Finding your way...

Author name
Dani Dawkins, '14

My first post goes out to the freshman.  Welcome to Duke!  I hope the start of your Duke experience has been as much of a whirlwind for you as it was for me!  I remember these first couple weeks at Duke being exciting, challenging, ridiculous, silly, daunting, and many times, a bit lonely.  Some people have a seamless transition into Duke, but those people are few, and far between.  I want to encourage those freshman still struggling to find your place here.  It doesn’t happen over night, nor should it!  If you haven’t found your crew, don’t worry, chances are neither have most people.  You are not alone. Trust me, it is so important to seek out people you connect with, which can be very different from those you gravitate toward initially.  Remember, everyone is in the same position that you are, most people didn’t arrive at Duke with an established group of friends, so take time in your first weeks to get to know people who are in your classes, in your hall and even on the bus!  Freshman year is AWKWARD, but it’s awkward for everyone.  It’s all about perspective.

  • “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken”:  My favorite advisor in the Career Center, shameless shout-out to Anita Stockmans, ends all of her emails this way.  It’s true!  Stick to who your values, let them guide you most of the time you won’t go wrong.  
  • Challenge your comfort zone, step outside of it: It’s very easy to settle into a routine.  But some of my most important lessons came from going off the beaten path.  Do things that make you uncomfortable.  Try taking classes in subjects where you might not be as strong. Don’t worry Pass/Fail is a thing here.  Find a way to connect with people that you wouldn’t normally interact with.
  • Talk to professors:  Take advantage of the amazing professors at Duke.  Go to office hours!  Talk after class! Organize a Flunch! Most professors at Duke are leaders in their field, and they want to talk to you about their work, life, or just about anything!  Networking is a big part of life, and getting to know your professors outside of the classroom will only make you a stronger student.  The relationships you create may even lead to a great job recommendation in the future.  
  • It is always more awkward to ignore someone, than it is to say hello: It is never a good idea to pretend you’ve never met the person in line behind you at the Market Place.  I promise that they remember meeting you, even if it was at Shooters, and I swear it won’t kill you to say “hey, what’s up?” The awkward eye-contact-glance-away is a chronic Duke problem!  It won’t help you make friends, it definitely makes everyone uncomfortable, and only ensures that every time you see that person on the quad for the next 4 years, you will have to pretend that you never took Writing 20 together, lived 3 dorms down from them, or that you didn’t bond over a harrowing rendition of We Can’t Stop while standing on the bar at Shooters…
  • Make time for personal time:  I often describe the Duke experience as analogous to running on a treadmill with no stop/pause button that being said, take time for yourself.  Carve out a bit of space in your day where you do things that center you.  Call your mom, go for a run, take a walk off campus, bake something!  Whatever it is, you can always make time for the things that matter most to you.  I wish I had done this more freshman year.  Stress comes with the territory, it’s manageable. Find a routine that helps you perform to the best of your ability.
  • Ignore FOMO:  I did many things freshman year because I had a chronic case of FOMO (fear of missing out).  Prioritize!  Plan ahead. Whatever you are missing, is not going to make, or break, your Duke social experience.  It is exhausting to consistently calibrate your life experiences to those of your pears.  Actually, it is completely irrational!  Do you! Everyone else is doing them.
  • Small talk MATTERS:  “Hi, I’m Alex.”  Those three simple words changed the dynamic of my freshman experience.  I made some of my best friends at Duke in South Gate, standing in line for ice cream on the first night of school.  “Hi, I’m Alex,” that’s all it took for me to feel more comfortable as I scooped Oreos onto my slightly melted pile of chocolate ice cream.  “Hi, I’m Alex,” prompted me to say “Hi, I’m Dani.”  “Hi, I’m Alex,” led to “Dani this is Ali, she lives in our hall.”  The conversation that laid the foundation for some of my longest lasting friendships at Duke started with an introduction, and a sloppy bowl of ice cream.  I was lucky.  A lot of people don’t have an Alex, but the point is that it doesn’t take much to be one.
  • Don’t get comfortable:  You may think that you have it all figured out, but there is always room for growth!   
  • Find a mentor:  Find someone at Duke who will be your principle stakeholder.  Develop relationships with people you admire, and who can, and will make you a better person.  Seek out faculty, professors, and even students who have skills that you admire.  Find someone who will be invested in your future.
  • Have F-U-N:  Duke is an amazing, crazy, unpredictable, fantastic, and beautiful ride.  Don’t forget to make memories that count.