Looking back on the last couple weeks has already made me nostalgic and a little melancholy. I think this summer was exactly what I needed after an incredibly hectic and fast-paced freshman year at Duke. My love for this program comes from far more than simply an issue of scheduling, however. I am surrounded by people who I constantly learn from through both ordinary small talk and rigorous argumentation and I think that these interactions are something that I am missing in my academic and personal life at Duke. The nature of competition amongst talented students is out of Duke’s control, but nevertheless makes education feel more like a job and a game than a purely intellectual passion for learning and exploring. I feel constrained to the subject material and that choosing to branch off in paths outside of a class’ syllabus might be counterproductive to my time, sleep, and even my grades. I would love to be able to simply use higher education as a medium by which I can explore and learn only the things that I am passionate about, but at some point I must accept the reality that objective scores and classroom performance are important to my professional life. But this summer was a respite from the worst parts of my experience with higher education. It really was different here in Seattle and I hope I am not being overly pessimistic about the outlook of having more “intellectual” experiences at Duke.
The people here are constantly reading for fun while I can hardly finish the readings for my classes. They are well-informed about issues I’ve overlooked or didn’t consider particularly salient. They are able to advance coherent, logical, persuasive arguments in a rational and precise manner while remaining open to alternative opinions or perspectives. This was the intellectual experience I had wanted out of Duke University and one that was often overlooked partly because of time… but mostly because I didn’t try hard enough to make it a reality. I sought to take advantage of my time here and seriously enjoy the academic engagement and argumentation that the program offered me both at work and in my personal life.
I think the best way to truly understand the changes I made in my academic life is through is The Red Scare: a podcast focused on cultural commentary hosted by self-described bohemian layabouts Anna and Dasha. My friend Matt on the trip first suggested that I listen this because it was “ironic” and “kind of like ASMR.” I had made a conscious effort to become more open minded about art and tried my best to give every article, album, and link texted me to me a legitimate shot. The Red Scare instantly struck a chord with me and it felt as if I had been missing Anna and Dasha’s discussions in my life for a while. The show is part of a larger genre of leftist politics called the “dirtbag left” which commonly employs subversive vulgarity and absurdist humor. The podcast has definitely forced me to grapple with a variety of new arguments and has entertained me along the way with Anna and Dasha’s robust edginess.
I guess my point with The Red Scare is that this summer has been incredibly helpful for me in terms of developing as a college student and a person in general. Living with people with a variety of different personalities and interests has helped me refine my own personality and know what I want out of my education and who I want to surround myself with. This reflection isn’t really about the service aspect of DukeEngage, but I think that it’s incredibly helpful for incoming DukeEngagers next summer to think about. I think that my advice would be to immediately succumb to the process of personal change and the benefits of weirdness. Living with these extremely intelligent and motivated people certainly inspired me to seek improvement within my own life and also let me feel okay to explore “weird” stuff. It was really hard for me as a freshman to find my niche or even people who held similar political views as me, and it’s comforting coming out of this program to know that there are people who exist that will “get you” and appreciate the redeeming parts of your personality. I mean, the Red Scare stuff is really, really quite strange but it made me more confident knowing that my personally strange interests are shared and equally revered by other students at Duke. I just hope that my experience coming back will give me the same fulfillment. As I board my plane back home, I struggle to poke out any particularly strong regrets for the summer. I think that I made the most of this “once in a lifetime” opportunity by really being open to the idea of coming out of the program as a different person than the one who entered it. I have nothing but love for DukeEngage.