My Life at Duke: Celebrating a Once in a Lifetime Experience

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Though two years can seem a very short time compared to one’s life time, the two years Ardhi spent at Duke was a once in a lifetime experience. Upon graduation, Ardhi reflects on his time as a Blue Devil (Duke’s nickname). 

Duke is a very special place. To get in is no small feat, but to get out is a real accomplishment.

(Lisa Borders at Duke’s Commencement Ceremony 2019)

I graduated from Duke University about a month ago. Choosing Duke was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. To me, Duke is an amazing place to study, to grow, to learn about myself better, and to dream even higher. I have never imagined that I would go to the same school as Tim Cook, Melinda Gates, Richard Nixon, and my favorite singer Mike Posner. A long time before I figured out that Mike is also a “blue devil”, his song I Took A Pill In Ibiza  was already on my-all-time-favorite-playlist. He’s probably the only American singer I know that has mentioned Indonesia in a song (Buried In Detroit). I decided to celebrate my graduation with another song from Mike called Move On as I move on from my Duke life with a heart full of gratitude. In one sentence, I had a great time at Duke, a great place also known as the Harvard of the South, and I will always celebrate it as a once in a lifetime experience.

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West Campus in Spring (Photo by Dwinanda Ardhi)
West Campus in Winter
West Campus in Winter (Photo by Dwinanda Ardhi)

Anton Chekhov—a great Russian writer—once said, “People don’t notice whether it’s summer or winter when they’re happy.” I guess that’s what I felt every time I walked around Duke for the last two years. Duke has a big and very beautiful campus divided into three locations: West Campus, East Campus, and Central Campus. It has a combination of different architectures: modern and gothic wonderland. The dormitories for undergraduate students will remind you of Hogwarts, meanwhile the building design of Broadhead Center and Rubenstein Art Center will give you a sense of modern and contemporary structures. Duke has almost everything: basketball and football stadiums, tennis courts, swimming pools, gyms, museums, dormitories, big libraries, large campus garden, privately owned and managed forest, cinema, the iconic chapel, and even a lemur center. Duke also has two branches outside the US, one in China (Duke Khunsan University) and a joint medical school program with the National University of Singapore (NUS) in Singapore.

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Duke Pond (Photo by Dwinanda Ardhi)
Duke Garden
Duke Garden (Photo by Dwinanda Ardhi)

For Dukies—that’s how they call Duke students—libraries are the heart of university life. You’ll see plenty of Dukies camping out late at libraries, even early in the semester. I have spent most of my time at Perkins Library. Some of my friends even call me a Perkinist. I went to Sanford School of Public Policy for my master’s degree and studying there was not easy at all. The classes at Sanford are challenging yet engaging and rewarding. During the academic period, we always had endless assignments. Sleeping eight hours a day is a luxury. Coming to campus in the morning and going back to the apartment during midnight is normal.

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Perkins Library (Photo by Dwinanda Ardhi)
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Fleishman Commons, Sanford School of Public Policy (Photo by Dwinanda Ardhi)

However, studying at Duke will give you a unique experience. Dukies are the type of students who thrive on the pressure and academic challenges. But since the environment is friendly and warm, you will not feel like you have to do it all alone or you have to compete with your peers. Many times, in your cohort, you will support each other with the kind of spirit that says this too shall pass or we are all in this together.

At Duke, there are so many opportunities for research, civic engagement, clubs, extracurricular activities, and more. For example, during my time there, I joined the Graduate and Professional Student Council. Amazing speakers also come to the school every semester, affording the students opportunities to listen to and to get inspiration from truly life-changing experiences.

Although the program that I took at Duke was intense, I could still enjoy it because it was not only about the grade on your transcript.

It was in the first semester when my teacher in policy analysis class, Professor Natalia, wrote an email that I will remember for the rest of my life. She wrote: “There are some things without limitations and boundaries yet can’t be measured. Your learning curve, your experience, and your camaraderie are priceless”. She wrote it to me, Victoria, and Rodrigo after we did our group presentation. She gave us a score of 15 out of 15. It’s amazing to know that your teacher also considers your efforts on building chemistry with your teammates when it comes to the grading. I’m thankful everyday for the camaraderie, not only with Victoria and Rodrigo, but also with all of my international friends. What makes Duke truly special is also the people I met. Professors who turned into friends and friends who turned into family. As I live in an international community, one important lesson is how to respect different backgrounds, cultures, and religions.

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With our favorite teacher, Professor Gill (Photo by Siddarth Dixit)
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Friends that turned into family (Photo by Dwinanda Ardhi)

Duke has also taught me how to find balance in life and priorities. Time management is the key. I think I have learnt that I can still be happy and enjoy my life in the midst of pursuing knowledge adamantly, looking for new experiences I never have before, building networks and friendship with people from around the world, and still maintain communication with my family and friends in Indonesia.

In terms of new experiences, I found it very interesting to see how people at Duke love their Basketball team so very much. Basketball is a big deal and a key part of student life. We have this tradition called camp-out where a thousand students spend days camping out in tents, RVs, and U-Hauls. This is the only way to get season tickets to men’s basketball matches. The most anticipated game of the year is always the home Duke vs. UNC (University of North Carolina) game. This year, even former President Obama came to Duke to see this big match.

Basketball is a big deal
Basketball is a big deal (Photo by Dwinanda Ardhi)
Camp out
Camp out (Photo by: Dwinanda Ardhi)

Other than Basketball games, Duke also offers so many different enriching experiences outside of Cameron stadium. Students can go the Reynolds Theater to watch recently released Hollywood movies as well as dance, choir, and cultural performances for free. If you like hiking, coming to Duke might also be a good decision as Duke has its own forest and North Carolina has some very beautiful National Parks.

Pilot Mountain
Pilot Mountain (Photo by Jordan Lassiter)
Hanging Rock State Park
Hanging Rock State Park (Photo by Scott Hawkins)

Writing this reflection from a place more than 10,000 miles from Duke and as a recent alumni, I believe that choosing this campus was still one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I have had many wonderful conversations with amazing people. I took courses that I believe will be useful to help me contribute to the society. And at the end of the day, I think Duke has helped me to learn that it is rewarding to put a lot of effort to pursue your dream, even when you have to fly over the horizon and live far far away from your family and friends for a certain number of years to achieve it.

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Once a blue devil, always a blue devil. Thanks, Duke! (Photo by Rizki Aulia Harahap)