In the past 3 weeks in Portland, something has changed. Perhaps it’s my posture or the idle way I swipe through my phone when waiting for the light rail or even the resting expression of my face. Whatever it is, this change has altered my outward appearance from a clueless newcomer to an expert well acquainted with the city around me. What I mean is that, starting about 3 weeks ago, people started asking me for directions on my route to and from work. From out of breath runners to eager tourists, many seem to see a possibility for help and knowledge in me, even though I still feel mostly like an outsider. Of course, at least the first time I was asked, I’m sure this illusion of expertise was quickly cracked when my expression became contorted with confusion and uncertainty, and yet the inquiries still continue.
Even further, I’ve found that locals will now ask me when I think the light rail is coming, casually involving me in their lives without a second thought. All of this indicates that something must have changed, and yet I don’t know what it is. Of course, I feel more acquainted with Portland than when I first arrived, but I still feel as though when it comes to understanding what it means to really live in Portland, I’ve only dipped my toe in the water. Someone told me once that it takes 3 years of living in a place before you stop feeling like the new person. After 3 weeks, people on the street have perceived me to be well woven into the fabric of the city, but I think it might take much closer to 3 years for me to feel that way.
Seven weeks of Duke Engage have whizzed by me faster than I ever imagined they could and I feel like I’m just getting to know Portland. I’m aware that part of the program is focused on immersion into the surrounding environment, but I’m not sure full achievement of this is possible. Eight weeks is an exceedingly short time to experience and try to truly understand a new culture that is made up of so many different people and ideas. The way I’ve tried to approach this is to listen whenever possible. Just to hear Portlanders talk about their lives and experiences makes me feel a little bit more connected to the city itself.
I’ve had the amazing opportunity at The Nature Conservancy to meet with and interview various people in the office about their career paths. Besides giving me wonderful career insight, this has allowed me to hear about why people moved to Portland and why they stayed. Through listening in these conversations, I find I can see Portland and Oregon as a whole a little more clearly.
I’m honestly not sure why I suddenly transformed into what looks like a reliable source of directions, but I’m confident that on the inside I’m still mostly a curious outsider and I’m ok with that. It takes time to uncover the heartbeat of a complex city like Portland. However, in the week I have left, I plan to keep my eyes and ears open to soak up as much as I can about this amazing city before I leave, when I will probably still feeling like a newcomer.