A Heart Divided

As my dear friend Susan Hughes reminded me, I never gave any summary of my semester at Duke. So here it is.

I don’t like when people ask me which university I like better, because it’s like asking which of your children you love more. I’ve had vastly different experiences at each school. I engineered my semester at Duke to be as fun as possible, taking project-based classes and cutting back drastically on my extracurricular commitments. So in my mind, Duke is a place where one goes to have fun, a place where you don’t have to study or go to meetings. I realize this is a skewed vision, but it’s what life was like for me during my time there. And I expect that perception to be perpetuated for the rest of my college career, as the main reason I plan on returning to Duke is for Maxwell parties or to get dinner with Duke friends. I’ll continue taking Duke classes, but I’ll probably study at UNC and perpetuate my perception of Carolina as a place where I work hard and am busy all the time. I had glorious free time at Duke; it was incredible. It was like a Sabbatical.

Rival Magazine, a joint publication between UNC and Duke, asked me to write a column about my experience this spring. Below is my first column, which I wrote about a month into the semester. I’ll post my concluding column next.

A Heart Divided
Every time I’m on the Robertson bus, I lose cell phone service as soon as we pull away from the bus stop. Without fail, my bars drop to one or two and my 3G turns into that annoying little empty circle that means my Pandora and Facebook apps won’t load. So I sit in silence, thinking about how strange and yet somehow appropriate it is that the eight miles of no-man’s land between Duke and UNC is, for me, a weird twilight zone where connection is lost.
The bus is the most tangible connection between the two universities. It ferries people back and forth constantly, making 57 trips on a regular weekday. It enables students to take courses at their sister school, facilitates clubs formed between the two, and stands as a symbol that Duke and UNC wish to share resources. How ironic that I feel so isolated when I’m on the bus.
For me, the bus is an uncomfortable place of transition. The 25-minute trip seems too short a time to make any real progress on a homework assignment. Eating on the bus is prohibited. And since I lose cell service, I can’t even mess around on my phone to kill time. But more than that, it’s a physical shift that I’m still not used to. The bus carries me between two rival schools. And this would be okay, if I had allegiance to one of them. It would feel like coming home or visiting somewhere different, depending on which direction I was headed. But now, after a month of living in Durham as a fully integrated Duke student, my loyalties are divided.
It’s easy to hate something you don’t understand, to distrust someone you don’t know. I was shocked to hear several of my friends tell me this semester that they had never visited Duke’s campus. Even seniors admitted to never stepping foot on this free bus that departs every half hour for our gorgeous neighboring university.
Maybe that only surprises me because I’m a Robertson Scholar, required to spend time on both campuses. Before I even enrolled at UNC, I was sent materials emblazoned with both the Old Well and the Duke Chapel. I was raised a Tar Heel, both my parents alumni, but it’s different when it’s not your school yet. Before I left for college, I was mentally prepared to have a dual identity between the two schools.
But then I got to college, and I fell head over heels in love with Carolina. So many other, more eloquent students and graduates have waxed poetic about the school that I don’t feel a need to explain this love. Carolina was all I had ever hoped for, to put it simply. Sure, I liked Duke: Through the Robertson Program I had several friends there, and I took a very nice class there in the spring. But it was always “there,” as opposed to “here.” Carolina was home, and Duke was a cool place to visit.
But now I live there. There has become here. And, to the surprise of many fellow Tar Heels, I love Duke. I relish the intellectual conversations that occur so commonly and naturally in the dorms and at the dining hall. I’m energized by the palpable sense of drive and ambition that characterizes every student. I’m impressed by the dedication I’ve seen from the classroom to Krzyzewskiville (and yes I did spell that without looking it up — the mark of a true Duke student, right?). Joining a tent group and a selective living group definitely contributed to my sense of belonging here. After only four weeks, Duke already feels like home.
I wish I didn’t feel so alone on that bus. This goes far beyond whether or not I can connect to Facebook or take a phone call. Having given each university a chance, I am completely won over by the places at both ends of Tobacco Road. I feel deeply connected to each. I dread the feeling of limbo, feeling torn as the bus carries me between the two.
Duke and UNC love to hate each other. The rivalry is intense, historic, and I would say eternal. And I am eternally caught between the two. No matter what I wear when we face up in basketball, I’ll be disappointing someone. But my hope is that, while intense, the animosity is shallow. Call me an idealist, but I hope that we can scream insults at each other during the game but then step off the court and shake hands calmly.

And, later, maybe we will even be brave enough to step into that foreign neutral ground that connects us, and catch one of those bus rides to visit the friendly neighbor down the road.