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Sorry first-years, but Duke is not your home

Welcome home, Class of 2023—to living in a tiny room with a complete stranger.

By now, you’ve spent O-week (and probably most of the summer) being told how special you are; how lucky you are to reside in such a beautiful Gothic campus! Countless people have given you unsolicited advice on making the most of your $80k tuition, as you spend hours fretting over picking majors, clubs, and dorm essentials.

Although you’ve studied the campus map, somehow the buildings all blend together when you stroll down main quad. Here are some things you may have experienced already: back pain from that flimsy twin mattress. Attempting to shower while the girl in the next stall is puking her guts out. Trying to distinguish between Social Sciences and Social Psychology.

You’re feeling pretty lost.  

Maybe you don’t belong.

And yet for some ungodly reason, everyone keeps repeating to you: Welcome home.

Well, I’m sorry, but unless you’re an old senior (like me): Duke is not your home.

Not yet, at least.

If anything, it would be odd if you felt otherwise. One study reported that 94% of college freshmen felt homesick at some point during fall semester. I can tell you that all of my friends have felt isolated during sometime at Duke. There’s a lot of pressure on this campus to pretend that life’s perfect— isn’t getting into college supposed to be the hard part? Facebook paints a rosy picture where everyone is spending Friday night drinking cheap wine with their hallmates. So when the reality is laying alone in your bed, you start to wonder what’s wrong with you.  

But the truth is that (almost) everyone feels the same. It takes time to grow into a life at Duke. And honestly, it’ll probably take more than the couple of weeks, months, or year that everyone around you claims.

Moving into Duke for the last time, it feels surreal to reflect on how much has changed. Each semester has been a minefield of navigating new relationships. Even the physical campus has expanded during my time here. I watched West Union open four years ago. Since then, the start of each school year has been marked with construction: the Ruby, Hollows, and now the renovation of Pitchforks.

Part of the Duke experience has been finding the spots that are special to me. Walking down Chapel Drive during the fall, when the leaves are changing colors into red-orange and yellow. Taking a nap on a bench under a cherry blossom tree by the red bridge. Reading Being Mortal on the third floor of Rubenstein.

Duke is home, because Duke is where I’ve created three years of memories. The first fall semester in Southgate with my FOCUS. Joining an SLG. Taking a semester off via Duke in New York. Conducting research. Spending a summer in Florida. Working at a bank. Living in the Bay Area. Dropping and re-adding my Economics major four times. Pivoting into software engineering.

Planning out your Duke career is likely an exercise in futility—luckily, it’s the adventures along the way that have made this place so special. Even as full-time recruiting looms ahead, I am still unsure as to what I want to do. But that’s okay; the one thing that Duke can be relied upon to supply is constant change, and learning to embrace that has been the most important lesson.

I thought that Duke is where I would keep ticking off check-boxes. Instead, Duke is where I’ve felt love, rage, insecurity, happiness, anxiety, and a whole range of emotions that I didn’t even know existed. Duke is filled with pockets of silence where I can find peace and places of expression where I can be free. Duke is home, because I’ve built a life here—it will take a lot more time, but one day I hope that it will be for you too.

Felicia Chen is a Trinity senior. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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