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With only one week left in the Crescent City, time feels like a precious commodity. I vividly remember my first moments in New Orleans – the exhaustion after a 14-hour traveling ordeal, the confusion as my taxi-driver and I attempted to find my dorm in the darkness of the summer night despite a language barrier, and the sweet, sweet relief of finally rolling my suitcase into the Room 303, a place I now call home.

Room 303 is a suite-style dorm room in Cabra Hall. It is affiliated with Loyola University, but over the summer, there are very few people staying here. Each suite has 4 rooms, 2 bathrooms, and a central living area which has a sofa and a small kitchen area. As the dorm is conveniently located off the St. Charles streetcar line, we have become well versed with the city’s public transit system, often choosing to use some combination of walking and public transportation over cabs or car sharing services.

More than anything though, food has truly taken a front seat in my time here in the Big Easy. From po-boys to Vietnamese bacos to banana fosters to some of the best Mediterranean food I have tasted, this city has it all. But food in New Orleans is not limited to the realm of restaurants. Rather, it is a critical component of culture, of history, of family – of community.

Perhaps by osmosis – or possibly diffusion – this same sense of community, of being bonded by food, has played an integral role in my DukeEngage experience. From crawfish boils at work, to blueberries my supervisor brought me after she went berry picking in Mississippi, to late night trips to Café du Monde for beignets, to streetcar rides to the Creole Creamery to get ice cream, food has been an all-encompassing feature which builds a sense of unity.

But probably my favorite food that I have had this summer has been made at home – in Room 303. Though our initial trips to the local Louisiana grocery store, Rouse’s, were stress-inducing and hectic, and I will never forget the internal panic I felt that first Wednesday when the eggs in my first recipe stubbornly refused to poach, now, there is nothing I look forward to more than coming home, to Room 303, after a long day at work. We cook on a rotating basis – typically once a week for each of us – but even on our off days, my two suitemates and I all make our way to the kitchen – one lead chef, one prep cook, and one dishwasher, so to speak. We experiment with different recipes and dishes, keeping in mind each other’s specific likes and dislikes. And once the meal is fully cooked and dishes cleaned, we settle into the spare bedroom which we have transformed into our “dining room.” It’s not glamorous – there is no white tablecloth, the bowls are plastic instead of porcelain – but the food is good, and the company is better. As we sit around the table, enjoying the food we have prepared together, my suitemates and I share with each other stories about work, about home, about our lives back at Duke. I always look forward to these family dinners and the opportunity to reflect together with these wonderful, strong women who care deeply and actively seek to make a difference in the world in which we live.