The Sarah P. Duke Gardens are mostly closed due to the pandemic, but students can still go in for guided study breaks.
Since fall semester, the Duke Academic Guides Program has been holding monthly “Study Breaks at the Gardens.” During these hour-long trips to the Duke Gardens, students participate in a guided walk and other mindfulness exercises led by academic guides.
First-year Alex Hong went on two walks last semester and appreciated the opportunity to spend some time in nature.
“It was right before my second walk when I had three exams coming up, so I found that really helpful just to some fresh air to see nature,” Hong said.
“Students have enjoyed not only the beauty of the Duke Gardens but the opportunity to pause and reflect, something they feel unable to do during the at times during the chaotic semester,” wrote Joshua Sipe, academic guide for Edens Quad, in an email.
Academic guides have five program-wide walks planned this semester, on Feb. 25, March 25, April 8, April 22 and April 26, according to Sipe. Individual guides will plan walks for their specific quads.
Sipe noted that students seemed to enjoy these walks, particularly because it offers one of the few opportunities to visit the Gardens during the pandemic. Beyond relishing garden access, Sipe said, students have also benefited from the mindfulness activities offered on the walks as well.
Sipe wrote that one student expressed that practicing mindfulness on the walk was the first time they had taken time for themselves that week, and the practice helped ease the stress that they were feeling before coming to the Gardens.
Walks are limited to nine students per guide. Registration is required to ensure the appropriate number of guides is available for every walk, Hughes Debbie Hughes, Senior Academic Guide of Few Quad, wrote in an email.
By the end of the fall semester, 82 students participated across five scheduled walks, Hughes wrote.
“We have encountered enthusiasm for the garden walks from across the university,” Hughes wrote. “For example, one professor in the Department of Biology proposed that he could join us in inviting students to slow down and admire the complex beauty of plant structures. We welcome this sort of creativity and interest from the faculty and will happily coordinate with anyone who wants to explore the possibilities of expanding the intellectual and purposeful value of these walks.”
The academic guides are looking to improve a few aspects of the walks this semester.
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Sipe wrote that he hopes to add variety to the types of mindfulness activities offered on the walks, such as expressive writing and doodling.
The walks were inspired by conversations that academic guides had with students across campus about what they felt was missing from their Duke experience due to COVID-19, Hughes wrote. Many students expressed feeling confined to their dorm rooms and wished they had more opportunities to get out and connect with others.
Reflecting on his experience in the Gardens, Hong said that the reminder is to take care of ourselves.
“The biggest takeaway is mental health is super important, especially with being in isolation and online classes, so reconnecting with nature is a good break,” he said.
You can sign up for this month's study break at this link.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the guided study breaks are led by academic guides, not DuWell staff. The Chronicle regrets the error.