In the last few days of this past semester, in between my last final exam and my flight back to Houston, I got the FOMO that I’ve come to expect, find amusing and also dread at the same time.
As I was packing my stuff and saying goodbyes, I realized that a bunch of people, some whom I was closer to than others, were staying in Durham for classes, research or some other opportunity. And the FOMO started getting to me—about missing out on the experiences that people staying on campus were having, the inside jokes and stories that I wouldn’t understand once the fall semester started up again. What if all my friend groups morphed, and what if that sickening feeling of “not belonging” persists?
That was when I realized that these thoughts were precisely the reason I needed to get away from Duke as quickly as possible, that my flight home was a blessing and not a curse, that outside the literal and metaphorical walls of the campus none of my concerns mattered and that I could finally focus on other things at home.
Duke, for all the things that it does well, is exceptional at making you think only about Duke. Some people characterize the “Duke bubble” as the never ending string of busyness and deadlines that come with classes and extracurricular involvements. Some people characterize it more literally, pointing out that it is possible (and perhaps too easy) to never step off Duke’s campus for months at a time. I like to characterize the bubble socially, as it also means that the only people whose opinion you care about is that of your peers.
For me, this got to the extent that almost all my columns from this past year have been about Duke’s social culture, starting from Orientation Week, through rush, through the end of my first year. I suspect this will also be the subject of most of my columns this upcoming semester. (Read: what seems to be the only thing about which I can write 800 words on a regular basis).
Now back home, I feel like being forced to think about Duke and writing something relevant to the Duke community is weird, as I haven’t thought nor talked about college much. Sure, people ask me what I plan to study, and sometimes I joke that our (now former) president’s name was unironically Dick Brodhead (thank you for your service), and sometimes I mention that the economics major t-shirts were misprinted as “economy” major t-shirts, and sometimes I say something about basketball.
Maybe I just spend a lot of time around non talkative people, but asides from these tidbits, none of the other stuff seems to matters.
This is depressing. It means that the stuff I spent hours fretting over this past year has no significance to others. But it’s at the same time liberating. It means that few mistakes are irreversible, the whole origin of the phrase, “What happens in (blank) stays in (blank).”
I recently found one of the essays from my Baldwin Scholars application in my OneNote notebook. I lost the exact prompt, but it was something like, “How would a close friend or family member describe you, and how are you different from that?” While I was working on the application, this prompt had bothered me. I was convinced that it placed me in a double-bind—either I had to be fake to the people I was closest to, or I just didn’t let anyone know me well enough.
I ended up writing about how I tried escaping any identity that people tried pinning on me, concluding with this: “Sometimes it feels like I'm endlessly striving to be the exception to some unwritten rule, a hypocrite who's motivated by fear of commitment to any one identity. And indeed, people also say that I'm defensive of any identity people pin on me. But I'd rather try on a wide range of personalities and identities that ever stay static.”
The Baldwin Scholars ended up being one of the many things I ended up getting rejected from, but that’s besides the point. Instead of being seeing as multi-faceted and beyond labels, I wonder if this just makes me seem...dull, as if nothing describes me.
It’s not like being at home is necessarily less restrictive. Having very unstructured days means that I have long stretches of leisure time, which quickly feels like a bubble of its own. This means that I spend a lot of time on my computer, a lot of time listening to music, a lot of time reading books, a lot of time finding stuff to occupy myself. It also means trying to figure out how to live my sophomore year so that it fits that elusive concept of “enough,” but that’s another column (Productive enough? Fulfilling enough? Happy enough? Impressive enough? Who knows?).
Clearly, I’m starting to ramble. I shall go back to being a recluse.
Amy Fan is a Trinity sophomore and a Chronicle columnist.