What’s it like to settle into the York community? We sat with three of our students to talk ducks, dreams, dinners, and the magic of friendship.
So, looking back to the start of uni, what was your experience of moving in and getting to know people around you?
Kabeer: Well, James and I moved into James College and met within an hour. Moving in is a really surreal experience. One moment you’re with your parents, in a car, with all your stuff, and then you’re moved into your room, surrounded by everyone you’re going to spend the next year with. And it is the start of a new stage in your life. Kitchens in student accommodation tend to be your common spaces. We all congregated, introduced ourselves, and just started talking about this, that and the other. I think moving into York is also really easy, with STYCs and STYMs – 2nd- and 3rd-Year Contacts and Mentors – to help you move in, firstly by physically helping with your luggage, and beyond that throughout the entirety of Freshers’ Week. Supporting you, making sure you don’t get lost, and helping you make friends and attend events if needed. It really makes you feel welcome.
James: I think it’s also important to stress that there were some people who didn’t really want to do that initially. But as the year progressed, if we were in the kitchen, they would come in, and we’d always make sure to say hi. And in fact, one of our housemates now didn’t come to say hi until about week six, and now they live with us in our 2nd-Year house. I think for them, that was quite nice that there were always us to talk to if they wanted to. You usually go for your first trip into York together, so it’s not as daunting, and also to Freshers’ Fair, where you can sign up to other societies. If there’s one thing I’d recommend, it’s definitely going to Freshers Fair, because there’s always a good variety of stands.
Katrina: I came as an international student, so I arrived a day earlier than everyone else. I lived in Constantine College. My room had a window facing a huge parking lot, so the next day I watched everyone moving with their parents and the STYCs and STYMs, so it felt a little bit lonely. I found Freshers’ Week really nice, really inclusive, those STYCs and STYMs and my flatmates really nice. Because I was living on East, we also had a weekly college meal, so we put time aside especially to go together. It was a nice bonding experience.
Thinking about those college events, that college community, were they useful for you branching out?
Kabeer: I think colleges support students in the transition to coming to uni. Every day for the first week, we had events run by James College to get us involved, get us talking, should we want to make a wide group of friends. There are non-clubbing events, too, and I think James College has plans to move most of their Freshers’ events to non-clubbing events. It’s a casual atmosphere, like an extended family. In catered colleges in particular, spending meals with people you live with, or people you’ve seen on college sports teams. It’s a really good opportunity for you to interact with the people closest to you. You can invite people from other colleges, friends from societies, anyone. So, catered colleges have that extra layer of generating a family.
James: Especially on the first day. I remember our first meal, sitting with the whole block. That got me talking to more people than just my flat. If you do catered accommodation, that’s the benefit.
On that point, any top tips for food – cooking, shopping? Do you reckon you’re good cooks?
James: If you do catered accommodation, don’t get chips every day like I did.
Kabeer: True. The breakfasts were fantastic. You had a full spread of cooked foods, cereals, fruits, yogurts, everything. If you are going for the catered option, it makes the time you commit to actually feeding yourself a lot easier. I’d recommend, if you have a vague level of skill and cooking, doing weekly shops, maybe even banding together in groups. It’s especially helpful if you live near a supermarket to pop round quickly. I normally cycle over to Aldi because it’s fairly near the Uni. The other option is to band together and do an online shop, so you negate the delivery fee. It makes everything a lot more straightforward. If you are less culinary inclined, like James here – would you like to expand, James?
James: Oh, I can’t cook at all. I feel that with catered accommodation, the start of uni can be very overwhelming in general, because you’re moving away from your family home, in a new city. So just to have some meals cooked for you is really helpful.
Katrina: I was self-catered with the weekly college meal. I think an advantage of being self-catered is that you can choose what and when to eat. And you get to see the interesting dishes your flatmates are cooking.
Kabeer: You have such a variety of people who you’re living with. I think in our flat, we had like six countries and cuisines. Seeing what people cooked definitely widened my ability by cooking with them, seeing how they prepare their food.
