Going home over Thanksgiving break has given me the clarity I need to finally write an open and honest column. Every article I have published this semester has been an exploration into my place here on campus; the focus of my writing for the past four months has been devoted to navigating the intricacies of Duke life in the hope that I would come out on the other end a more aware, well-rounded student. I have succeeded in that mission, just not in the way I thought I would. 

The sophomore slump has hit me harder than anyone prepared me for. I waltzed into the first day of O-Week expecting to finally know what I wanted out of my academics and my extracurriculars. I thought I would eventually declare public policy as my major, I was still a member of the dance team I joined freshman year, I rekindled the connection that I had with a lot of people who lived in my freshman year dorm, but that wide-eyed sophomore optimism lasted all of two weeks and, before long, I felt lost and out of place.

Pretty early into the year, I had a heart to heart with this semester’s Monday Monday about how plugged into Duke we both felt. Sparing you all the juicy details, we both felt like the stresses of Duke were sucking the life out of us. After that conversation, I vowed to be more intentional in every aspect of my Duke life. But, that was hard to do when every stable aspect of my life on campus was crumbling before me. This semester I have gone through an academic crisis that left me scrambling to find a major I could both enjoy and complete in the time I have left here (I eventually settled on Political Science, what a jump). I ended up dropping the dance team I enjoyed so much freshman year in the search for more free time. I saw the friendships I had work so hard to develop my first-year dwindle in the rush for us all to live well-rounded Duke lives. By the time Thanksgiving break came around, I felt completely disoriented by this semester.

So, how did being home for the break help me deal with the seemingly never-ending stressors of Duke? It made me realize that who am I at Duke and who I truly am back home in Texas is not the same Ryan, and that they don’t need to be. Back home, I am an easy-going, fun-loving kid willing to put the people he loves above any responsibility. I am a teenager that enjoys long drives and peanut-butter-pineapple smoothies. I am someone who can spend hours upon hours watching Family Feud taking breaks only to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off. I am a much more calm, confident version of the Duke student I can only aspire to be. 

Back on campus, I am consumed by the necessities of student life that plague us all: classes, friendships, a hefty workload, the list goes on and on. But being home for the break gave me a new appreciation for my place on this campus. I am finally ready to accept that things at Duke will be difficult a good bit of the time, that I might be clocking late nights and early mornings as I try to fit as much in a 24-hour period as I can, that I and those around me have to sacrifice deep connections to secure our bag. The realization that months of writing has prepared me to make is that this campus may never feel like home, and that’s okay because I will always have a place to retreat to when things get just a little too intense.

So, I’d like to thank Brockhampton, Beyoncé and my mom for helping realize that Duke is only four years of my life. While it might be the world’s longest, most intimidating four years, eventually the roller coaster will end, my heart rate will settle and my nerves will calm so that one day I can go back to being the Ryan I knew back when things were simple.

Ryan Williams is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays.