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Duke's honeymoon phase

My recipe for the first month of college: 

Meet the same people more than once and never remember their names, let alone their major. Get momentarily suffocated in the line for Shooters or the bathroom line at Devine’s. Nap during free time. Explore downtown Durham on a scooter. Fight for a spot on the 8:30am or 3:00pm C1 to go to class in castle-like buildings. Complete small syllabus assignments and readings in romanticized local coffee shops. Bus to random fields for subpar darties. Thursday nights out…rinse and repeat.

Flash forward to me writing this column—sitting on the painful grated bench outside of the Social Sciences building, eyes puffy from my third cry in 12 hours, the words my professor used to describe my first college paper circulating in my head. “Disturbing.” “Sloppily done.” “The most difficult essay to understand.”

The veil has been lifted and to plagiarize my professor: it is quite disturbing.

My expectations were low coming to college. I, like the majority of other first years, had come off of two years of online and hybrid schooling, lockdowns, COVID tests, and watching countless hours of TikTok. Knowing Duke was on the stricter side of COVID protocol for colleges, I was not expecting much of a change between my at-home and college life. 

But move-in on August 17th kickstarted the most jarring and euphoric month of my life—a honeymoon phase, if you will.

For those unsure about what exactly a honeymoon phase is, according to Scientific American, it is “that magical time in a relationship when your partner is still perfect and you are very much in love.” It is the time when every experience with them is new and exciting. The flaws of your partner have either yet to be revealed or are easily overlooked. 

For this column’s purposes, Duke is the partner in question. O-week was magical enough; our first tastes of full-fledged freedom supplemented by a sweaty, mystical cycle of getting ready, going out, and dancing until our ears were ringing from the loud music. 

Then, classes started and even that was new and exhilarating. I found that I had an actual interest in my courses as college allows for the opportunity to pursue those more liberally rather than the set credit requirements shoved on you in high school. Getting used to college assignments, professor teaching styles, and the bus schedules was a learning curve but did not produce any complaints on my end because once again, it was new and honestly, fun. 

Marketplace and WU were not any different. Walking into the dining halls for the first few weeks felt like the options were endless. I could have a bagel or a waffle or even pizza for breakfast, lunch at WU meant I could have sushi or pasta or crêpes, and dinner meant veggie burgers or a southern fried meal or cereal leftover from the morning. If anything, it beat being in charge of making my own meals like I was at home.

As someone who struggled to fit in their senior year of high school, college also presented the wonderful opportunity to “find my people.” And so far, I feel like I have. Throughout the first month, I would cry happy tears at least once a week that finally, finally I felt like I belonged somewhere.

I would rave to my friends and family back home about how wonderful Duke is; there was not a single flaw in sight. It was the honeymoon phase through and through. College was the change that I needed, but eventually every change becomes commonplace and is simply absorbed into how life was before. 

About a month in, midterms hit, work skyrocketed, and my mental health plummeted. Going out no longer appeals to me. My first college paper was a bust, as noted in the beginning of this column. The work for my classes seems to grow exponentially, even on weekends. I am getting taste aversion for Marketplace food—seven veggie burgers a week simply is not a sustainable habit or yummy in the slightest. My friends here are all in the same boat. Due to work and extracurriculars, we see each other less and the time we do spend together is mostly spent mitigating each other’s respective mental breakdowns.

I love Duke and the opportunities it has given me already, but the come down from the honeymoon phase has been brutal. As much as I want to go back to how things were when it was all shiny and new, it is time to accept that college is a lot more work than it is play.

It all leads me to think that maybe the condensation on the Shooters mirror is not from the mass sweat of hundreds of unwashed college kids, but the tears of Duke first years past, present, and future, mourning the loss of when college was less work and more play.

Olivia Bokesch is a Trinity first-year. Her column typically runs on alternate Wednesdays.  

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