Name:
Catherine Racine
  College: St Chad's College
  Subject: Theology
  Class of: 2016
  Location: Canada






Your Durham Inspiration

Hello Alumni and Friends!

I have just published my first book with Routledge: Beyond Clinical Dehumanisation towards the Other in Community Mental Health Care: Levinas, Wonder and Autoethnography. I’d love to hear from anyone interested in any aspect of this work, including the experience of attending Durham University to complete a PhD later in life. My email is catherine.a.racine@gmail.com, and you can also find me on LinkedIn.

Heed the call

Durham announced itself as a coup de foudre – a thunderbolt – the first time I set eyes on it from a computer screen in my Vancouver home. A friend had dropped by to tell me about her new post-doc appointment in Durham, and we sat looking in wonder at photographs of the city, and the Cathedral, when I turned to her – surprising even myself - and said with utter conviction, "I'm going there too!"

I was working full-time as a mental health clinician in community mental health care, de-moralised by the job and my collusion in a broken system. Fascinated with the ethical implications of mystical experience in clinical care that I'd explored in my Master's degree, I yearned to take the work further in a PhD. I'd made several attempts over the years to go back to school to no avail. But the death of my mother the previous year had created an opening that lined up the stars like lights on a runway, giving me the all-clear. I didn't know until that moment, sitting with my friend, that Durham would be my destination. It was the sign I'd been waiting to receive.

Within the following year, I successfully applied to the University, quit the best paying job of my life, and sold my home and bought something smaller to rent for income. I ditched half of my belongings, stored the rest, said goodbye to friends and family and flew away into the unknown. I was 58 years old. Determined that it would take me only three years to complete my PhD, it took six, and I spent another year after that on a work visa.

Durham was the most thrilling adventure of my life. The best moment came at the end of my Viva when the examiners told me they had given me a perfect pass, and I burst into tears. Graduation day a few months later was a close second.

What were the best parts?

There were so many "best" parts. I was learning from, talking to and making friends with students and academics from all over the world. Beyond Canada, my now dear academic friends come from Kuwait, Denmark, the United States, and the UK. In Durham, I attended conferences and developed and presented my ideas – that people were interested in hearing. I published my work and listened to lectures given by world experts on every branch of knowledge. It was a big deal.

I lived near the city centre and could hear the cathedral bells at night as I lay in bed. Several remarkable and hospitable locals befriended me, and my community grew. I was invited to their poetry readings and began to take poetry more seriously. My new friends introduced me to English country dancing, and I became part of a dance community to which I'm still connected. In these COVID times, I now dance online because of them and in their company.

Nearer the end of my time in Durham, I volunteered with a group of friendly locals who gathered twice a week to tend Flass Vale by planting new trees, cutting back the brambles, keeping the paths clear, rooting out the Himalayan Balsam. The Vale is a gorgeous woodland area inside Durham city with a fascinating history dating back 3000 years. In the summertime, I would watch my Durham friends perform Shakespeare there, on Hangman's Hill.

My Durham friends invited me into their homes, gardens and community centres and introduced me to the beauty and magic of their corner of the world. I remember one particularly magical evening sitting in a grand receiving room in Brancepeth Castle listening to 40 Celtic harpists play together by candlelight. But there were many such magical moments and unforgettable times of wonder-full human connection over my years there.

Durham was an encounter with a rich, cultural, intellectual and multi-cultural world where my heart took root, and I thrived – and grew up - in ways I never imagined. It was not always easy living far from home, writing within the unfamiliar conventions of a PhD, negotiating challenging relationships with thesis supervisors and engaging with the intricacies of power within the Academy. All of this demanded advanced, sometimes elusive skills I learned slowly over time through trial and error. But like every great adventure, failure, fear, setbacks, hold-ups, loneliness and uncertainty are also part of it. All I see now, looking back, is the enormous privilege and joy of living in that wintry cathedral city engaged in a project that set my imagination on fire and kept me up nights.

Finally, but hardly least, there was the travel which was irresistible for a Canadian girl from the West Coast of Canada because all of Europe and North Africa lay at my back door. I travelled a lot, and on a shoestring, to Spain, Italy, Ireland, the North of France, the South of France, Holland, Morocco and, of course, London and Edinburgh. I couldn't get enough.

I returned to Canada permanently in the fall of 2019 and signed a contract with Routledge early in 2020, just before the pandemic struck. My first website is under construction. I am already thinking about the next book and plan to work with clinicians who want to challenge and change the status quo in community mental health care. My engagement with the ethical dialogue that informs narrative research and embraces the ideas of wonder and the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas is ongoing.

What piece of advice would I offer those coming to Durham or considering it?

There's only one. Never hesitate to follow your dream, especially if you can't quite imagine where it might lead or even if you will succeed. Durham is a beautiful place for such dreams to flourish. When you get there, try everything, open every single door in front of you, say yes to anything you can, reach out your arms wide to catch it all and watch what happens.



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