James: On the weekends, we used to have a tradition where one person would cook a meal for everybody. So, we got to try different food each weekend, and see each other cook.
Kabeer: I made paneer, an Indian dish, for the whole flat, which was nice to share. And meant we were fed at weekends, so one less thing to worry about. It allowed us to celebrate people, the things people were good at. Everyone was able to share with everyone else.
James: And most people, at the end of the year, had done one.
Kabeer: Even you, with your limits.
James: Even me.
What was your offering?
James: Oh, it was pasta and… sauce? And some broccoli. I remember it.
Kabeer: And garlic bread!
Sports and societies, then. Are you part of any? What’s the best one to join? Any shout-outs?
Katrina: I’m definitely giving a shout-out to Floorball. It’s not a big sport, not very noticeable, but big in parts of Europe and Asia. I only started playing when I came to York – the environment drew me in, the small community.
James: My societies changed radically from 1st to 2nd Year. I was part of the UN Society, which helped with public speaking and debating. French Society and Equestrian stuck for both years. My grandmother wanted to me to be a horse rider. That was one of the reasons I was interested in York, that they had an equestrian society – I was worried I would lose it. One of my loves is to travel, so I’ve made sure to join international societies. My favourite would be Hong Kong Society. They’ve been very welcoming, and it’s been great to learn about Hong Kong. I’ve applied for the summer abroad this year, so I’ll be going there really soon. It’s comforting to have had a kickstart of what to expect. And here comes the king of all sports…
Kabeer: Yes. I’ve just finished my term as captain and president of James College Tennis, working with my committee to bring together events. We’ve had formals, parties. Competitions in Durham, and Lancaster for the college varsity. Because of York’s collegiate system, the Uni has been able to split popular sports into uni- and college-level clubs. People who aren’t ultra-competitive, or just want to play for fun, can play in a more casual setting. It’s really allowed people to grow, and I know people who’ve felt like they’ve joined a family to learn and develop their skills. I’ve just been voted in as captain of Archery, which is a fantastic club. I think we’re one of the most diverse clubs in the North. We all go to competitions together, get to travel around the country. We compete against every other university in the region throughout the year with BUCS – British Universities and Colleges Sport – travelling to different cities, different unis, meeting people with the same passion in a different setting. Beyond that, there are other niche clubs and societies the University has. I finally got to try Octopush – underwater hockey. Interesting experience. Really friendly group. I’m on the committee for the York Circus and Magic Society. I currently lead the fire-juggling and fire-spinning groups, as well as aerial silks, where we suspend silks from the ceiling.
Do you get these two to help out?
James: I’ve seen you do the fire stuff.
Kabeer: I do try. I tried to teach one of my housemates to unicycle, but that went disastrously.
James: We left them to it.
Katrina: Nothing broke. It’s fine.
Kabeer: You can engage as much as you wish, or not at all, as I know some people do. But sometimes, you go to a friend’s society to support them. Other people find one or two clubs to really find a good friendship group. They go to the social events, club meetings. And some people are absolutely insane, like me, who go to every possible sport, and fill their time at uni with all the opportunities presented.
James: One of our housemates went to the DJ society, and managed to get a job out of it – the society was contacting places that wanted him to play. He had a play, and they thought he was pretty good, so he’s been hired at a couple of venues. Societies are a good way to find work as well, if that’s what you’d like.
We’ve talked about travelling a bit. Thinking about work placements, have you got any lined up, or are you not thinking that far ahead yet?
James: Well, I’ve had to deal with a lot of paperwork for the summer and year abroad. But, to be fair to York, it’s all well-ordered, and clear on what you need to do. I’m ready. I’ll be in France next year, living with a host family, studying French constitutional law and Chinese constitutional law for the year – sounds riveting, I know. I’m half French, and my French isn’t brilliant, so I’m happy to actually go. With the summer abroad, you don’t have to study what your degree is. In my A levels, I really liked languages as well as politics, so at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I’ll be studying Cantonese, just for five weeks. So yeah, exciting stuff.
