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As typical of any college student, I love free stuff. At Duke, that’s how I often found myself attending random speaker events or group info sessions, and how I ended up joining the Taiwanese American Student Association despite being neither Taiwanese nor American — I initially went for the food. It’s one of the many things I love about Duke, because the lure of free food and activities allows me to experience things I otherwise may have overlooked. It is also one of the best things about DC. All the free and cheap events keep life interesting and with the right people around me, there’s always something fun to do. I think these events are so valuable for bringing all cultures and groups of the community together, while being low-cost allows invaluable insights into worlds that would otherwise be inaccessible. I’m going to share a few exciting experiences and observations I had in DC in this world of affordable learning.

I attended the Made in Hong Kong Film Festival which screened a film called Shockwave. I was pleasantly surprised by the racial makeup of the audience; among all the controversies of whitewashing in Hollywood and the excuses that movies ‘need to appeal to the mainstream’ (meaning: Asian leads even in roles meant for Asians would not sell because we’re unappealing), I hadn’t expected this all-Asian cast to draw such a diverse group of people. I’m glad this event exists and is free, because I’d like the ‘mainstream’ audience to become more used to seeing Asian faces in all different roles on screen and to break the molds of being the wise old Kung Fu master, the tech geek or the exotic seductress for white men to conquer.

The other free activities I really appreciate are the educational boat tours and fishing events hosted by Anacostia Riverkeeper, the organization where I’m interning. The free boat tours allow people of all backgrounds and socioeconomic status to appreciate the beauty and richness of the river while learning about the history and development in DC. I didn’t know DC had a mated pair of bald eagles called Mr President and The First Lady, nor did I know the history of the Navy Yard. ARK’s Friday Night Fishing program was the first time I’d held a real fishing rod. Our free programs reach not only people already interested in the river, but those dragged along who come because ‘it’s free, why not?’ who may become inspired afterwards.

I also went to the stunning Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and Great Falls Park, places further away but still well worth visiting. Growing up in Bangkok means real green space is a rarity without traveling hours outside of the sprawling metropolis. DC has little pockets of public parks and these larger reserves that are accessible to anybody who can travel a little bit out of their everyday space.

I also attended a free comedy show at the Drafthouse Comedy Theater right next to the NYU dorm, absorbing that local humor and understanding DC that little bit more. All of these free spaces and events in DC brought me in contact with people, places and experiences I otherwise may have overlooked. I’m really glad the community believes in these affordable events — after all, I’m just being a good college kid.