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Working at Team Durham

For the past two weeks, I’ve gotten a good sense of my work placement here in Durham, UK, and frankly it leaves me with mixed feelings, especially in comparison to OEWD.  What I most appreciate about my placement in Durham, UK, as opposed to North Carolina, is how active our work is.  We are heavily involved in sports, as many of our work involves interacting and socializing with adults with various disabilities or adults who are recovering from drug or alcohol abuse. The days sitting in the office of OEWD for six hours seem so distant when I realize how much walking and socializing with community members our work entails.

I must say, though, that while its enjoyable to be so active and engaged with people instead of papers, the fall back is that I lose touch with tangible differences that we are making.  I don’t realize that, when we are socializing with these adults, we do in fact have an impact on them.  For example, our boss Lynn describes that the one hour we are boxing or playing badminton with them could be one hour that they don’t engage with or think about drugs or alcohol.  Another way to think is that by talking to us, adults can feel as though they increase their global perspective because we can explain things about America.  The difference we make is more subtle, which I understand, so it definitely takes more consciousness on our parts.

Understanding Durham, UK

Back in North Carolina, Tiff and I made large efforts to really explore the city, both to learn about it and to critique it, to the point where we could say what a “Durham thing” was.  Coming to the UK, we realized limitations in especially transportation and location hours that made it less easy to just spend the night out really absorbing things about this city.  By the time we’re done with a nice group dinner downtown, almost everything would be closed.  Naturally, exploring the city on weekdays is more difficult here.

Luckily, we have days where we have organized DukeEngage trips, and we have days where we plan our own.  We’ve explored the historic town streets of Beamish, where we learned about a track system that lined the ceilings within old stores that were used for transporting cash.  We’ve explored a version of Research Triangle Park called Net Park, which is still largely in construction to provide venues for companies to be situated there.  I found this tour especially interesting and informative because it gave us an actual view of the current status of Durham’s economy.  We’ve learned already that it’s a post-mining economy, and many mining families and generations have had difficulty finding new employment.  What we hadn’t learned was the fact that start-up culture is less prominent and less welcomed in Durham, UK.  This struck me because it is a sharp contrast to the start-up culture in Durham, NC, where the city is known for being extremely welcoming to all creative ideas.  The two cities ended their respective thriving industries around the same period in the late 1900’s, so I wonder why one city had a faster transition into the necessary and helping start-up business scene.

Venturing out of Durham

We have had a few full days to ourselves here, which easily meant that we would try to venture to other parts of England.  We first explored Newcastle, which was a larger, more metropolitan area nearby.  My favorite part of that city was actually the market street that was filled with white tents occupied by independent sellers and food trucks with more countries’ cuisine than I’ve ever seen at once.  We also explored York, which is considered a larger Durham for the fact that it also has a castle and cathedral surrounded by cobblestoned streets with strings of small shops and eateries.  We walked along this one wall that the Romans built back in their time, which was another reminder that so much of these cities landmarks are older than anything that we could visit in the states.

Our more recent destinations were Whitby and Scarborough, which one of our supervisors generously drove us to; those two were coastal towns with beautiful views of the harbors and surrounding ocean.  We saw more castle ruins, ate fish and chips, and walked through what seemed like a milder version of a Jersey Shore boardwalk.  Having never explored cities without parents or guidance until this summer, I found it especially pleasing to just walk around a foreign place and welcome little cultural customs or simple surprises.

Leaving DukeEngage Durham-Durham

As one of the longer DukeEngage programs, these 10 weeks have definitely been packed with learning experiences and thought provoking moments.  It was rewarding to have the two cities experienced side by side, and I’m grateful to have worked in two completely different environments.  While DukeEngage is already a program that provides valuable and enjoyable experiences, being able to think critically during moments at work and moments on the streets of downtown made this experience the most rewarding.  I became more aware of my role in different places and among different people, and I gained a better sense of what kind of work style and life style I want in the future.  Thanks, DukeEngage!

harbor at Whitby
awkward family picture at Beamish
castle keep in Scarborough