Growing up on the West Coast, I always told myself I’d come back home and live there after Duke. I loved life in California, and, long-term, I saw myself living and working in San Francisco, close to where I grew up. However, 8 weeks in D.C. has started to make me reconsider this. Every experience I’ve had in this city has been positive, and DukeEngage has given me so many opportunities to explore every unique aspect of its culture.
Towards the beginning of the program, one of our program speakers told us each city has a unique professional vibe: San Francisco has tech, New York has finance, but “while you’re in D.C., politics are in the air.” As my experience in D.C. continued, I saw this to be more and more true, which made living in the city extremely satisfying. Policy had a huge impact on so many aspects of everyday life in ways I never considered, and being in the nation’s capital made these issues so apparent. I was able to feel so connected to the country’s most important political decisions, whether I was walking around the city with a clear, constant view of the Washington Monument or the Capitol, or even seeing a notification on my phone about a decision that was made right down the street. This constant reminder of politics really suited my academic and professional interests, especially considering the novel and unique ways it could be used. More importantly, it showed me my role and my agency in terms of civic engagement, with constant reminders of my responsibility and my ability to work in this political system and affect real societal change. This really presented D.C. as a place where I could pursue my interests while making a big impact in society.
Beyond the professional culture, the social aspect of D.C. made me love it even more. Exploring the city with my cohort and my friends, within and outside of DukeEngage programming, I really got to immerse myself in various aspects of its unique culture. It was readily apparent that each neighborhood and, in some cases, each street embraced its own unique identity, celebrating various ideals that revolved around community engagement. As a result, each area hosted its own variety of restaurants, events and attractions for people of all ages, inviting us in even as visitors. Additionally, we had many opportunities to speak, volunteer, and engage with people from diverse communities around D.C., allowing us to learn about the various experiences of D.C. and how these are changing. Speaking to residents of various backgrounds about gentrification, social policy, and their lived experiences, I really began to understand the complex dynamics of the city, along with my general role and responsibility in my own communities. Overall, while it was only for a short time, D.C. offered a feeling not only of excitement, but also of belonging: D.C. invited me in to really experience everything it has to offer, but also showed me the responsibility a resident has in protecting these qualities. This made the city really appealing and engaging to many of us in the DukeEngage cohort.
As a result, these qualities and experiences really made me enjoy my summer in D.C. With so many engaging and rewarding qualities, D.C. really has become a city I can see myself living in for some time. It has shown me a lot about the values and culture I want to be a part of in a city, and really has changed the way I interact with my communities at home and in Durham. With a great summer almost wrapped up, I’m excited to return to these communities and sad to say bye to D.C.; but hopefully it’s not a bye forever.