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Duke in Durham

Ah, spring break, study abroad, and summer… don’t those words just get the wanderlust in your blood going? While the mere thought of new adventures has me jumping up and down, I also wonder why we find ourselves waiting for breaks and exotic locations to access the thrill of traveling. After all, most of us are not native to Durham, and going to school here meant moving away from home and implanting ourselves into this new country, state, or city, which is only compounded by how most of us have never even spent more than a few days on campus or in the Triangle area before checking yes on that enrollment box. Why shouldn’t Durham be able to sate our wanderlust?

To be fair, Durham is no major metropolis and might seem to be moving at a lethargic pace depending on where you’ve previously lived. And for that reason, I can understand why people look forward to summers in New York and semesters in London– the hustle and bustle of those hubs is integral for feeling the pulse of certain industries (though that is not to say we should underestimate how up and coming Durham is). Yet while our campus address says Durham, we’re still connected to the greater Triangle area, and are pretty centrally located in  North Carolina; there’s nature and hiking to the west, waves and sand to the east, and plenty of cities littered in between.

Roadblocks do exist to fully exploring Durham, yet people are otherwise willing to accept those same challenges when it comes to other traveling situations. Perhaps you don’t have a car at Duke, yet most people wouldn’t ship their car to another continent (GoPass anyone?). We adapt to that impediment in foreign cities, where we can overcome linguistic barriers to figure out strange trams and metros, where we accept that the soles of our shoes will get decent wear, because we proudly subscribe to the creed that the journey is better than the destination. With all the landmarks, alleyways, and people you see on the trek from point A to point B, the commute in novel areas rivals the final destination in and of itself. Though concerns about safety in some parts of Durham are legitimate, they can be mitigated and they’re not unique to Duke. We should always put on an extra cloak of vigilance when we’re in a foreign environment anyways.

Still, I’m hard-pressed to believe that all of the barriers to enjoying our local environment are physical, pragmatic, or logistic. I believe that the fruits of traveling come about not from buying a new plane ticket, but from adopting a new mindset, as I realize that when I’m traveling, some switch in me sparks where my senses recalibrate and I attune myself to appreciate what might otherwise pass as mundane. Every new street merits a photograph (no really, I like standing in the middle of what I think are empty streets to take pictures, only to realize that there are honking cars headed my way), street food is a culinary paragon, and subway musicians are the damn philharmonic orchestra. I feel like it’s definitely easier to have the endurance to tap into this part of yourself when you’re somewhere abroad– maybe this is not your goal when you’re taking a couple days off to hedonize in tropical paradise, but I think this is the idealistic  goal of people who want to study abroad. In the latter scenario, your goal is cultural immersion through host family stays over hotel rooms, through local trattorias instead of chain restaurants, and through subway cars instead of chartered transportation.

This mindset is also catalyzed by the impermanence of travel and the sheer novelty of never having been somewhere. You digest quotidian interactions differently when you recognize that they are but temporary deviations from the norm, and if we want to talk science, the neural mechanism behind how your brain stores information for the first time is different from how it would store information you’ve already had some exposure to. Think of the wonder with which a child perceives the world, when every new adventure is magical and they can be captivated by something as simple as a stick for half an hour. They imagine with purpose, genuinely relish exploring, and have a profound appreciation for all these new experiences they’re having. Moreover, to be fair, the way other people perceive experiences can shape the way you do, for if Paris and its trademark attractions are glamorized as romantic places, knowing about that bias impacts the way you will think about Paris. Travel brochures can get to your head, and well, if there were some for Durham, they wouldn’t quite be Paris-caliber. So while everyone processes the same event a little differently, effective tourism marketing and even a rudimentary cultural background of where you are can skew your perceptions.

Maybe you’ve read all this, and can understand some of my points, but you’re still wondering what a change in mindset will really do. Would traveling lose its magic if it became such an everyday thing? For many of us, Duke is a breeding ground for stress, and we relish the idea of getting away because we need that compartmentalization, that physical distance to truly let our guard down. To be fair, the dilemma with managing work and free time is still relevant in a study-abroad scenario, but for most vacations, people tend to leave their work at home. While I love how traveling can be such a transcendental experience, in thinking what exactly it is about traveling that gets us going, we can poke holes in the insulating “Duke bubble.” Duke’s relation with Durham is lacking, although there are some fantastic campus organizations and groups that strive to solidify the Durham-Duke link. We don’t need to be so blazon as to rename ourselves Duke University in the City of Durham (Columbia University in the City of New York anyone?), but working towards forging more meaningful connections with the Durham community would do us well. Furthermore, I believe that becoming invested in making those kinds of connections requires a basal appreciation for Durham, our home for four years.

On a lighter note, studies do show that smaller, more periodic trips make people happier than sparse, longer trips, so I’d encourage you to take just five minutes to really admire a local mural in Downtown Durham (there’s a poignant one at the intersection of Main Street and Gregson Street). I’m a firm believer that traveling can bring out the best in people (but also the worst, as I think a valid personality litmus test is to see how worked up someone gets over something as trivial as a fifteen minute flight delay), so I don’t see why we shouldn’t strive to bring a part of our “best” vacation selves back to Durham.

Web Design: Murti Mubin

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