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Zak – Two Weeks in NYC

Hello Blue Devils. Welcome back to my blog for the Duke Gap Year Program! This edition will focus on my first two weeks in New York City and the start of my gap year with the New York Times.
I always thought New York City was full of gravelly New Yorkers yelling, “I’m walking here.” You know, stuff like that. After moving here, I’ve actually found New York to be very similar to the Bay Area. Both share the same sense of ambition and self importance that makes people very career focused, busy, and therefore impatient. This is so prevalent in the Bay Area that New Yorkers seem warm and fuzzy in comparison (and they typically are). I think this definitely made my transition to the city a lot easier.
My first night in the city can only be described as tumultuous. Ambulances screamed past my window at ungodly hours and I discovered that even at 4:30am drivers still find something to honk at. Despite the noise, it’s hard not to feel the magic of New York City. The skyline is astonishing, the food incredible and multicultural, and nowhere else can you get on a subway and hear four different languages being spoken at one time.

Recently I started my classes with the School of The New York Times. The journalism based curriculum is definitely exciting, however, I find some assignments somewhat superficial. Still, I’m confident the classes will get better as the semester progresses.

Being on my gap year while Duke started was definitely hard for me. Watching my would be classmates move in and start their lives on campus was difficult and it was hard to not feel left out. At the same time I take comfort in knowing that while the class of 2023 is struggling with their homework and midterms, I can take a 40 minute subway and end up in Flushing (Chinatown), see a man dressed like a tree in Soho, or catch a free concert in Central Park.
 
I still feel like taking a gap year is a huge risk and I’m not yet 100% sure I’m making the right decision. However, I do definitely feel better about my choice than I did before I left. Stay tuned for more!

Skijler – My First Three Weeks on the Camino De Santiago

It’s been nearly three weeks on the Chemin de Saint Jacques (as the trail is called here in France) and about 250 miles. I’ve decided to take the day off in a little village called Auvillar, giving my body much needed rest and my mind some time to reflect. Auvillar is famous for its 17th century clock tower, and it is this clock tower that warns me that I’ve sat staring at my screen too long. As the bell suddenly dings twice instead of once, I realize that I’ve been trying to think of a good way to write my experience for nearly an hour. But still, I can’t. When I look back I just see a jumble of places and people and thoughts and food and magic — like a carousel moving too fast.

Snapshots, in no particular order:

 

Walked 250 miles with nothing but myself and a backpack (go me!)

McKenna – A Letter to Kate

 

Kate,

How lucky am I to have had you in my life over the past eight months! This is not a goodbye, but a thank you and a see you later : ).

Thank you for teaching me all of the lyrics to the Descendants songs, the art of imagination, that there’s no such thing as too many sparkles, and the little things in life are actually the big things. For teaching me how to properly put on make-up, the power of yes, how to make a Tik Tok, to dance outside as the sun sets, to stand up to bullies, and that you don’t need a reason to be happy. To double dog dare yourself, to “stop and smell the roses”, to listen more than you speak, to do things just for the fun of it, to your BFF she is your BFFFFFFF (with a thousand F’s), and to tell loved ones how much the mean to you.

And you, Kate, mean a lot to me.

Thank you for being my teacher and best friend. I’m so proud of the smart, goofy, resilient, and beautiful (inside and out) person you are and I can’t wait to see all you accomplish as you grow up. I’m just a three minute drive or phone call away. I love you, thank you and will see you later!

xoxo,

McKenna

Eleanor – High Highs

I’ve learned to realize that everything eventually comes full circle. The awkward moments seem to right themselves over time, and, in my case, within two days.

For the awkward half of the story, the fact is that my second or third day in Senegal, I was peed on. I had gone outside to look at the stars with my roommate Erin, and I was awestruck. The sunset earlier that night was stunning (forcing me to climb a semi-stable concrete tower to see it), and laying on my yoga mat while staring at the stars, I was at peace. Surrounded by trees, freshly out of a cold shower, and with bats flying overhead, I felt my entire body begin to relax as Erin and I laughed at the similarities in our lives. As I attempted to point out constellations other than the little dipper, a bat swooped over us and peed on me. And not just anywhere. On my head. On my face. And, to top it off, in my mouth. It was an out-of-body experience, to say the least as I screamed and spat while Erin stared at me wondering if the malaria pills were making me hallucinate. And, looking back, I definitely overreacted. It really wasn’t that much pee. But it was a very interesting welcome to Senegal.

When I told my story to the other fellows at breakfast the next day, Erin and I bowled-over laughing as we watched their horror-struck faces and worried glances. I assured them that I was fine and attempted to convince them that I did not have some Senegalese bat disease. Later that day we had our first Wolof class, and boy was it hard. As the prominent language of Tabia Ndiaye, my future home, I knew I needed to study-up, but it turned out Wolof was not as easy as I hoped it would be. Unlike French or English, Wolof has an entirely different sentence structure that was throwing me for a loop. At the end of the first day I could barely say hello! So, determined to improve my Wolof beyond the incoherent grunts I was spitting out, Erin and I went outside again– this time under the cover of a mango tree for protection. And during our intensive study session, we received a gift from the gods. The mango gods, to be exact.

And befallen on us from above was the juiciest, ripest, most delicious mango I have ever had. Not even liking mangoes before this precious one, my mind was blown. They are so good. I had been missing out on so much. After Erin and I finished the mango and washed our juice-covered faces and arms, I realized that the playing field was even. In two days I had gone from spitting out bat “poison” to devouring a mango blessed by the heavens. And I knew that was how my time in Senegal would be– filled with very high highs and very low lows. But if I could get past the lows, and learn to laugh them off later on, my time in Senegal would make me feel powerful. And I’d slowly begin to live a life of high highs.

McKenna – Interpersonal Communication

 

If there was one thing that I took away from this Interpersonal Communications class at RVCC, it was that everyone has something that they can teach you, whether it is their perspective, knowledge, or experience. Through self-disclosure projects, I was able to learn more about myself and those who sat next to me in class three days a week.

The blonde girl who held the door for me every morning was grieving the loss of her father who committed suicide the week prior to our first class together. The boy across the room could tell you everything and anything about the latest celebrity news or YouTuber gossip. My quiet seat neighbor just moved from India a few months ago and was busy enhancing her English and acclimating while helping her parents (who did not speak English) complete all the bills and paperwork at home. The bubbly girl who would always strike up conversations about her award-winning radio channel at Susquehanna was dealing with addiction and alcoholism and attending AA meetings. The girl that was absent for a week is a single mother who had to stay home and take care of her sick baby boy. The boy who sat in the back of the room and would always speak carefully – taking  his time to choosing his words – wanted to discover another dimension and learn how to control space and time when he was older. The person who always sat in the front of class yet rarely raised her hand and considered herself “not as smart” as others had us all fooled. Each person in the classroom had an interesting background, story, or dream. I learned something from each of them, and I am grateful for that.