I wish I hadn't come to Duke

—just so I could experience it all over again. 

To be completely honest, coming to Duke was possibly one of the last things I had ever expected. My first time visiting Duke’s website was in late December, three days before the application deadline while writing the “Why Duke?” essay. It was a process I knew so well that, by the time I was able to finish most of my applications, I even had a template for the introduction and conclusion of these essays, in which I simply had to copy and paste the name of the university: 

“For much of my high school life, my passions for language and computer science existed in different orbits. Language helped me better understand my own identity and reconcile the cultures I grew up in, while computer science challenged my preconceptions of the world time and time again, allowing me to see the bigger picture. 

Through [University Program], I can put my curiosity for linguistics and computer science to work, initiating a language preservation program to traverse the U.S and record indigenous languages at risk of extinction. By combining linguistic recordings and computer science, I hope to create a living “language ark” that preserves the culture and knowledge inherent in language. At [University Name], the opportunities and perspectives offered would allow me to bring my dreams to life.” 

Yes, I was genuine with the things that I had written, but after seventeen “Why [University Name?]” essays, everything felt so formulaic to the point where I wasn’t sure if the words actually meant anything. For variation, I’d occasionally toss in some big words like “identity” and “intellectual thirst” (don’t ever use this, please), and, of course, the big, daunting “passion”. I was tempted to put “can cook amazing Shin Ramyun” and “ability to binge-watch four seasons of Black Mirror in five days” as my passion, until I realized there wasn’t any major or program, at any university that I knew for that fact, that I could connect these passions to.

Before coming to Duke, I had only known one thing about North Carolina—that it was next to South Carolina. Do you want to know what I knew about South Carolina? That it was next to North Carolina! OK, clearly, I didn’t know a lot about Duke. Most of my expectations had come from the first season of Euphoria, mostly the parties and an absurd amount of glitter, that symbolized everything adult and glamorous that was missing from my high school experience. For me, high school experience was not so much boring as it was “glitter-less”. I always felt like I was missing some essential part, so I projected my expectations onto “The College Experience®” 

So, during the first semester of freshman year, I was determined to have the time of my life: to make a lot of dumb decisions, regret them the next day, and then make even more dumb decisions. And dumb decisions I did make—a lot of them, and honestly, I’m happy I did. 

I remember heading to a frat party, and promptly wasting thirty dollars on the Uber back 40 minutes after arriving. I see how they can be fun, but I realized that I spent most of the time sitting in the corner trying to hear my inner dialogue over the trembling bass and thirty whole minutes of Drake on repeat.

I’ve come to learn that there is no set “College Experience”, that we all experience and enjoy college in different ways, and that is the way it should be. It’s not a new revelation or anything, but it’s a message we tend to forget while navigating the currents of social life and academics. Sometimes, the more introverted side of me just wants to stay in and play the Kazoo (best investment I’ve ever made) on a Friday night, and that’s totally fine. 

Freshman year was a period of self-exploration too: I went through several phases with my hair. At first, I wore a headband because my hair kept on getting in my face (and sometimes my mouth), and, when I would lower my head to eat, it would swing from the top of my forehead like Tarzan from the top of a jungle. Then, I had a brief hat phase & tried to base my personality on that, and then I had an indie music phase and tried to base my personality on that, and now I’m not even sure if I have a personality anymore, which is fine, I just haven’t made the effort to explore the chaotic mess that is my mind.  

Recently though, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one besides me really cares that much about how I look; people, in general, have too much to worry about to care about you. And I don’t mean that in a cynical way, more in like a just-be-whatever-you-want way.

A small tip for insecurities, for example something like “I’m wearing mismatched socks, everyone’s judging me”: apply that insecurity onto someone else, by which I mean think about the times you noticed the socks of other people. On a busy day, we pass by a minimum of 100 people, possibly more. Let’s say someone did catch a glance at your mismatched socks, what would happen? Maybe they’ll spend a second or two thinking “Huh, interesting”, and then poof, out of sight out of mind. Think about the people you passed by yesterday, did you judge their socks? Do you remember what socks any of them were wearing? Do you even remember anyone (excluding friends and acquaintances) you passed by? 

To any incoming freshman, college is like a road trip: there will be ups, there will be down, and there will be times when you’re stuck at a Target parking lot at 3 AM trying to find your way back, but know that you will grow, you will change, and you will have your moments here, even if they are, sometimes, not what you expected.

Spencer Chang is a Trinity freshman. His column runs on alternate Thursdays.

Spencer Chang profile
Spencer Chang | Opinion Managing Editor

Spencer Chang is a Trinity sophomore and an opinion managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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