Returning to Duke after Winter Break presents many undergraduates with a socio-emotional conundrum. I am no exception. We have just come back from a 3.5-week break filled with (relative to the semester) few and deep interpersonal interactions, with family, friends from home and ourselves. Over break, I found myself actually having time to read for pleasure (which led me to read another Mitch Albom book), while reflecting on the semester that I had just finished and beginning to consider what lied ahead.
This reflection came as a shock to my psychological homeostasis. Directly after finishing an intense finals week filled with studying and saying end of semester goodbyes, Winter break plunged me into a far less-structured, family-oriented schedule. My life at Duke quickly seemed like a separate universe: one that I left behind in exchange for a more familiar universe in a community that I was raised in.
Going home to New York after a semester in North Carolina brings out a different side of me, ranging from the accent that I speak with, to the use of the word “y’all,” to the politeness that I conduct myself with, to the unconditional love that I give and receive from those around me. It is an incredible privilege to call Duke and New York two different, yet integral parts of my identity: two homes that fill different niches for my young-adult self. I imagine I am not alone in feeling this way among my undergraduate peers.
However, sometimes transitioning between the two homes is not easy, and creates a kind of culture shock. Going back to New York, this shock looks like my sister poking fun at the way I pronounce “coffee,” my parents remarking on my new use of “y’all” in place of the New York “you’s,” and the occasional feeling of inadequacy and boredom rooted in a less productive and work-oriented mindset that exists when one leaves the Duke bubble.
Coming back to Duke, this “return shock” manifests itself in obsessive introspection: Am I taking the right classes? Am I associating myself with the right people? Am I making the absolute best use of my short time as an undergraduate at Duke? Of course there are no right answers to these questions, but transitioning between worlds brings them about in a fashion that begs immediate and definite answers. This obsessive introspection often begins in the downtime of the first few weeks of classes. I start by questioning the classes I quickly begin questioning other parts of my identity too. I struggle to find adequate answers as my mind wanders into hyper self-criticism that creates a dangerous negative feedback loop.
This phenomenon is different than the infamous “Sophomore Slump” (I am a Junior after all and the image of slumping implies a sense of permanence that doesn’t accurately describe my emotions); it is more like a “Slouch” from which I can stand proudly erect once I recognize my concerns and take strides to address them. I know that I cannot be the only student experiencing the Spring Semester Slouch and I also imagine that this conundrum expands past the undergraduate experience. For that reason, I find it worthwhile to enumerate my remedy to the Slouch in hopes of inspiring others to discover and share their own.
When I realize signs of the Spring Semester Slouch, the first thing I do is breathe and smile. It is important to remind myself of how amazing of a person I am and that despite my imperfections, I try my best and am always improving (that is what counts most!). Next, I write out my thoughts trying to identify the root of my questioning: Why do I suddenly not want to take a class? What do I feel like I am missing currently? Typically, I find that there are deeper, more complex causes to what may appear as a simple yes-or-no question. Perhaps the reason why I am questioning a certain major is because I feel that a better knowledge of science is essential to reaching my potential post-Duke. Understanding these root causes allows me to forge a temporary peace of mind. After creating this temporary peace, I sleep on the remaining questions and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle them. I then re-approach my concerns considering advice from friends, family, and mentors.
I am lucky to have an incredible support system and yet even with this network, I often feel incredible amounts of pressure when making final decisions. But, reminding myself that in the long-run, most of these decisions will seem miniscule, and creatively searching for humor in the moment creates a sense of relaxation. From this relaxation comes an embracement of imperfection and mystery (I will never know if I made the “right” choice). And, this realization empowers me with the requisite energy to stand up straight, proudly overcoming the Slouch that previously clouded my mind.
Through self-love, compassion and humor I can overcome even the most urgent of “introspective crises.” I hope to carry these qualities with me as I continue along my life journey, with the hopes of continuously learning about the world and improving myself while standing erect despite temptations to Slouch…My mom always told me that proper posture was important!