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During last week’s reflection session, I caught myself being hypercritical, as I’m trained to be. There were not enough hours in the day to engage with the community, hit the tourists spots, make friends with the people on the trip, and continue to learn about the country. I felt trapped in the 7th floor of a building in the heart of downtown reading reports and writing summaries. Where was my engagement?

For anyone who knows me, they know I’m an aggressive person. Aggressive about pushing myself past my comfort zone. Aggressive about creating opportunities. Aggressive about drinking every last drop of experience. The 7th floor intern desk grated against that. I had an image in my mind, a standard I had to reach, a summer I needed to sculpt, stretch, mold.

I was texting a friend, on a different DukeEngage program, and was expressing my qualms about everything I felt I needed to add to my checklist. He told me to stop worrying about the “things”. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, just experience it. I’m not supposed to bring my oversized baggage with me into a new realm. In attempting to construct experience, I destroy the very spontaneity that makes it so.

In understanding that this time is limited but life-changing, every inkling that slips away is mourned and cuts deep. But I have realized that the mountains I climb will be climbed by many more, the restaurants I frequent will not remember me, that my savior complex is just one of several more who try to cover it up. I will not leave an impact here, no matter how much my academic mind attempts to prepare for it. I am here to simply be.

As I write this, a guilt creeps over me. I should be writing about the places I’ve seen, the interactions I’ve had, the injustices that pervade this country. But that would, in effect, be confirming what I’m trying to let go of. I cannot continue to mold my thoughts, analyses, and reactions to fit a heuristic of what I think I’m supposed to get out of this summer. If you try too hard to live, maybe it’s not living at all.

So when I spontaneously walk into an exercise dance class at the gym, I can immerse myself in the infectious energy of the instructor. So when the staff banters with one another at work, I can laugh along with their jokes. So when we play foosball in a dimly lit local bar with a man who’s just looking for a game to pass the time, I can put down a two rand coin and smile. Memories cannot be planned or strategized. A country cannot be summarized and learned. A perspective cannot be haggled into. Experience, itself, comes from letting it all go.