Sitting down to reflect on the past eight weeks, it is becoming more apparent that, since I am about to be a senior at Duke, this is my last “summer vacation” between school years. While I have had jobs and lived quasi-independently in the past, when I decided to participate in this program, I thought of it as an interesting test run for life after college; living in a new city with people I had never met before, commuting to an office job five days a week. Throughout the summer, I have of course noticed all the ways in which the program differs from the real world — there are no program directors, site coordinators or free weekend excursions in real life. This summer may have just been a small taste of being an adult, but it has caused me to think a lot about what I want and do not want out of life after college.
As a college student, I am used to living my life in increments of fifteen weeks. I am used to the transitions, and throughout college I have become more and more comfortable with the idea that nothing is particularly permanent. A new semester can mean a new home with a new roommate and always means a new schedule with a new work load, and new activities causing you to spend time with different friends. It seems like right when I think I have almost figured out how to balance everything, the semester ends and I start over. In college you are not on your own schedule, you adhere to a predetermined pattern of forced transitions. Despite things rarely feeling settled or wrapped up completely, I have come to somewhat look forward to the change and the opportunity to experience as much variety as possible while at Duke. These forced transitions keep me moving forward, always thinking about what is next. There is always a chance to adjust and shape my experience in the next block of time.
Most life experiences after college have no halfway point or countdown until a transition that will happen regardless of if you are ready for it. Stages of life no longer last only fifteen weeks.
This summer, I have been even more aware of how fleeting my experiences are at this stage of my life. After this week I will be leaving New Orleans with no guarantee that I will ever be back. This has been very obvious in every aspect of my summer, at work and in free time. Frequently reminding myself of this motivated me to see and do as much as possible. While my supervisors value me and the work I am helping them with, they see me as a temporary fixture; a guest passing through to lend a hand for two months — and how could they not? My presence is an eight-week blip in their lives. In college every fifteen-week chunk of time, whether a summer or a semester, seems like a monumental component of our four-year experience, but that is not how it works outside of college. While at Duke, a semester passes in the blink of an eye, but it is amazing how much can happen in fifteen weeks in a college setting. This summer is the first time I have really noticed how much this contrasts to life after college.
My coworkers and bosses have spent years following an everyday routine that I began two months ago and will finish at the end of this week. I remember throughout my summer acknowledging time markers — the first quarter, the halfway point, etc. All of life in college can be broken down like that. Time is organized in concrete blocks. Most life experiences after college have no halfway point or countdown until a transition that will happen regardless of if you are ready for it. Stages of life no longer last only fifteen weeks. I have seen in my workplace that you could have the same daily routine for years. I like routine, it is stable and comfortable; however, a side effect of stability is the potential for stagnation, apathy, and restlessness. After college, if you want a transition, you have to actively seek it out and either create or seize an opportunity for change.
Duke Engage-New Orleans has been a fantastic summer experience and I would not change the fact that I participated in this program or worked where I did. That being said, my placement was not exactly what I had hoped for as there was not a lot of community interaction and it was not as related to my fields of study as I would have liked. I did not really mind this, because my work kept me busy, I felt like I was capable of doing a good job and I was always entertained and having a good time in my work environment. I was content in my placement because I knew I was doing what the organization needed me to do, to the best of my ability. This experience is about serving the community and the organization in the ways that they need you to, not in the way I would prefer. I know, however, that I would not want to work in this job or a job like this one after graduation, but for eight weeks it has been a great learning experience and I am proud to have contributed to my organization in any way I could.
After college, I will have to assume a lot of new responsibilities. There are mundane ones like paying my own phone bill, and finding a new dentist wherever I move. I am not exactly looking forward to those, but I have no doubt that I can handle them. The more daunting thing to me is that if I am not satisfied with my job or my location or my career path, I cannot fall back on sucking it up for fifteen weeks and then knowing better when making choices for the next fifteen. It will become my responsibility to not only recognize and accept when I need a change, but also to fully facilitate any transition on my own schedule.