By: Rachel Clausen, Duke ’15
Upon moving into my London flat last month, I quickly shoved my Nike shorts and Duke quarter-zip into the back of my closet. Two hours in this new city had taught me I would not be needing them. Many people compare London to New York City so I assumed I wasn’t in for much of a culture shock. I was completely wrong.
Everyone is well-dressed in London. People just rock their clothes in a different way than they do at Duke. On my second day, I walked into a TopShop and almost immediately turned around, convinced I was too American to wear any of the trendy clothes I saw on the racks. I took a deep breath and told myself to calm down as I glanced around the store. Looking at my European counterparts, I realized I didn’t have a light-up sign on my forehead blaring “AMERICAN.” I could wear whatever I wanted. No one knew I wasn’t cool enough to rock that leather skirt (just in case you don’t know me, I’m not).
Sometimes though, I think what they expect from me keeps me from expecting more from myself.
I love my friends and family more than anything and I love how well they know me. Sometimes though, I think what they expect from me keeps me from expecting more from myself. There’s something freeing about being away from all your friends who know your goods, bads, habits, and fears almost as well as they know themselves. If there was ever a perfect opportunity to reinvent yourself, study abroad would be it. In a new city with no other Duke students on my program, I quickly realized I could unveil a version of myself that no one had ever seen before (one who wears clothes from TopShop, perhaps?), and no one would ever know the difference.
After spending two years among the same crowd of people, it’s disconcerting being in a place where no one expects anything from you. They have no idea what you are and aren’t capable of, which, in a way, makes you capable of anything. No one on my program knows that up until this semester, I found cities extremely overwhelming and that doing anything alone gave me anxiety. No one knows that it’s a huge deal every time I navigate my way to class without Google Maps, successfully take the Tube to meet a friend for dinner, or make it to Paris without any problems. If you had never met me before, you might think that I’ve always been a confident traveler. Now, I kind of am.
The freedom that comes with living on my own in a new city is the perfect opportunity to become the person I’ve always wanted to be: a more independent and refined version of myself. While I really miss my Nike shorts and the familiarity of Duke, I’m so glad I wasn’t too scared to take on this European adventure.