As August drew to a close and the warmth of summer reluctantly yielded to the approaching autumn breeze, an air of excitement filled the minds of many of my fellow juniors at Duke. The end of summer heralded a time of reflection and choices, and for many, it marked the anticipation of a transformative semester ahead. Junior fall — a semester often synonymous with study abroad adventures, international escapades, and cultural immersion — was fast approaching. However, as most of my friends eagerly packed their bags and set their sights on international adventures, I found myself heading back to Durham.
Choosing to stay on campus during this fall wasn't a decision ever fraught with internal struggle. In fact, it was rooted in a deep sense of purpose and personal goals. The allure of studying abroad, with its promises of cultural immersion and worldly adventures, is undeniable. However, the academic opportunities on campus and the sense of finally feeling at home held the greatest appeal for me. Duke offers a wealth of resources; junior year provides an ideal window to capitalize on them. So, while many of my friends plotted their courses through foreign lands, I charted my academic journey within the familiar confines of Duke University.
One of the fundamental reasons behind my choice to stay at Duke during my junior fall was the growing sense that this campus had become a home away from home. Over the previous years, I had gradually built connections, established routines and cultivated a sense of belonging within the Duke community. As the campus transitioned from being a new and unfamiliar place to one that was comforting and familiar, I realized that I didn't want to leave behind a place that was just starting to feel like home.
The concept of "home" isn't solely defined by geography; it's also about the people, experiences and memories that make a place special. Duke has slowly but surely become that place for me. It is where I have formed deep friendships, engaged in transformative learning experiences and created lasting memories. Leaving all that behind, even for a semester, didn't seem appealing when I was finally beginning to feel grounded and connected.
By staying on campus, I’ve reaffirmed my commitment to nurturing the sense of belonging that has blossomed for me within Duke's hallowed halls. I want to continue building on the foundations I have laid and exploring the opportunities that the university has to offer. My decision wasn't just about choosing to stay; it was about investing in the sense of home that Duke had become.
However, while staying on campus offers inimitable unique advantages, it is not without its moments of stark contrast. The most noticeable of these is the campus itself, which feels markedly different, with most of my peers gone. The once-familiar bustle of students rushing to and from classes has been replaced by an eerie quietude, and the absence of familiar faces makes campus feel strangely deserted.
Yet another challenge is navigating the occasional (very occasional) pang of FOMO — the fear of missing out — as I watch my friends' social media feeds fill with breathtaking vistas, cultural experiences and tantalizing foods. Their stories paint a vivid picture of the ideal life abroad, and it’s often hard not to feel a twinge of envy.
But as I've discovered over the course of the last few weeks, the positives have outweighed the negatives — and by a lot.
Staying on campus has offered me a perspective and a set of experiences I could not have anticipated. First and foremost, it has allowed me to deepen my connection with the university itself. As I delve into my majors and immerse myself in academic projects, I have developed a profound appreciation for the academic resources at my disposal. Whereas last year, I was predominantly focused on going out and keeping up with my social life, this year has seen a deliberate shift in priorities. Staying on campus has enabled me to invest more time and energy in my academic pursuits, something I may not have fully realized if I had ventured abroad.
Moreover, staying on campus has created an opportunity for a sense of community that is often elusive on a bustling campus. This unexpected twist in my college experience has opened doors to unparalleled friendships and connections I wouldn't have anticipated. With most of my peers abroad, I’ve forged tighter bonds with the remaining students. The friendships I've begun to cultivate this semester with people in all different grades have been a testament to the camaraderie that can flourish when you're part of a smaller, more tightly-knit community.
My junior fall is a journey still in progress. It has been and will continue to be a semester of personal growth, academic exploration and building lasting friendships. It has reinforced the idea that there is no single "right" way to experience college and that the most fulfilling journey is often the one you carve out for yourself.
Barbara Cardenas is a Trinity junior. Her column typically runs on alternate Mondays.
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