integral part of regular college formals. If you aren’t, you may get the chance to tag along with someone who is a member. University college (usually known as Castle, for obvious reasons) formals can feel utterly magical.


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A Night to Remember

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12 hours of partying in a castle? That’s so Durham.

On the 21 of July, the biggest annual Castle ball called June Ball took place and beat all measures. It’s a white tie event and the biggest ball in Durham. Here’s how I experienced this 12h long ball:

5.12pm          Finally dressed up with my ball gown and my make-up and hair is finished. Let’s walk up to the castle.



5.32pm          We’re taking lots of photos in front of the cathedral. Everyone looks so pretty.We get a glass of champagne and enjoy the afternoon sun.

6.08pm          I’m having a look at the seating plan and we’re now allowed to enter the marquee on Palace Green (the grass field in front of the castle). The theme of this June Ball is revealed on the cards on the tables: Night at the museum. The tables are decorated with small bushes, apples and wooden golden snakes – Garden of Eden.

6.51pm          First course is served. Smoked salmon with summer pickles, viola, caviar (never tried caviar before… that’s so posh!) and horseradish cream. I’m sitting next to people I’ve never met before but we ended up spending quite a bit of the evening as a group which was great fun.

ball food.jpg


7.18pm          Second course is served: A lime sorbet.

8.13pm          Main course arrived: Fillet of beef.

8.42pm          The dessert was a strawberry cheesecake. Yum!

10.28pm        Now it’s still a bit light but the sunset was approximately half an hour ago. People are queuing for the ferris wheel. However, we first explore the courtyard of the castle and get ready for the fireworks. There’s another champagne reception in the Castle entrance and live Egyptian sculptures watch you making your way into the castle.


1) Ferris wheel 2) and 3) Fireworks 4) The Hoosiers

10.50pm        The fireworks starts with music played in the background. That was amazing!

11.02pm        We’re trying out the ferris wheel. It was great fun and who else gets to go on a ferris wheel surrounded by a cathedral and a castle?

11.16pm        Back in the castle the DU brass band was playing.


11.31pm        We discover the petting zoo where you can hold rabbits, guinea pigs or snakes.

11.52pm        We enjoy Smores in the castle courtyard.

midnight        The old excec go down the castle steps and the new excec goes up. From now on the new elected excec are in charge.

00.35pm        The hoosiers are giving a concert in the great hall. What an experience – they were so good!

2.22pm          DULOG perform some songs in the senate suite. People here are so talented!

3.10pm          We finally made it to the silent disco! We got headphones where we could switch between two channels. Great fun!


Silent disco

5pm               It’s already light outside. We’re queuing for some hog roast. I’m getting tired.

5.13pm          Our final “Angels” song is played. The ball is coming to an end.


“I’m loving angels instead”

5.30pm          A survivors photo is taken and we’re making our way to the marquee where breakfast is served.

6.30pm          After saying goodbye to everyone as I’ll be leaving the next day, I’m making my way home in the morning sun.

I want to thank the June Ball Committee for organising such a great event! I appreciate your hard work!


College Formal Crawl

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As an exchange student, it can be very hard to find the right community within college if you are allocated to one of the largest ones. All colleges except Ustinov College accept both undergraduates and postgraduates and organise activities for both communities. The college I was allocated to allows final year undergraduate exchange students to join the Postgraduate Society, although it does not inform them of this opportunity or give the president of the society their names or contact details. As is so often the case for exchange students, you have to fend for yourself. However, at the end of Michaelmas term, I stumbled upon this possibility and grasped it as it meant it would be much easier to attend formals! Continue reading

Never a dull day in Durham!

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So I’ve been away from home for 6 months now and I am missing it like crazy but still having the most incredible time of my life. Of course, there have been a few potholes (like losing my BRP) but when small things get me down, I just reflect on all of the amazing opportunities I have in front of me here.


A visit to Manchester to see Tame Impala in concert

Durham has helped me see the world in a whole new light, not only do I now have a much better sense of geography, I’ve also met people who also want to travel and explore the world as much as I do. As an Australian, when you come to Europe you really need to see as much as possible while here because it’s rather expensive to get to and certainly far away! Everything is so easily accessible once you’re in Europe and the thought of travelling between several countries in a matter of days is no longer strange. Exchange helps you to meet people from literally ALL over the world which makes for the thought of even more exciting adventures to visit them once exchange is over. Continue reading

And the Second Term Begins

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I am still getting used to Durham’s culture of formals.  For me a ‘formal’ had the connotation of a somewhat classier fraternity party in which you bring a date on a boozy bus to some boozy event off-campus (for example, my friend’s Auburn University Spring Formal trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras).  Much different, however, I enjoyed January’s ‘Burns Night Formal’ in college last week in which the romantic Scottish poet, Robert Burns, was honored and celebrated amid bowties and kilts.  I had my first taste of haggis; I smiled cheekily at the bag-pipping processions; and, I had a go at translating some of Burns’ poems that were read aloud in passionate Sottish dialect.  The evening finished with every non-Scot’s attempt at “dancing” the ‘ceilidh’ and my longing desire for a peaty glass of Scotch.  All in all, it was a fun, bourgie night that cast such a contrast to the formals I had known. Continue reading

Let there be Light

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“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light” Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

December marks the end of Michaelmas term and luckily also the end of the challenging times I talked about in the last post. In retrospect, the 11 weeks I’ve been in Durham seem to have flown by, especially as the Belgian semester system has 13 weeks of lectures instead of the 10 I’ve had this year! Continue reading

Happiness is Homemade

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After 78 days living in the UK, 17 formals and 3 carol services – I can’t believe term one is already over!

These past few weeks have been crazy; never in my life have I met so many people in such a short space of time, learned how to read papers about cutting edge science and fell in love with Durham. Three months of great fun. December was packed with different Christmas events, a lot of mulled wine and mince pies.

Some of the highlights were: The Christmas formal at Ustinov, where I pulled my first cracker. The carol services in the cathedral, at Christchurch and at Castle were inspiring. I also got to discover York minster, which was huge and very impressive and I had adelicious lunch at at the famous Betty’s tearoom. Continue reading