Welcome to ‘A Day in the Life’, where past and present FC students have the opportunity to share insights into everything from their daily activities to their Durham University experiences.
This month we feature Janice Wong, a current Law student here at the Foundation Centre.
My name is Janice Wong. I am currently a law foundation student. I was born in Canada, grew up and had secondary education in Hong Kong. There are many factors that led to my decision to take the foundation course at Durham University. Effective from the school year 2010-2011 onwards, the A level matriculation system on Hong Kong has been replaced by the DSE examination. I was only required to study six years of high school instead of seven years. Added to the fact that English is not my mother tongue, I was afraid that I was not be ready intellectually and mentally to move on to an undergraduate degree. On the practical side, most of the UK universities require students taking three elective subjects in the public examination. I had only two electives, and both subjects do not belong to the humanities category neither. After considering all these factors, I decided to take the foundation course to fully prepare for the challenges ahead.
I was attracted to the foundation program of Durham University due to the reputation of its Law School. In addition, after having a city life for 16 years, I look forward to living in a small town with its unique beauty and style. In particular, the historical buildings and heritages around the old city centre form a stunning picture of the setting here.
With hindsight, I have made the most appropriate decision. The foundation course is a very meaningful stepping stone for pursuing a law degree. There are six modules per term and most of them are humanities subjects that require intensive reading and writing. Subjects like history, literature, philosophy, anthropology and sociology are completely new to me. Thus, I had an eye-opening experience during the process of exploring these subjects.
Literature and anthropology are my most enjoyable subjects. During the Michaelmas term, we studied the renowned masterpiece of Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet. We also tried our hand at subverting fairy tales and explored poetry written during World War I. We were taught to examine these literary works closely through reviewing the literary techniques, themes, historical context and the biography of the authors. Application of these analytical techniques are examined through submission of assignments. For example, we were asked to choose a fairy tale and play around with its literary techniques. Before finalising our own version of the selected fairy tale, we needed to do independent research on its historical context. Any changed or additional elements should be justified with reasons. This whole learning process is intriguing as it develops our skills on selecting appropriate materials from academic sources, and it also stimulates creativity.
During the Epiphany term, we studied two classics, Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. To promote our appreciation of the historical context of Jane Eyre, the foundation centre organised a field trip to Haworth, a small historical town in West Yorkshire. It is the hometown of the famous Bronte sisters. The field trip allowed me to have a glimpse of the living environment and conditions of the Bronte family. An officer working in the Bronte Parsonage Museum presented a briefing about the lives of the Bronte family and how their lives sowed the seeds of their writing aspirations. We also walked around the cemetery next to the Brontes’ house. This scene reflected the harsh living conditions and short life span of the people in that historical period.
As for the anthropology module, the summative assignment is the most exciting part. We were required to do a real life examination of a new culture and write a report about it through epic and emic perspectives. I chose to work on a football match because it is one of the highlights of the British culture. No matter the location – pubs or college bars, you can always witness people cheering for their football teams at night. In order to get first-hand knowledge and write an in-depth analysis, I went to Sunderland to watch my first live football match. I took photos, recorded videos and jotted down notes while observing people’s reactions and behaviours before and during the match. All these observations were further analysed in my report.
Another important aspect which I appreciate is that all the modules were designed to prepare us for the challenges in pursuing a law degree. Through the assignments, we develop our skills of building arguments with wide range and credible sources. We learnt how to locate relevant resources through different channels and to practise writing essays in an academic manner with proper citation. We have the opportunity to make presentations during seminar or to deliver speech with substance and confidence. The tutors of the foundation centre provided us with coaching and guidance when working on the assignments. Thus, this training process helped us gain experience and attain the academic level require for undergraduate students.
As for my social life, language is one of the challenges I faced in the first few months in Durham. Being an international student, taking English exams is different from surviving in an English speaking community. Students from different places have different accents. Even for home students, they have different pronunciations of words and slangs according to their home cities. It took a while for me to get used to the British slang, humour and accents. As I am living in a self-catering college with four home students and one Singaporean student, we always have interesting conversations in the kitchen during meal times. The home students are eager to share with me about the English cultures, such as, typical food in a British family, the social activities of British people, their values about education and environmental protection. Such sharing helps me adapt to the local community and understand more about the British culture. As time goes by, I am gradually becoming more familiar and comfortable with their humour and slang.
I have a wonderful social life in Josephine Butler College, which is the only self-catering college in the Durham campus. My flatmates and I get along really well. We always have exchange of ideas and perspectives about different cultures and social norms. Sometimes we study together in the kitchen. During Christmas, my Welsh flatmate prepared a typical British Christmas meal for us. It was a memorable celebration of Christmas. My Singaporean flatmate and I also made a Chinese meal for our flatmates during the Lunar Chinese New Year. We related to them the traditions of this festival, such as families gatherings and children receiving red packets.
Last but not the least, food is a very important element of college life. Formal dinners are always one of the highlights. Each formal dinner has its theme and dress code. Most of the time you have the chance to wear your gown and formal dress for the dinner. A three course meal consisting of a starter, main dish and dessert are served. And there are college activities going on in the bar after the dinner.
All in all, I have had and continue to have an awesome university life in Durham. Many thanks to the tutors of the foundation centre. They have provided me with incredible and unwavering academic support. I am fortunate and proud to be a foundation student here in Durham. I firmly believe that coming to Durham is a choice that I do not regret.