Katrina: In Psychology, they dedicate a lot of effort into letting us know the opportunities available – like being a teaching assistant for a year or two with Teach First. There are also a lot of volunteering and paid opportunities they send out regularly. I’m helping a PhD student do their research on complicated decision-making on the Iowa gambling task.
Kabeer: I’ve been involved in a masterclass placement with Physics, which the Uni offered as a scholarship. I’m working for the surface and astrophysical sciences research group with two academics and two students, trying to confirm how nuclear fusion occurred in superhot stars. It’s made me one of the top 18 foremost experts in this field, in the world. That’s something you can do when you go to uni – specialise in so niche an area that you become the big source of authority. On the more casual side, James and I have worked on the Uni’s outreach events, welcoming Year 9s and Year 12s from backgrounds who’d not normally progress to higher education. You feel you’re making a real difference to people’s lives. That’s what York’s aim is – to be a force for good. Physics have ambassador teams, and we help run accessibility events. Getting paid on the Astrocampus to run stargazing events, engaging with the community to show the type of research that goes on here is another way of earning, and also to put your degree to use.
Do you find yourself geeking out with your lecturers about things you’re all working on?
Kabeer: Definitely. It’s a big advantage, being able to talk to academics about their research, which they’re very open and happy to do. We’re able to learn about what is ongoing in the leading edge of research. We see the way academics think. I want to do a Masters, possibly a PhD, and seeing how you can build upon what they’ve done through those conversations is really the basis of my interest in the subject. It’s what I feed off when I do my reading, when I engage with physics.
James: My last essay was about the rise of the Four Asian Tigers – Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. And now that I can visit one, it’ll be interesting to see it for real. I’ve never travelled outside of Europe, except once when I was four – which I don’t count that, because I was four – so to actually travel that far will be interesting.
Katrina: Psychology requires us to do experiments every year, so you have to be a participant. I participated in a sleep study this year, spending a night in a sleep lab in the department. You can get to use see the equipment – FMRI machines and things like that – and experience being a participant in high-level experiments. There’s also a new neuroimaging centre near Alcuin – they’re doing other awesome studies there.
That sleep study sounds like a dream. That’s not meant to be a pun. Anyway, thinking about the city and campus, any favourite spots that you like? Hidden gems?
James: I can’t work at home, so I always find somewhere on campus. I go to the Ron Cooke Hub at nighttime, and just work late because it’s open 24 hours. I love the view of the east lake, all the lights are nice and dim, and hardly anyone really uses it – probably until now I’ve told everyone! In the daytime, I’ll go into Church Lane for the comfy chairs.
Kabeer: A lot of my work is done analysing data and drawing graphs. The Salters’ Learning Suite has computers with all the software preloaded, the equipment that allows me to do my work.
James: 200 Degrees, a café in York. You can sit with your computer for hours. I’ve only been kicked out once for being too long – which, to be fair, isn’t bad. I’ve gone there quite a few times.
At three in the morning?
James: Ha! Yeah, “Excuse me, it’s closing time.” I go there most days, so my wallet goes mainly on coffee. They’re just two areas I really like. It’s also nice that I’m half an hour from both, so to have that walk and fresh air before working is needed.
Katrina: You can access everything using the Uni’s virtual desktop. I need to use statistical software and experimental platforms, so I don’t have to stay on campus; I can just bring my laptop, and as long as I have wifi or data, I can work anywhere. I like the Piazza most – booking a room, and having a whole day of studying with friends.
Quick break to eat the flapjack that you’ve been trying to unwrap quietly?
James: Yes please. I wish I had more for breakfast. I had a singular piece of toast, but it didn’t really fill me up.
I’m so jealous of that communal cooking idea. I think I just ate pasta.
Kabeer: Believe me, a lot of student food is pasta.
Do you find yourself judging what people cook in 1st Year?
Kabeer: We judge James. One meal he had was 12 Peperami.
James: I felt really ill…
Kabeer: You also get jealous. Sometimes people cook Michelin-star food right in front of you.
