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A letter from Washington

I’ll admit that the title of this piece is directly inspired by Susan Glasser’s current column for the New Yorker. Every Friday, Glasser relays a summary of the most soap opera-esque political happenings of the past 7 days in Washington. In her well-oiled, snappy tone, she often leaves the reader with an almost tangible sense of fear regarding our country’s ever weakening grip on sanity, morality, and/or democracy. Some would argue that a healthy amount of fear about the current state of political affairs is well warranted, and mind you I do not completely disagree. However, if given the chance, I will not hesitate to frolic to my heart’s content underneath the cherry blossom trees that frame Washington’s National Mall – all the while sipping on an objectively overpriced iced coffee and doing my best to embody Scandal’s Olivia Pope.

If you didn’t already guess, I am a part of the Duke in D.C. cohort this semester. And yes, my Instagram story has been what one might expect from the stereotypical person who won’t shut up about how studying abroad (or in their own nation’s capital) completely altered their life path. But alas, I have decided to try my hand at relaying the core realizations I’ve had so far as a Duke student away from Durham for a semester – but with an optimistic spin uncharacteristic of Glasser, as I’m not too jaded just yet.

While the Duke in D.C. cohort is not abroad in the sense that we are in a different country, we are away from campus – but not too far away, as Apple Maps would verify. Before arriving in D.C. I worried that I would seriously experience a lot of FOMO from not seeing gothic architecture every moment of my waking life. I debated between which club commitments I should keep and which I should pause for the semester because, after all, Washington and Durham are in the same time zone and most club meetings happen over Zoom anyways, riiiight? I justified this backwards logic to myself like a true madwoman, worried my friendships would fade and the rapport I’d built in different areas of my campus-centric life would vanish. 

Upon starting the D.C. program, my worries of FOMO quickly subsided. Of course, I often ping back and forth texts with my friends in Durham and have them spill the relevant campus tea. Admittedly, I would’ve loved to physically lay eyes on the post-UNC bench burning, despite the burning’s surplus BeReal documentation that provided relatively high quality 360-degree coverage of the flames. But alas, here I am in Washington, with a pool of Duke students who are statistically 5x more likely to have watched The West Wing than the general student body (this claim is currently unsubstantiated and actively awaiting a Bass Connections team to back it up). 

As we reach the semester’s halfway point, I can actively say I have no regrets about my decision to spend this spring based at Duke’s embassy-like office on Pennsylvania Avenue. The townhouse where the Duke cohort is living has been unofficially renamed the Duke Home, to account for the warm and fuzzy feelings the cohort has grown to share for our dynamic. My friends on campus, whom I visited with this past weekend, fell easily back into our rhythm of conversation and, to my knowledge, not one of them had yet forgotten I existed.

When I reflect on my experience so far in D.C., my memory is flooded with countless metro rides, a lively karaoke night, some badly burnt loaves of bread, and too many late-night political conversations where someone had to play the Devil’s Advocate yet again. Even with a group of Duke students not too closely connected before this semester started, it didn’t take long for the pieces of our personalities to easily find their grooves and snap together  – encapsulating all of the quirks and senses of humor we carried here with us from our varied lives back on campus.

To conclude like one might expect from the quintessential ‘study abroad’ (or away) person I have become, I urge you to follow me. Whether you’re frolicing under a cherry blossom tree in D.C. next spring or another country entirely, don’t let the fear of missing out on what’s happening on campus hold you back from leaving Duke’s gothic gates.  

Chloe Decker is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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