The world that doesn't go to Duke
Beach Week is a difficult phenomenon to explain. While our high school friends who attend other universities make the long drive home to doting parents and a free laundry service, us Duke students throw our belongings into storage units, load up as much Burnett’s and Keystone Light as possible into cheap plastic coolers hand-painted by sorority girls and speed down Interstate 95 to the Redneck Riviera of Myrtle Beach, S.C. There, sometime between our third consecutive 1 p.m. breakfast at a pancake house and our first surreptitious swig of sand-tainted Corona Light (although, to be completely honest, the order is more often than not the opposite), we reflect upon the struggles the past two semesters entailed and the struggles still to come. For one hedonistic week sandwiched between finals and DukeEngage Academy, we can unwind and think.
During one of those admittedly brief periods of introspection, one of my friends from home texted me asking if I had survived my third consecutive night at the Spanish Galleon, a club like Shooters but with twice as many bars, four times as many cages and half the number of Durhamites. I responded sarcastically, bemoaning the high concentration of mini golf courses and tramp stamps. “Honestly, I don’t even know why I go to Myrtle,” I told her. “I wouldn’t touch this place with a ten-foot pole if every other Duke student wasn’t here too.”
In the grand scheme of things, my admittedly elitist perspective on Myrtle is uncommon—some 14 million people visit the area each year, and Myrtle Beach International Airport offers flights to far away cities such as Dallas, Boston and Toronto. When I interned at a nonprofit a half-hour inland from the South Carolina coast, some people expressed their envy—after all, I was so close to Myrtle Beach that I got caught in its Los Angeles-esque weekend traffic on a regular basis. I was shocked—how could someone want to go there for something other than a dirt-cheap, week-long, Aristocrat-and-Red-Bull-fuelled bacchanal, let alone a family vacation?
Perhaps I have always harbored such sentiments—my ideal vacation involves a cabin on a secluded Caribbean island, not a concrete-block hotel surrounded by tourist traps and discount t-shirt shops—but only since coming to Duke have I truly become aware of them. We view the real world, the one in which the 313 million Americans not attending our university and the 14 million who visit Myrtle Beach live, through a different lens. Whether or not our perspective is superior is debatable. On one hand, we learn from leaders in the fields we are studying, not television pundits and our drunk uncles. We are painfully aware of our various privileges, be they based on race, gender, sexual orientation, income or Shooters bull-riding ability, and are more than willing to check them and make others do so as well. On the other hand, the “Duke bubble” affects more than students’ willingness to journey into the big, scary city of Durham, N.C.—it follows us upon our departure from campus, whether for a summer or forever.
The “Duke difference,” so to speak, became even more obvious to me as I got to know students attending other institutions who are part of my summer study abroad group. When discussing our post-Berlin plans, I mentioned I was going to Cape Town, South Africa, to take on an unpaid internship for a local nongovernmental organization. One of my classmates, who attends a large state university during the academic year, was surprised and asked how I could do something like that considering the price of tuition. She, for one, was planning to get an hourly job, or two, in order to pay the rent for her off-campus apartment. I explained that, while I could afford to work a grand total of zero hours for wages over the summer because of a scholarship stipend, many students took on unpaid internships thanks to a Career Center initiative that subsidizes selected students’ cost of living should they earn less than $1,500 from working for an organization. “I wish we had something like that,” she said, raising her eyebrows. Never before had I felt like such a jerk discussing the incredible resources Duke students have.
Of course, the traits and experiences that garnered us a letter of acceptance from the Gothic Wonderland in the first place often lead to further opportunities down the road not available to many students attending less prestigious institutions, but we should nonetheless remember not to take them for granted. Just because we work for Zimbabwean nature conservancies and Big Three consulting firms over the summer instead of our uncle’s pizza parlor and choose Myrtle Beach for its affordability more out of choice than out of necessity does not mean the rest of the world does, and remembering this reality is critical to maintaining our connection to the rest of the world—the world that doesn’t go to Duke.
Tom Vosburgh is a Trinity junior. This is his first column in a biweekly series during the summer.