James: We have an Italian housemate who makes pizza from scratch. It’s fantastic. We made her try Greggs pizza once – she hated it.
Katrina: Most of my flatmates were British local students, so there weren’t many interesting cuisines.
James: Ha! To be fair, it’s your fault I now don’t like English food. When you go to the Hong Kong Society and try the different foods, you realise how bland your own cooking is.
Kabeer: I find when running committee meetings that if I offer food and Mario Kart, people actually come and do the work I ask them to do. I remember making a vegan chilli once, but I made it based on my spice level, which I realised isn’t conferred to people who live up in the north of England. So, I had to quickly borrow some milk and pour that into the dish.
Defeated the point.
James: I had a spicy snack at the Lunar New Year thing. It killed my tongue. And my kimchi stunk out the kitchen last year. I was convinced it wasn’t me, but it got to the point where everyone started taking their stuff out of the fridge, and there was just the kimchi there in the corner, and I was like, “Okay, it’s me.”
Kabeer: Your Korean food gave me food poisoning once.
James: It did, yeah. Sorry about that.
Good to go again? Picking up on food and favourite places, any good spots in the city?
James: Oh, I can name some Asian ones. There’s Little Asia, my favourite Korean restaurant. Happy Noodles, near where we live, which serves good Chinese food. Red Chilli, which is a massive one on George Hudson Street.
Kabeer: We’ve done house meals at Trinacria. That’s an Italian place down on Bishopthorpe Road – Bishy Road – and they serve fantastic food. It’s a nice place to bring your family.
James: Bishy Road is not in the main bit of York. You have to have lived in York for a while to get to know it, so it feels very local. And it’s never busy – I go there on a Saturday specifically because of that.
Kabeer: The Museum Gardens are fantastic for picnics. They’ve got a really nice view of the river, the town, the museum itself, the ruins of the abbey. Right next to it, they have an edible garden – herbs, flowers, hedges. The whole thing is designed to be a sensory experience. That’s one of my favourite places to go. I grow mint at home, so going there is a nice reminder of that.
Katrina: Have you been to Rowntree Park before? I think it’s also a good place for a picnic.
James: I love Rowntree Park. We cycle there a lot.
Kabeer: Yeah, it’s nice. It’s got the river running through it, and Millennium Bridge. It’s only a ten-minute cycle out from campus, and you feel like you’re in a different climate.
Have you guys used the e-bikes and e-scooters?
James: I got overcharged once because I forgot to cancel it. It said I had an e-scooter for 24 hours. I’ve used them on occasion, but more just for fun, rather than utility – you know, just gone around the car park several times, just feel the speed. But it’s nice to have them around, dotted around York. But yeah, I usually walk everywhere.
Kabeer: I haven’t – I’ve got my bike, and I like walking places.
Katrina: I’ve tried the e-scooters before. York is a very walkable city, and I enjoy checking out all the new shops and stuff that popped up recently.
Alright, we can’t go by without talking about our dearly departed friend, Long Boi. How are we coping?
James: I had the same feeling about Long Boi that I did the Queen. I didn’t realise both would be gone so soon. I thought the Queen would live to be a hundred-and-something, and she just didn’t, and that floored me. And then Long Boi died so soon after. I thought they must be linked somehow – Long Boi couldn’t cope in his grief, maybe? I don’t know. Luckily, we do have other ducks. We have Fancy Boi, and I’m just hoping he can take the pedestal. I really want that statue to be a thing. I don’t know about you two, but I think, you know, as icons go, it should be, you know, bigger than The Shard?
Katrina: I don’t believe Long Boi’s dead, because we haven’t found the corpse yet. But then again, he usually appears by Derwent or outside Spring Lane, and I often have lectures there. So, last year, I always saw him. But this year, I’ve noticed that the feathers are getting, like, whiter? So I knew he was getting old, but I didn’t think he’d die.
