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Roam under the dome

Kristen Durbin | Tuesday, May 14, 2013

When I chose to enroll at Notre Dame four years ago, a major factor in that semi-spontaneous decision was the school’s perfect distance from my home in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Back then, “going” to Notre Dame simply meant hopping on I-294, following its gradual transition into I-80 and ending on this beautiful campus, 121 miles and two hours away from 408 Cherry Creek Lane.
Throughout my first two years as a Notre Dame student, my conceptualization of this University, its work and its influence barely extended past Douglas Road and Angela Boulevard. In my mind, it simply occupied the physical 1,250 acres of campus space in Notre Dame, Indiana, as the place where I went to class, wrote papers, engaged in discussions, cheered in the student section and interacted with classmates from all over the world.
By the end of sophomore year, I was an expert at navigating life within the much-maligned Notre Dame bubble and balancing schoolwork with weekly dorm parties in 133 Duncan Hall like it was my job. That life was comfortable, easy.
2011 was the year that all changed, when Notre Dame became something bigger than its collegiate yellow brick buildings and the iconic Golden Dome.
That summer, I spent eight weeks working in Idaho as part of the Center for Social Concerns’ Summer Service Learning Program. In a distant, sprawling western state I previously only associated with potatoes, I found homes away from my home under the Dome among my three host families, two of which were Notre Dame alumni couples and the other the parents of two recent alumnae.
A month after leaving my new homes away from the Dome, I jetted across the Atlantic to study abroad in Toledo, Spain, with 26 other Domers. After three and a half months of gallivanting across Europe together from France to Florence and everywhere in between (namely the Camelot dance floor), the “speople” had become some of my best friends at Notre Dame.
When we returned from our carefree continental cavorting to the South Bend permacloud, I felt confined by the finite borders of campus that previously comforted me in their steady security. I needed to get away again, to find another home away from Dome to fill part of the void that emerged as soon as I left the Madrid airport.
I got my wish last summer when I spent two months in El Salvador through the International Summer Service Learning Program. Notre Dame brought me to this tiny, unfamiliar Central American country, where I was surprised to find the familiar spirit of the University alive and well in a recent alumna who started a new chapter of her life in El Salvador after graduation.
If there’s anything the past four nomadic years have taught me, it’s that no matter how far I roam away from my home under the Dome, Notre Dame will be there. From Austria to Australia, Idaho to Italy, members of the Notre Dame family welcome fellow Domers with open arms. As graduates of Our Lady’s University, we carry the unique academic experiences, social mishaps and journeys of personal growth with us as fond memories of our fleeting four years here wherever we go. I may be leaving this hallowed northern Indiana campus this weekend along with my fellow seniors, but I’ll leave knowing Notre Dame will never leave me.
Kristen Durbin will graduate with a fairly uncommon pair of degrees in American Studies and Pre-Health Studies, which she firmly believes have made her into the ideal dinner conversation partner and taught her that knowledge really is power. Kristen wouldn’t be where she is today without coffee, Daft Punk, Easy Mac, the incredible friends she met at Notre Dame or her family’s all-encompassing support. Kristen can be reached at kdurbin@nd.edu
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.