I am a third year Combined Honours student studying English Literature, History and Art History at Newcastle University and I went to Durham University with the PICNIC scheme for a week after the Easter holidays. I applied to PICNIC to get the chance to experience student life at another UK university, learn about and compare their Combined Honours programme to ours, and find out more about the postgraduate courses they have to offer. My busy week included diverse activities from meeting students and staff, attending lectures, and getting an insight into Hatfield and University colleges. As a final year undergraduate student, PICNIC allows me to reflect on my time here at Newcastle.
Monday morning started with a self-guided tour of the campus after having met the Director of Combined Honours at Durham who helped us to assemble a timetable for our stay. The university buildings are located all over the city and range from old buildings near the Cathedral to newer purpose-built lecture theatres at the edges of the city. At a lunch with Combined Honours students, we learned what challenges this distance between teaching locations can cause for a degree such as Combined Honours and we exchanged knowledge and ideas about our two Combined degrees. The other PICNIC exchange students and I learned about the college system at Durham University which is very different to what I know from Newcastle. In my school, we have a range of mentor and peer support schemes that in Durham are more likely to be based in the colleges than in the academic schools.
I met Marc Critchley, the director of the Centre for Foreign Language Study who told me about language learning at the university in exchange for information about my role as leader of conversation classes and drop in sessions at the LRC (Language Resource Centre). Together we discussed and evaluated different ways of getting language students to practice with native speakers. He made it possible for me and another student to attend German and French classes so that we could get inspiration and ideas for our classes at the LRC. On the same day, I attended a lecture in Care of Collections, a module of the Museum and Artefact Studies master I was interested in learning more about.
On the second day, I meet Zoe Roth, the director of the MA in Visual Arts and Culture to learn more about this degree. A Combined Honours student from Durham showed us PICNIC students around his college, University College based in the Castle at Durham and very impressive, especially since we got a private behind the scenes tour focusing on student life at the Castle. On Thursday we even had lunch at the dining hall there. The tour was followed by a tour of the university library. Throughout the week, I attended lectures ranging from archaeology to macroeconomics.
On Thursday, all of us Newcastle PICNIC students at Durham meet with the staff of the Student Union. We explained to them the working of our University App and our experience with the ReCap System, technologies that Durham University is interested in implementing. Their feedback of PICNIC was great, because they were very happy to get to talk about these things from a student perspective.
A highlight of the week was the private tour of the Oriental Museum on Friday. The director of the museums in Durham showed us around and we learned a lot about students’ involvement in the museums’ activities and got to know an unexpected site of Durham.
The PICNIC week allowed me to experience the things I set out as my aim when applying but I also learned a lot more. I got a new perspective on how both Durham and Newcastle Universities function and gained new academic knowledge as well. I can only recommend everyone to apply for the scheme and make the most of it. It was very beneficial to me personally but I also think it is a great way for the participating university to learn from each other and exchange ideas through their students.