A lot of the time that I spent in Durham, North Carolina felt like a buildup of sorts toward the month that I’d spend in County Durham, United Kingdom. Throughout the Dukeengage application process and during group reflections in the first part of our program, we considered the many ways in which the two Durhams were similar: transitioning economies, adapting workforces, and large vulnerable populations. It seemed remarkable that two cities that shared faced so many of the same issues. As such, I expected working with Team Durham to be similar in at least some ways to what we’d done at the Office of Economic and Workforce Development in NC.
In truth, differences have been far more striking than any similarities. Working at OEWD involved plenty of administrative and research-based task, whereas just about everything we’ve done in the UK has been face-to-face with clients. We spent all day inside at a desk in North Carolina (which I was happy to do when faced with 90-plus degree temperatures), while just about all of the community outreach that Team Durham does involves physical activity of some sort (most of which is happily done outside in the cool British summer). I haven’t given up on looking for similarities between the two cities, but finding them involves digging deeper than I’d thought it would. Helping support the youth intern program at OEWD, for instance, assisted a vulnerable segment of the population just as the outreach work at Team Durham does – the North Carolinians happen to be vulnerable because of economic circumstances instead of physical or mental disability.
The differences between the sister cities doesn’t end at the workplace – we’ve walked past plenty of buildings that are older than the United States as a country. Indeed, the entirety of downtown, with its narrow cobblestone streets and shops housed in historic buildings, stands in stark contrast to the ever-developing city center of Durham, NC. At times, the language feels foreign, although everyone I’ve spoken to has been friendly and interested – they’ve all been quick to ask questions about North Carolina or regale us with tales of trips to Disney world, and hearing their stories has made the entire experience smoother and more welcoming. The hospitality of the American South and Northeast England seems to be another area of overlap between two very different places.