Everyone: “Hey! How was spring break?!”
Me: “Uh, well I didn’t really have spring break…”
Everyone: “Wait, what do you mean?”
Me: “I actually just got back from Jordan. I was there for a month doing research with the local refugee population.”
Everyone: “No way! That’s so cool! How was it?”
Me: “Oh, you know, it was good. Learned a lot, but still processing it.”
Everyone: “Of course. I want to hear all about it. Let’s get lunch at some point, so you can tell me everything.”
Everyone: “Well, gotta run but that’s so cool.”
Me: “Yeah, it was.”
This little dialogue is a very accurate description of the types of conversations I have had the past two weeks. A lot of my close friends knew I was going to Jordan, but the people you say hi to on the BC plaza or the people in that one discussion group you had freshman year didn’t know my plans; why would they? But in those moments where you do have small talk, spring break is a very easy topic. I enjoy small talk and I enjoy catching-up with friends that I haven’t seen in a month, but the second the combination of spring and break is uttered, I mentally think “ugh.” I think “ugh” because I know I will have to try and describe my experience in Jordan.
I don’t think I am giving my fellow Dukies enough credit. Let’s be honest, my past month was not a normal, run of the mill college experience, so when it comes up, I shouldn’t be surprised that my colleagues actually seem genuinely interested. But nonetheless, I feel “ugh.” How do you synthesize such a complex experience in ten or so words? My best attempt is “Oh, you know, it was good. Learned a lot, but still processing it.” Just enough to give them some satisfaction to their question, but vague enough that I don’t need to really divulge every single thought I am wrestling to understand. Again, I think that most of my friends would be interested in hearing about my experience in depth, but how do you talk about something that you are still really trying to wrap your head around? I usually don’t think I would do the experience justice even if I did sit down for an hour talking about it.
This feeling of “ugh” actually took me for surprise. During the month, I never really struggled with my emotions or my relationship to the people we were interviewing. I don’t mean to say that I wasn’t acutely aware of my role in the interviews, but the interviews just felt like interviews with people and I was listening to an interesting life story. I had interviews; I transcribed; I repeated. This makes me sound quite callous, but I had a lot of work and didn’t have the time to process what I was doing and what I was feeling. But when I came back to Duke, I certainly felt the culture shock. The complete 180 I experienced in 20 hours of travel was alarming.
Little by little, I am coming to terms with my experience but who knows if I will ever truly process what I heard, what I saw, and what I learned. I am really thankful to have had this experience and I know that I will continue to think about it for the rest of my life. I know that with time the “ugh” will diminish but right now that’s where I am at. I can only hope to eventually be the voice that so many of the families asked me to be. I realize that it is my job to be that voice and even though I can’t find it right now, I will.