I was sold on my first visit to Duke. I fell in love with the scenic campus and the magnificent Gothic architecture.
But it wasn’t really Duke.
You never truly get the authentic experience when you’re a tourist, and college campuses are no exception.
We all start out with more or less the same image of Duke—the one presented in campus visits and orientation programs. Over time, the shiny tourist experience, brimming with the promise of new opportunities, gives way to reality—relearning how to navigate campus every few months thanks to constant construction projects, missing those interesting shows you swore you’d go to in favor of coffee-fueled all-nighters and realizing that some of those great opportunities don’t want you as badly as you want them. The places you frequent aren’t as glamorous as you imagined. The Duke experience isn’t shiny, but it is, above all, uniquely yours.
So, incoming freshmen, future applicants and prospective visitors, toss out your glossy pamphlets. Here’s the truth.
Duke Chapel. The most recognizable landmark of the University, the Chapel is a magnificent Gothic structure towering 210 meters over West Campus. It mainly serves as an invaluable Instagram opportunity to remind others how lucky you are to live in the vicinity of such a beautiful sight. (Even though you’ll usually rush past it without so much as a second glance on your way to a class that started two minutes ago.)
Perkins Library. The library is busy on weekday nights, crowded on weekends and absolutely packed during exams. You’ll spend more time trying to find a seat than you’ll spend time actually working. The second and fourth floors are quiet areas with soft couches by the windows that are perfect for both studying and napping between classes. The Link, in Perkins’ basement, has a more laid-back atmosphere. It accommodates group-study with booths and classrooms that are always occupied unless you get there before sunrise to claim your territory.
Duke Hospital. Easily accessible to students from West Campus, the Duke Hospital is a veritable maze. If you learn to successfully navigate it, you can reach the Holy Grail: Chik-fil-A.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens. One of my personal favorite places on campus, the gardens offer a diverse collection of plants and many peaceful grassy areas for relaxing or studying. Occasional sights include wedding ceremonies, photo shoots and Duke students aspiring to fulfill their unofficial graduation requirements. Unless you routinely walk through the gardens to travel between Central Campus and West Campus, you likely won’t go too often, considering they’re inconveniently far from most campus housing and, for half the year, it’s way too cold to lay outside—not to mention, winter is not kind to the plant life.
Cameron Indoor Stadium. The energy of a Duke basketball game is unbelievable! No tour or description can do justice to how insane this place is during games. It makes camping out in cold, muddy K-ville and dealing with wet socks totally worth it.
Shooters. While it’s technically not on campus, Shooters is an undeniably important facet of Duke culture. It’s a dimly lit Western-themed club with a mechanical bull you can ride, a hanging cage in which you can dance and a mirrored wall on the dance floor where you can see yourself making bad decisions. Shooters is a blast the first few times, but then the novelty of it fades. You’ll soon find yourself complaining about how nasty it is, yet still returning on Wednesdays and Saturdays to a haze of alcohol, sweat and regret.
This short guide of Duke’s most frequented locations is far from a complete list of what the University has to offer, because there is no guide to a unique experience. Duke means something different to each and every person. When I think of Duke, I think of turkey club sandwiches at Twinnie’s and traversing Science Drive, which somehow turns into an uphill trek no matter which way I walk. I think of friends’ dorm rooms and Cosmic Cantina, while others might recall the hallowed halls of the Chapel or long nights in the Teer Building.
Duke, like any college, is what you make of it. The places that mean the most to me are not necessarily the same places that would fill a brochure, but they are the ones that define my college experience—and you know what? Although I’ve learned that the Duke experience is far from picture-perfect, I’m still sold.
Pallavi Shankar is a Trinity sophomore. This is her second column in a biweekly series during the summer.