One of the greatest realizations I came to in college is a seemingly obvious, yet to me, it was an overwhelming one: the world is really, really, (really) big. Here I was, praising myself for getting into a school like Duke–yet once I finally arrived, it was only to learn just how little I really knew.
When I applied to the Durham/Durham program, it was with this understanding in mind. I wanted to ground myself with an experience where I could first get to know my new home, yet also have the opportunity to explore a place foreign from anything I had ever seen before. Sure I knew countries by their headlines that popped up on the news, or brief snippets of history learned in social studies classes, but I had no sense of what those bits and pieces looked like in reality. Coming to Duke, and meeting people from those very countries, was my first step.
And now, my past few days in Durham, England have been the next couple of steps. I’m constantly reminded of that feeling of how little I know about the world, but beyond excited that these experiences have given me the opportunity to learn about it. Our excursions through Durham and visits to key historic sites has opened my eyes to what a different lifestyle the United Kingdom Durhamites live from those whom I worked with less than a week ago. I feel it in the small, but plentiful different mannerisms and customs of locals here–the way coffee and tea is offered at nearly every meal, the way fries are called “chips”, and the way rain and cold barely seem to have an impact.
But I also feel it in certain structural differences. Most of the buildings here seem to be of a traditional build, stone roads lining many of the hilly streets. Some of the historic treasures like the Durham Cathedral and the Durham Castle are over three times as old as the United States. Yet in America, it feels like there’s always something new being built down the street, a new apartment complex popping up in downtown Durham, North Carolina. The other difference that bewilders me is how commonplace it is for locals here to have been to many different countries. Of course, it’s easier to experience many different countries when those places are clustered together only a train ride away (rather than over an ocean), but it simply gave some perspective as to how globalized daily life could be for the people here. In the United States, we feel strongly American, often without ever knowing what it is like to be in another country. The culture differences we often face are those between states, not countries. Yet that tiny difference leaves a strong impact in the perspectives of our people.