Two weeks of DukeEngage have officially gone by. While it feels like we just arrived to Portland, there is a strong sense of familiarity now characterizing each day.
My fellow DukeEngage Intern and I at Crag will head out at the same time each morning. I will start the day at work by researching Crag environmental law cases and meeting with staff members about them. After grabbing a bite at a food cart, experiencing the diverse cuisine Portland has to offer, I draft case posts for the Crag website and interview former law clerks about their experience at the organization and their subsequent work. At 5pm, I’ll head back to Portland State either to make food with my roommate, go on a hike, head to the gym, or take TriMet to our weekly dinner discussions. The evening will usually consist of playing cards with other participants, watching Netflix, or a combination of the two. Then, the cycle repeats.
It’s nice to have found a rhythm. I’ve checked off some of the Portland must-do’s – stop by Powell’s, explore Forest Park, and try out a special dessert. I’ve began meeting Portland locals – whether at Crag’s dinner party or at the 4th of July barbecue. I’ve started developing a better understanding of environmental law, meeting professionals in the field and learning about the various resources in the Portland area. I’ve realized the sense of connection within the environmental community in Washington D.C. is also present here, perfectly encapsulated by seeing many of the organizations at a particular clean energy campaign rally.
Socially, things are falling more into place. I really like each of the DukeEngage participants as individuals, and we are beginning to develop a greater sense of cohesion. I realized this can and will only come organically and over time – it can’t be forced. While we had a brief discussion about what is important to us, more time and experiences are needed to enable everyone to feel comfortable opening up about this question and reflecting their answers. But, with each card game, each weekend experience planned, and each discussion, the connection gets a bit stronger.
With all of this, I want to be careful not to get complacent. I don’t want to get comfortable enough that I stop desiring new experiences – whether a snack at Voodoo donuts or an immersive nature excursion outside of Portland. More importantly, I don’t want to feel like “I know the culture” when there is so much to learn. I’ve heard how Portland is so eco-friendly, yet I’ve also heard how environmental issues are largely ignored by government officials. I’ve heard how Portland is so progressive, yet I’ve also heard how minority groups are consistently overlooked or ostracized. I’ve heard how Portland is more laid back, yet I’ve heard of organizations with a very corporate culture. I like how the city is more walkable, leverages public transportation, preserves natural areas, and has a more comfortable pace. But, I have just begun evaluating my thoughts on the city.
As I continue throughout the DukeEngage journey, I want to thank those who have made me feel welcome. To celebrate my birthday, I really appreciated how Crag took out my fellow interns at I to ice cream, how our staff brought me a cake at our weekly dinner and everyone signed a card, and our group all walked back together. I really appreciated being invited to a potluck to celebrate the 4th, and how adults and college students were welcoming, friendly, and warm. I really appreciated how much the Crag staff want to engage with me. I really appreciated how, when volunteering with houseless people in Portland, how we were able to play games with them as if we were part of the community. Ultimately, I really appreciated being wanted here.
I don’t know what role if any Portland and Oregon will play in my future. Will I come back to visit the state’s beautiful public lands, including those I’m working to protect at Crag? Will I go to law school at the well-renowned Lewis & Clark, or go to law school at all? Will I want to work in the Pacific Northwest on environmental initiatives, or return to Washington D.C.? Will I merely return for a vacation years into the future, coming with friends or my future family? The short answer is I don’t know. I just know that I want to make the most out of being here now – going beyond scratching the surface to experience the community I’m fortunate enough to be a part of for the summer.