The first week of freshmen year is filled with beautiful and perhaps eye-opening moments of learning, wonder, revelation and awkward introductions. There are the new friends to meet, ones you will keep forever! The Gothic Wonderland to explore! The college-level classes that will determine your future career! The parties that you can talk to your grandchildren about! It’s all very exciting!
Unfortunately, in my experience the first week of every other year is filled with intense avoidance of every one I know, the despair of having deadlines after a summer of pleasant stagnation and the exhaustion of getting dressed around your roommate when all one you wants to do is watch Netflix and not wear pants (I love you Simone, but this is true).
I could be the anomaly here, but I don’t think I am. At least please tell me I’m am not or I will have to seriously consider the consequences of my current lifestyle. And I don’t mean to be jaded, because it is exciting to be back in the energetic world of school and around the air of possibility that Duke offers. There’s something special about being to be surrounded by thousands of motivated, young people and feeling intellectually inspired by professors that who are more intelligent and have more books in their office than I will ever have.
But amongst all that excitement, the reality of post-summer blues for some people, like me, is often lost and smothered. Perhaps the thought of a new semester holds nothing but positivity and anticipation for you (hey there freshmen) and that indeed is a fine way to feel. But perhaps the thought of a new semester, with all its busyness, and stresses and unknown challenges, holds something weightier. As a junior, I have faced every new semester with a mingled dread and excitement, never quite throwing off my post-summer blues. I avoid people and glare from the back row in class. In short, I act like a sulky gnome not because I dislike people (hey you, I missed you) or because I hate my classes (Professor Charney, you are fabulous) but because I just can’t bear to say goodbye to summer. Please, just not yet.
When we’re college students, we seem to live split lives. There is the place we will learn scary things about ourselves that will stay with us forever, but also the places in between where we return home or fly to new lands. On one hand, there is the well-worn routine of classes, games, lunch dates and late nights, but on the other hand, for a third of the year, we’re out in the world doing things that might one day become stories we pass on.
And one of the most wonderful things about this school is that whatever unique vision for your summer you have, wherever you want to go in the world, Duke can easily make that possible. You can take classes in a place where the language is foreign and the food burns your tongue. You can work for a company that shows you what a meaningful career looks like, do research that pushes you to want better for the future of science or spend it basking in the sun with the people you love most. The world is a big oyster.
But after four months of a life in a different place, how do you reconcile that world with the world of Duke?
I can see, in my mind, an image of how it will happen. Time heals everything, they say, and this is truer than I probably like to admit. Weeks will pass, and the view of the Chapel will cease to seem quite as magnificent. The faces in my class will become more familiar and the integration of Panda Express in my well-balanced diet will happen. The walk from my room to Perkins will actually start to feel reasonable. The memories of the summer, with the hot sun baking down and the cold, icy drinks slipping down my throat, the adventures running through the back streets of a city I didn’t know, this will fade to a pleasant, distant thought.
I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want to forget, because this summer I learnt about the difference between happiness and joy. I met people that taught me to be brave and fearless in the pursuit of dreams. I changed. Whatever you did, I’m sure you return to Duke a little different, a little older than you were in the Spring. And while time heals everything, it should also teach. Rather than forget the lessons of the summer, I am going to do my best to live them at Duke. Being joyful, kind, appreciative, and brave—these are qualities that I can bring with me no matter where I am, and I mean to try.
Eventually people will stop asking about your summer and mine. Eventually talk will turn to midterms and football and who’s dating who. But for now, I won’t stop boring you with tales of that time I tried biking to a village in Italy and ended up hitch-hiking with an interesting old couple or talked with a café owner in England who changed my mind about family...not just yet.
Isabella Kwai is a Trinity junior. This is her first column of the semester. Follow her on Twitter @tallbellarina.