Kabeer: Considering the amount of art installations around campus, the sculptures, the Uni’s art programme – that statue of Long Boi definitely needs to happen. Just to commemorate someone who’s done so much for the Uni, to actually raise awareness, being on the James Corden show, being an icon who has a greater public following than the Uni itself.
James: It’s always been a good day trip to say, “Today, we’re going to go find him.” Every time we’ve worked on a campus tour, people have been like, “Where’s the duck?” So, he’s clearly well-known. That needs to be a new merch line.
Kabeer: There is! New hoodies and scarves.
James: There needs to be an obituary t-shirt. “Never forget.”
Kabeer: Someone commissioned some art, and now it’s on shirts.
James: I’ll have a look later. That’s coming straight out my bank account.
Katrina: I feel bad for Long Boi being merchandised after his death.
You think Fancy Boi is the natural successor?
James: I hope so. I’d really hope so. I hope we can have some sort of reign of ducks.
Kabeer: He hangs about by James College, so we saw him more than we did Long Boi.
James: We need something on East, a special Campus East duck. There can be a war, a healthy competition – Fancy Boi versus East Boi.
Kabeer: I’ll put it to the English department. Write a whole narrative.
I can imagine the newspapers. ‘Uni of York commissions duck fight.’ We’re close to wrapping up. Any plans for the summer and the year beyond?
Kabeer: I’ve just had my final-year project forms through, so I’ve been looking through options. I’ve found exciting projects I could see myself doing. So, it’s deciding which I want to research. So, that’s my summer. Then, hopefully, I might go on holiday after.
James: Well, I’m a busy bee. Hong Kong soon, so right now it’s just saying goodbye to everybody. I’m happy I get to delay my dissertation for a year by going abroad for a nice little time. I’ve got about two weeks between getting back and departing for France, so it’s going to be wild. But, you know, it’ll be a great time.
Katrina: Although exams have ended, things haven’t ended for me. I’m still doing my group projects. I handed one in this morning – the poster – then next week, we’ll have two presentations, so that’s fun. I should have a lot of time after that, but I actually have a lot planned. I’m part of the Floorball committee, and we plan socials by the end of the year. I really need to start packing, because I can’t put my stuff in the UK during summer. So, I’m looking towards Kit Keeper, which has a student discount. And then I’ll be flying home.
One more? Top tips, or surprises at uni so far?
James: I’d say, ‘Do a Kabeer’: Join as many sports and societies as you can, and then you can filter it down later. The worst thing to do would be to stutter at the start, and not join things. Because the more the year goes on, it becomes more difficult to then join things. Check uni websites for what’s on offer. I couldn’t go to the Freshers’ Fair in 1st Year – I had to go home – so I emailed societies asking when their first events were going to be. That really was helpful because I still went to the first UN Society meeting. I could still go to the first equestrian club meeting, and it was great to then be able to meet everyone initially. If they’re not your thing, that’s fine, but I think it’s good to have different areas of interest to explore. Having a range of things to do is helpful to me.
Katrina: The biggest surprise was the wide variety of societies and clubs available for you to explore and discover. I didn’t think I’d get into sports at uni – I was never a sporty person since I was young – but I got hooked, and now I’m part of that community. Other than that, there are plenty of unexpected societies, such as a sock appreciation society, which I wanted to try, but then they died this year. That was sad.
James: There’s also Bean Soc, who still need to be ratified by YUSU – the Students’ Union. I was signed up as president without my knowledge, and started getting all these messages from YUSU that I was a proponent of the Mr Bean Society. But when they got rid of the ’Mr’ and made it purely about beans, I handed in my resignation. I wasn’t standing for just beans – I wanted a Mr Bean society. Maybe in my fourth year, when I return, I’ll have a fight with Bean Soc about having Mr Bean.
Kabeer: When you join the Uni, if there’s a society or an interest which the University doesn’t have a club for, you can set it up. Your friends set up Bean Soc – three of them went to YUSU, and now they’ve got a society.
James: Then told me about it. But yeah, you need three people, and you can set up a society. So, they’re in the process of getting Bean Soc sorted.
I think that’s a great place to end.