Back in December, when I received my Dukeengage acceptance, I started physically leaping with joy. The desire to explore had come over me that previous summer, driving me to take long road trips, go on (slightly) dangerous hikes, and apply to work at a summer camp where I knew no one. After high school ended, I gained a new taste for adventure, seeing as my life became about 20 times more flexible and 50 times less sure than it had been a few weeks previously. That urge to explore hadn’t gone away during my time at Duke, and my acceptance to a program where I’d get to spend weeks in a foreign country speaking a different language and helping others by doing things I’d never done before brought me a sense of joy that was all-encompassing. Of course, I hadn’t applied to the program as pseudo- study abroad; the service is what captured my interest and pushed me to apply, but the notion of adventure that I got from the program plan got my heart pumping.
Thus, for the first three months of 2020, the thought of my summer plans brought visions of hiking boots, rainstorms, and Indiana Jones-style escapades. So when I received that fateful email in April telling me that the virus had canceled my plans, my excitement and dreams for the coming months went down in flames. Figuring out my new Duke Engage program brought some of that joy back to life, but going in, I knew that I’d have to adapt– to take the enthusiasm for the rainforest adventures I was supposed to have and transform it into a sort of determined excitement for my new program.
This wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it was certainly do-able. My newfound Dukeengage plan went from wildly new to something that hit home– literally, because I’m spending this summer working for the health department in the county where I grew up. The adaptations required of me were great in both size and number, but a switch of mentality made them all easier. I began to think of my Duke Engage experience as something that would teach me new professional skills, rather than a time where I would have new adventures and shifts in perspective. My work this summer feels more like an internship than philanthropy, because that’s what it is: I’m working with the department as a sort of proxy-intern, but I am still helping my community and changing my own world, though in a much more domestic style than expected. In my first week, I didn’t fly to a foreign country and greet my taxi driver in a new language. Instead, I opened zoom and learned how to greet a boss and mentor in a professional environment. I didn’t gaze out at the rainforest and begin to learn the names of the flora and fauna outside of my window. Instead, I learned how to create graphics and make an education plan.
Even though my experiences have been much more– let’s say suburban– than expected, I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised. I’ve learned more than I thought I would by now, I’ve found new skills, and I’ve met some great people who I believe will help me in more ways than those typical of the office. I’ve found myself asking questions as well: what sort of projects have been going on in my community that have affected my life in ways I’ve been unaware of? How does our health department run so smoothly? And most importantly, how can I help them in the ways that they’ve helped me? I don’t know the answers to these questions, and I don’t know exactly when I’ll learn them, but I know that in its own way, my domestic Duke Engage will be its own sort of adventure.