(story read by: Carolyn Huynh)
As a senior approaching my last semester, I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on my Duke experience. It’s been a wonderful but difficult four years. And when people ask me what the most difficult part of my college experience has been, my answer is always the same – learning how to navigate friendships.
Finding friends in childhood was beautifully easy. Having grown up in one suburban neighborhood all my life, I found my four closest friends between pre-k and first grade. The first – we sat next to each other in pre-k, our legs swinging from our plastic chairs, our hands grabbing for Crayola crayons. The second – we bonded over our shared love for stuffed animals. The third – first grade recess brought us together, when we both discovered we could do the splits. The fourth – we played a game of Kerplunk together at after-school daycare. Throughout childhood and adolescence and even as I packed my bags for Duke, those humans remained my core friends.
As I stepped foot onto East Campus for the first time, absorbing the buzzing O-week energy, I expected to find new friends that were just as close as my childhood friends right away. And I kind of.. did. Ping pong and foosball matches in GADU turned my hallmates into acquaintances and then to friends. Throughout the first semester, our go-to weekend activity was going out to parties. Many times, I didn’t really want to go. But those were my only friends so far at Duke, and I liked them, so I tagged along. But those nights, as I stood in musty living rooms, straining my eyes through the purple LED lights, music pounding in my ears, I often felt in my core that I just, really, didn’t want to be there.
By second semester, Fridays brought on feelings of confusion and dread. Do I really want to go out this weekend? But my friends already have plans to go. Will we still be close if I stop going to parties with them? If we grow apart, who will my friends be? Everyone seems like they already found their friend groups. Maybe I won’t ever find friends here that I feel as close to as my friends back home. And back then, I really believed that.
But as more semesters passed, I slowly found people that I felt deep connections with – and in unexpected places too. Cooking dinners together in the Edens kitchen, going to the Durham Farmers Market one hot September day, and confiding about relationship issues sparked new connections. It took work to cultivate those connections into something more. Making plans to grab dinner, agreeing to meet on the BC plaza for a spontaneous afternoon coffee, and texting to check in nurtured those connections into real friendships. Friendships that I felt like (and still do feel like) myself in. Friendships that I am so immensely grateful for.
Now, when people ask me what my favorite part of Duke has been, my answer is the same as my answer to the most difficult part of Duke - my friendships. The friendships that I naively expected to fall into place as a freshman, then lost hope for, then found again with time and patience and intention. I remember my freshman year self - sitting on her twin XL bed, her dark room illuminated only string lights, feeling so alone when she decided to not go out with her friends that weekend. I remember her wishing she had friends at Duke like the ones back home. Looking back, I wish I could tell her that she will find those people. It will take time, and it will be a process. But the friendships that come out of that process will be so deeply rewarding, and they will be what make Duke so wonderfully fulfilling.