They have these live theater shows in New York City where you walk around a house filled with actors performing a play. You’re “watching” the show, but it’s happening around you…. You’re even a prop sometimes.
That’s how I felt on the first day back at Duke. Like everyone was hustling and bustling around me, and I was just watching, taking it all in.
People make jokes about how post-abroaders talk about their experience by saying, “I have this fresh perspective” or “my life has been changed.”
But I think that’s just how we explain it when people want a quick answer. At least those are the clichés I use to explain it.
But what I really want to say is: “Abroad made me so over it.”
Abroad made me sOOOooOOoooo over it.
Let me explain.
Not over it in the sense that I am frustrated and fed up with Duke, or life. Not over it in the sense that I am giving up. But over it in the sense that I realize that a lot of things I spent so much energy caring about are petty things that other people don’t care about.
I must clarify that when I say I am “over it” I most definitely do not mean that I am now “above it.” It’s not that at all. Instead, I simply do not feel a sense of overwhelmed obligation to live my life in the way that I had been living it before I went abroad. I am over sacrificing my own health to climb an intellectual and social hierarchy. I am over pretending to have it all together. I am over thinking that people are analyzing my every move. I am over doing something for the sake of doing it, especially when I learn nothing about myself or the world through it.
You know, I spent all this time last year so concerned about what everybody thought.
Does that person notice me doing this or that? Or, worse, does that person notice me NOT doing this or that? Do people think I’m nice? Do people think I’m pretty? The questions go on and on.
Guess what, guys? People. Don’t. Care!!!!!!
Let me say that again.
People. Don’t. Care.
Do you hear that?
People don’t care!
So, sure, make fun of us abroaders. We come back and we don’t care one little bit about who’s having what party or who’s who or who’s gained weight or who got what internship.
But that’s not because we’re above it. It’s because we’ve stepped outside of this Duke environment long enough to realize that no one cares. And that the people who do care are caught in a giant lie: that people care and that these hierarchies matter. And the worst part is that the people “stuck” here unfortunately cannot free themselves of this lie because they do not know any other environment. They have remained here, thinking that all environments thrive off such a lie.
Maybe you’re frustrated that post-abroaders give short, cliché answers about abroad. I want you to know that they’re not doing that because they don’t want to tell you about it. They’re not giving you a short reply because they think the answer is too much to say in a short interaction. Instead, they’re giving you those rote answers because they’re probably a little overwhelmed about how to talk about it. Because we realize we need to let you in on a little secret. And this secret is life-altering, friends.
And what’s the secret?
That even though many people at Duke can get caught in the lie that this environment feeds, not everyone has to believe the lie and not everyone has to live like they believe it.
You know, I started this blog in the middle of my freshman year when I realized these lies. I realized that people at Duke were going to incredible lengths to prove things they did not need to prove—that they were enough, that they were smart, that they were capable, that they could change the world.
And it’s all well and good that I saw that, that I understood that people are living this lie. But it doesn’t do much good if I see the lie and continue to live it.
I didn’t just live the lie. I drowned in the lie. At the end of sophomore year, I wanted out. I wanted to never return to Duke. That’s a huge statement! But thanks in part to going abroad, I learned that I don’t have to drown. I don’t have to give in to the lies that are being thrown at me.
And let me also clarify: I had an amazing semester not because I screwed around and never did homework. In fact, my classes were no joke and for the second half of my program I was interning 9am to 6pm. I had an amazing semester because I was removed from everything familiar to me and thrown into a new environment built around intellectual curiosity, independence, and exploration—of myself and of the world. This new environment did not involve resumes or meeting the right people or partying with the right people or wearing the right clothes (who can keep up with European fashion, anyway) or even speaking the right language. It only involved doing…. Me, doing what makes me happy and what helps me learn the most about myself and about the world.
Friends, that is the POINT of college: to learn as much as we can about ourselves and the world. But we somehow lost sight of that during our ninth memo and fourth econ exam. We somehow lost sight of that when we joined an organization in Greek Life or a Selected Living Group or when we applied for fifteen internships or when we ditched our old friends for new ones or when we did any number of things just because we thought people noticed or cared. We lost sight of that when we thought it was more important to look like we had it all instead of actually seeking out all the world, and we ourselves, have to offer.
I’m not saying that abroad alone changed my entire way of living. I’m saying that abroad allowed me to get air.
I was drowning at Duke before. Drowning in work, in social obligations, in climbing to an unforeseeable top. I was drowning in the lie. But then I went abroad and I got air. And now that I have air, I am swimming safely at the surface.
During my freshman year of high school, my dad nearly died from a heart attack. Though I would never wish the experience on him or on anybody, it is amazing to think about his change of heart (pun intended ;)). He was revived in the hospital, and he is now so full of life. He felt what it was like to be drowning. But he got air. And now he is swimming.
I feel somewhat similarly. I am so full of life, for this school, for the people, for Duke’s opportunities and life opportunities, because after drowning, I got air.
Are you drowning? Do you need air?
This semester I’m just going to keep swimming. Anyone want to join?