ON WEARING PANTS
A don doesn’t wear shorts” — Carmine Lupertazzi, “The Sopranos”
Talking with fellow DukeEngagers about my discoveries, I realized we all came to the same conclusion: wearing shorts in Dublin is, in fact, socially acceptable. Accordingly, we could not understand why we were never allowed to wear shorts… It wasn’t until I was revising policy documents, representing the Justice Department at a meeting with my supervisor, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, and NGOs ranging from the Irish Red Cross to Amnesty International, that it clicked.
Before we left DukeEngage Academy to return home for a month, we were given three words of caution for when we arrived in Dublin:
- The cars drive on the left side of the road.
- The deceptively cute seagulls are really vicious beasts ready to snatch your food.
- Never, ever, under any circumstances, wear shorts.
With that, each of us twelve DukeEngagers returned to our hometowns, excitedly anticipating our departure to a sui generis summer experience. And, after what seemed like an eternity packed into a month, the time to fly to Dublin arrived. Awaking from my in-flight slumber as the plane landed, the temperature was different (as it was now measured in Celsius). We arrived in Dublin and I was like a child in a candy shop after eating a few Pixy Stix. I was hungry, and I couldn’t wait to explore…
I found Dublin a fascinating place. The buildings were beautiful, the sun was shining, and the landscape seemed untouched relative to the New York City streets I was accustomed to. Still taking in the sights to satisfy my curiosity, much like a plant takes in sun rays to satiate itself, I recalled the three words of caution I had been given.
I looked around. The cars did, in fact, drive on the left side of the street. Check. I looked up. The seagulls were, in fact, swarming above my head, like vultures waiting for an unsuspecting tourist to walk out of a store with a sandwich in hand. Check. I looked to my left and right, and the people, native Dubliners and tourists alike, were in fact wearing…shorts. What? Perhaps there was some mistake made, some miscommunication? I put this in the back of my mind and continued to fixate on my new environment.
The following days brought with them a plethora of orientation activities ranging from a tour of Kilmaney Jail to completing a scavenger hunt designed to acclimate us to our new surroundings. Each event brought with it more learning and more anticipation of meeting our supervisors. Soon enough it was time for me to start my placement at the Irish Refugee Protection Programme…
After finishing reading and annotating an entire forest worth of paper, I did some research to help me better understand my environment. “Top ten quotations to know from the Sopranos,” I googled. I clicked on a link, and immediately began laughing to myself. The first quotation was “a don doesn’t wear shorts,” with a brief explanation describing that “there is no reason why a man who takes themselves seriously and wants to be respected should be wearing shorts in public.” I guess, at least on this trip, I must be a don then, I joked to myself and finished up the day…I learned a couple of things in the first five minutes at my office. First, that there was a lot of work to be done and documents to read. Second, that “The Office” is not too far off from reality. And third, that tea time is at 11am… Shortly after beginning to read documents in preparation for an upcoming task force meeting and a two more things became apparent: 1. This work was going to be incredibly interesting and 2. My co-workers all love “The Sopranos.”
Coming home, each of us were more excited than the next to share our first day experiences. In my own excitement I cannot remember all of the stories shared with me, but I can recall being fascinated with the range of experiences my friends had, from pioneering a writing competition across all of Ireland to helping integrate and educate unaccompanied minors and refugees, to designing a research project in tandem with the government, to working with city council to prepare an exposition on minority communities in Ireland.
I couldn’t fathom the range of experiences, ones that go beyond just community service, that we were exposed to and directly engaged in. I remember the feeling of community and mutual support we each felt. I remember how grateful I was to have been chosen for this program. I remembered my first-day experience, realizing that my joke encapsulated within it an ivory pearl of truth; us twelve DukeEngagers are all dons of our own.
The next day brought with it a meeting about the project I am tasked to work on. It included representatives from the government, the UN, and NGOs operating domestically and internationally. It also included breakfast, lunch, and refreshments, which is, according to my supervisor, how I should know it was a big deal.
At first, I sat quietly and listened at the meeting, intrigued with each party’s perspective on the issues at hand and the policy documents we were revising. Finally, I mustered up the courage to suggest an alteration in phrasing that would help expand the initiative, making it more open to Irish citizens. My supervisor liked the idea and after a few minutes of deliberation the group decided to amend the document accordingly.
Following the meeting, I reflected on my day… I couldn’t wrap my head around why these professionals were even giving a second-year college student the time of day, never mind actually considering and accepting his suggestions. I realized that there must have been reasons that traversed me at play. These reasons were rooted in relationships formed through years of partnership, in trust and in presentation. Much like a don, whose opinion is valued by all, I figured if you act like a don, and dress like a don, people will treat you accordingly… It was a good thing I was wearing pants.
Wearing pants became a symbol for me. Broadly speaking I realized that as a DukeEngage Dubliner, we dress to impress, and we are always impressing. Wearing pants is a constant reminder of that. We represent more than ourselves, more than Kenan, and more than Duke. We represent the culmination of years of relationship building dating back to before DukeEngage even existed. And forgetting that even for a moment could lead to catastrophe and would completely miss the point of the program. That is why we only wear pants.
I am grateful for this opportunity. I know I am privileged have it, and I anticipate each moment of it (even interactions with dreaded seagulls) with a blend of excitement, curiosity, gratitude, appreciation…and pants.