Since arriving in India, I’ve done a terrible job following current news events. I’d like to think it’s because I’m too busy or trying to conserve my limited 3G internet access, but neither is true. I actually like the feeling of getting away from news; it’s nice to escape and really be present here.
But this became impossible after Friday, February 1, when the news broke that a fraternity at Duke University hosted an Asian-themed party, sending out email invitations with insensitive and demeaning language. Later images showed partygoers dressed in costumes that promoted Asian stereotypes.
The 17 other students on my Duke-sponsored study abroad program got word of the party soon after it happened. They vented their frustrations, and one girl even drafted a letter to Duke’s student newspaper, the Chronicle. Two days later, I opened my Facebook and noticed a Yahoo News story about the event featured on my news feed. Shocked that the party was making national headlines, I asked my parents if they’d heard anything about it; turns out they’d just watched a segment about the scandal on the “Today Show” that morning.
The party has been a constant topic of conversation these past two weeks among my friends on the program; they were embarrassed and appalled. It was an unfortunate incident that only represents the insensitivity of a small portion of Duke’s student body, and does not at all reflect the intense compassion and kindness that I’ve experienced from the 17 Duke students on this trip.
Being the only non-Dukie has been something I’ve been conscious of this entire study abroad experience, but it hasn’t bothered me. It’s only natural that conversations involving a handful of Duke students center of Duke-related topics. I’m learning a lot about their school and am often asked about the way things work at mine.
At the same time, I’ve been included as a Dukie myself. Last Friday, I donned my Duke T-shirt and cheered for my first Duke basketball game. We all arrived at school early to catch the live broadcast of the Duke-NC State game—from a different continent. The game brought out team spirit unlike anything I’ve seen at Bowdoin.
There have been moments during this trip when I’ve realized what I’m missing out on at a small school: no arenas filled with thousands of fans, no “tenting” (camping out for nights on end to snag tickets for a big sports game), no sororities, no fast food joints on campus, and no majors in topics like global health or public policy.
But, more than anything, it has made me realize how proud I am to be a Polar Bear.
Halfway around the world, Bowdoin has come to define me; the school distinguishes me from the rest of my peers. Abroad, I’m really owning Bowdoin rather than sharing it with nearly 1,800 other students. My friends on the trip have even adopted “Bowdoin” as my nickname. And at a birthday celebration last week, the birthday boy included “to Bowdoin” in his toast.
Before leaving, people told me studying abroad would make me fully appreciated Bowdoin. And it definitely has, especially in this group.
I take for granted that people know what I mean when I talk about “Super Snack” or the way the quad feels on a bright Friday afternoon. My friends here don’t believe that I go to school with an annual lobster dinner, a salad bar filled with quinoa and fresh vegetables from the school’s organic gardens, or the fact that I’ve never taken a class with more than 45 people. Forced to explain all the things I love and miss at Bowdoin, I’ve come to appreciate them more myself.
The news story that broke three weeks ago cast an unfortunate, dark shadow over Duke. The 17 Dukies whom I’ve come to consider close friends have all been incredibly thoughtful, welcoming, and considerate, and the thoughtless fraternity party does not reflect any of their morals. But while I’ve come to enjoy wearing the title of pseudo-Dukie myself, it’s been nice to fully embrace my Bowdoin identity.
I’ve kept in touch with friends back at Bowdoin and was especially eager for updates during Nemo’s wrath. While it killed me not to be there during such a historic snowstorm, the timing of the whole event was pretty perfect: news of Nemo diverted headlines from the Duke party in a way that only a blizzard of its magnitude could. Seven thousand miles away and 10.5 hours ahead in a place where most people have only seen snow in the movies, I’ve come to fully value Bowdoin. I’ll be very ready to head back to Brunswick in June—I’m working on campus this summer. All I can say is, the salad bar better be ready for me.