When I studied abroad in Paris, France, this summer, I became very familiar with the American tendencies that French people collectively despise. As I sat in a windowless back room of the school I would be studying at in the sixth arrondissement of Paris, the program director carefully warned us of the biggest faux-pas that would make our host families regret welcoming a foreign student into their home and the habitudes that would provoke irritated second glances on the street.
One: American people are loud. Don’t be loud. We are loud when we talk on the phone, loud putting on our shoes, loud stomping around the Haussmanian apartment built in the 1800s with creaky parquet flooring.
Two: Americans smile too much. Don’t smile at people on the street. No need for a big, toothy grin at every passerby and at every unsuspecting dog-walker savoring the few tourist-free morning hours.
Three: Why do Americans love to ask questions without any intention of sticking around to hear the response? When French people ask you how you’re doing – Comment ça va?– how you slept – Vous-avez bien dormi? – how the meal was – Ça vous a plu? – they stand there and wait for an answer after asking the question. So when Americans exchange a jolly “How are you today!” in passing, it drives French people crazy. Why ask a question if you don’t even want an answer?
This welcome post feels a little bit like that American “How are you today!” Not to say that you, reader, are not a patient, intrigued Frenchman or woman, who is genuinely interested in a response – I am well-assured that the readers of Duke’s Research Blog are just the opposite. That is to say that the question of “who are you?” is quite complicated to answer in a single, coherent blog post. I will proudly admit that I am still in the process of figuring out who I am. And isn’t that what I’m supposed to be doing in college, anyway?
I can satisfyingly answer a few questions about me, though, starting with where I am from. I’m lucky enough to call Trabuco Canyon, California my home– a medium-sized city about fifteen minutes from the beach, and smack-dab in the middle of San Diego and Los Angeles. Demographically, it’s fairly uninteresting; 68% White, 19% Hispanic, and 8% Asian. I’ve never moved, so I suppose this would imply that most of my life has been fairly unexposed to cultural diversity. However, I think one of the things that has shaped me the most has been experiencing different cultures in my travels growing up.
My dad is a classically-trained archaeologist turned environmental consultant, and I grew up observing his constant anthropological analysis of people and situations in the countries we traveled to. I learned from him the richness of a compassionate, empathetic, multi-faceted life that comes from traveling, talking to people, and being curious. I am impassioned by discovering new cultures and uncovering new schools of thought through breaking down linguistic barriers, which is one of the reasons I am planning on majoring in French Studies.
Perhaps from my Korean mother I learned perseverance, mental strength, and toughness. I also gained practicality, which explains my second major, Computer Science. Do I go crazy over coding a program that creates a simulation of the universe (my latest assignment in one of my CS classes)? Not particularly. But, you have to admit, the degree is a pretty good security blanket.
Why blog? Writing is my therapy and has always been one of my passions. Paired with an unquenchable curiosity and a thirst to converse with people different from me, writing for the Duke Research Blog gives me what my boss Karl Bates – Executive Director, Research Communications – calls “a license to hunt.”
Exclusive, top-researcher-only, super-secret conference on campus about embryonics? I’ll be making a bee-line to the speakers with my notepad in hand, thank you. Completely-sold-out talk by the hottest genome researcher on the academic grapevine? You can catch me in the front row. In short, blogging on Duke Research combines multiple passions of mine and gives me the chance to flex my writing muscles.
Thus, I am also cognizant of the privilege and the responsibility that this license to hunt endows me with. It must be said that elite universities are famously – and in reality – extremely gated-off from the rest of society. While access to Duke’s physical space may still be exclusive, the knowledge within is for anyone’s taking.
In this blog, I hope to dismantle the barrier between you and what can sometimes seem like intimidating, high-level research that is being undertaken on Duke’s campus. I hope to make my blogs a mini bi-monthly revelation that can enrich your intellect and widen your perspective. And don’t worry – when it comes to posing questions to researchers, I plan to stick around to hear the response.
Read my summer blogs from my study abroad in Paris HERE!
Post by Isabella Helton, Class of 2026