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Blog from June 24th

First, I want to preface this first blog entry by saying that I have never been a city person. As an introvert who treasures personal space and peaceful quiet, the tightly packed and busy nature of a city immediately puts me on edge. Of course, I have visited cities before for short term stays and was excited to experience the wealth of culture that can only really be found in the concentration of human activity, but I always felt an undercurrent of discomfort. Luckily, I knew this about myself when applying for and choosing to participate in DukeEngage Portland. In fact, I thought two months of living in a city would be perfect to test and challenge the discomfort I feel in order to first discover more about myself and then perhaps grow from that learning. I am entering this experience with the acceptance that I may never be fully comfortable in a city, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t learn and benefit from the experience.

So far, Portland is unlike any city I have ever visited. This can probably be explained by my lack of experience with west coast cities, but the first thing that really jumped out at me was the large houseless population. At DukeEngage Academy, we were informed of this aspect of Portland, but until I was face to face with it, it didn’t seem real. I think anyone’s inclination when passing someone on the street is to want to help somehow, even though many choose not to. But when you pass 10 houseless people on the same street, the situation not only feels hopeless and out of one’s ability to help, but also slightly overwhelming. To see the struggle and the poverty and then to walk past it leaves a knot of unease in one’s stomach that I still don’t know how to overcome. Hopefully during my time in Portland we will discuss and learn more about this population which, from what I have seen so far, is a prominent part of the city.

Something else I have noticed about Portland in these first few days is the ease of public transportation. I am notoriously good at getting lost, but so far, the straightforwardness of the MAX rail has prevented me from feeling lost. Of course, I have yet to set out on my own so perhaps I still am at risk of losing my direction, but I am optimistic about the accuracy of google maps when it comes to public transportation. Honestly, moving around the city by myself is what I am most nervous about for the coming week. As I have never lived in a city, I have never explored one by myself before, but I hope that after a week of traveling to and from work by myself, I will overcome this source of anxiety.

Overall, though it has only been four days, I am excited by what Portland has to offer. During our walking tour and group scavenger hunt on Friday, I was able to see that the city is complicated and diverse with a different story on every corner. Then on Saturday, the bustle of activity at both the Farmer’s Market and Saturday Market revealed a population of people excited about sustainable agriculture and local artisans. Though I admittedly have never been a city person, I hope that in my time in Portland I can learn to live in a city as so many people do and perhaps even find I enjoy the experience. In the meantime, I bought a succulent to brighten up the room and remind me just a little bit of the peace of home.