Name: Toshitaka Zenimoto
Course: Physics with Foundation
Year of Study: Year 3 in 2017/18
College: University College (Castle)
Country of Origin: Japan
How and why did you choose Durham University?
I chose Durham University because it is one of the oldest universities in England. When I was researching about universities to decide which ones to apply for, I found myself searching specifically for older universities in England because I like the rich English culture and history that surrounds them. Then I saw Durham University, and I somehow felt really attracted to it. I searched more about Durham University, and I was fascinated because I learnt about its beautiful location, and great academic reputation especially in my chosen subject. I also found that Durham University’s official colour is purple, which is a noble colour in Japan, and was also my school colour. So I felt a real connection.
What were your expectations before you arrived, and how was this different to now?
Before I arrived, I thought Durham University was a historical old university straight out of the Harry Potter movies. However, when I arrived, I realised it has a great modern side to it as well as marvellous traditional sceneries. I also felt a bit nervous because of its strict attitude and formalities, though they are the things I have come to love about Durham, too. These impressions have remained with me through my time at Durham, and have manifested in many positive ways in my day to day life. The students and staff here are so friendly, and the university walls always stand strongly behind to embrace and protect us.
How do you think the college system helps to support international students?
The college system gives international students a second home. Without the colleges, the students would just belong to a huge community called university, especially for large universities, such as Durham. However, because we are lucky enough to have the colleges, there is a very close family-like feeling and you can receive support affectionately. I think this system also gives a great opportunity to every student to be involved in a community, because there are many different types of colleges, such as; traditional/modern, large/small, and catered/self-catered. There is a college for everyone.
Moreover, as an international student, I did not know much about the English culture or about many essential things which home students already knew about, for instance, bank accounts and phone contracts. However, I could get help from my college in a similar way as if I was asking my parents. This gave me great relief and a real sense of security. I really appreciate being a member of the college.
Do you do any extra-curricular activities such as clubs, societies, sports, committees etc?
I have experienced being the treasurer of a college sport team (Ultimate Frisbee), and the president of DSU societies (Skills Exchange Society, and Anglo-Japanese Society).
I was also involved in the SCA (Student Communication Action) programme called Scholars into Schools and I went to a local British elementary school to do presentations about the Japanese culture. I volunteered for Airport Meet & Greet Service and Celebrate Science as well. There are a lot of opportunities to get involved within the university and the local society in many different ways, regardless of whether you are a home student or international student.
Tell us about your experience of Durham University so far?
My experience of Durham University, especially in my college, has been and continues to be very special to me. The college balls and formal dinners make me think that I am living in a fairy tale, for example, Harry Potter especially. On the other hand, study is very realistic. The coursework is hard, and I feel very busy and stressed sometimes. However, my friends and staff from my college and my department talk to me when I need them to and always support me. So I can feel reassured and secure, and I can keep focusing on my study. I also should not forget to mention the beautiful scenery of Durham city. When I feel stressed, I often go for walks. Then I see the landscape, the castle, the cathedral and many animals such as ducks, swans, squirrels, dogs, cats, horses, pigs, cows and sheep. They make me happy and relax and I always think it was a good decision to come here.
What would you say were your highlights of your time at Durham?
Every experience I’ve had at Durham holds equal importance and has been a highlight in many ways. I would say however that I have been able to meet the most precious, incredible, and dynamic people who have enriched my life and helped me grow as a person. The college balls and formals are absolutely stunning but these could not have been as fantastic as they were without my friends. My time of study here could not have been as meaningful, significant and successful were if not for the tutors, my college mentor, and all the wonderful university and college staff who have helped me in many ways. They cheered me on when I was working towards something, and they cheered with me when I accomplished something.
How has your experience been of your course and academic studies here at Durham?
As it can be seen on the tables of world university rankings, Durham University is one of the best universities in the world, and provides an excellent standard of higher education. Honestly speaking, it is not easy, but I have been able to get through the difficult times and develop my intelligence a lot, which I believe is one of the major reasons to attend university. I received great help from many people including my college mentor, department tutor, and friends. Without the support and encouragement from those around me I would not have reached the level that I have done today. I am incredibly thankful to everyone who has helped me on my journey.
What do you think of the facilities and opportunities on offer for students here?
First of all, having matriculation and graduation ceremonies in Durham Cathedral is a very precious experience. I also like that Durham is a university town and the campus integrates well with the centre and heart of the county. When you walk into the centre you can see some of the university facilities standing between the local shops and I love the way they are integrated. This is also good as everything is pretty much within walking distance. This makes me think that I am more involved in the community even though my study schedule is busy and I cannot be involved in as many events as I would like to be. I especially like when I encounter my friends in town and have small chats for few minutes when I go out for my daily shopping. This does happen quite often.
What do you think of the location and the North East of England in general?
I think it is very beautiful, and it is the most English looking place. I love going for walks and every time I see the castle and the cathedral from the bridges I feel like I am in a fairy tale. When I show pictures of Durham I have taken to my friends both in Japan and outside of Japan, they often get surprised that such a beautiful place exists and I am actually studying there. They also ask me what sort of fancy camera I used though I just used my smartphone camera. However, I do not get surprised by these reactions because I am still fascinated every time I see the beautiful scenery especially in the morning when I go to a lecture. As it can be predicted it is cold in winter. However, it is not too bad and the scenery here in winter is lovely and delightful. I believe winter could perhaps be even more beautiful than summer.
What advice would you give other international students thinking about applying to Durham?
I think Durham University is as mysterious and as magical as Hogwarts. There are many narrow hidden paths in town. You can see people wearing suits and ties, black tie attire, white tie attire, hoodies, and sports jackets with Durham University logos on in one single day. It is hard to know everything before you come here. But I can say, you can experience what you cannot experience anywhere else during your time at Durham.
Moreover, you will come here to study but to do so you will live here. So as well as the academic reputation it is also important that you like the place you live and is not stressful for you. Durham University is a great university for me and I believe it has both aspects. Everybody here is nice and friendly. Also I know that some of you may be worried about food, however, the food here is actually quite tasty. But even if you do not like the food here, you do not need to worry. That is again good thing about collegiate university. You can cook by yourself even when you live in a college. I am currently living out and I enjoy cooking quite a lot. Lastly, I would say enjoy your time at Durham university. I am proud to be a student here and I am sure all future students will be, too.