How I Got To Durham: Looking Back After One Year

How did I get to Durham? Actually, I came here three times, and not just once.

Photo of Ninth Street in Durham
Ninth Street in Durham is a very colorful and lively district.

The first time was in early July 2011 for the Language Institute, which is a program designed for non-native English speakers and occurs before the Daytime MBA orientation. I almost missed the first day of the institute because my flight from Frankfurt, Germany, was canceled at the last minute. I waited in line forever to get rebooked on a flight that would get me over the Atlantic in time, which was done purely through luck. It was a promising start!

The second time was when my family finally moved to Durham during fall break. This is when I felt that I emotionally arrived in Durham.

The third time was when I came back to Durham after my internship in Chicago this past August. This was when I felt how dear Durham had become to my heart. The “Windy City” is so much fun, but still no match for the incredible Bull City, my home, sweet home!

Adjusting to American Culture

Ironically, when I first got to Durham, I also began to write blogs for the first time in my life. Although Europe and America may be similar, I saw vast differences. I simply had to channel my impressions somehow, so I began to jot things down. The big lesson I learned, or I thought I learned, was this — be patient and ask! Americans love questions that get to the point!

One simple example may illustrate the case more: my level of self-esteem after a couple of weeks here had dropped below zero because it seemed that nobody who had ever spoken to me wanted to do that a second time. I was completely baffled; that is, until I learned in a cultural communications class (organized by the Fuqua Career Management Center — kudos for that!) that Americans only communicate when they have something concrete to say. Otherwise, they will simply look past you. This was not what I figured before. I did feel a bit bewildered, until I understood the cultural difference, and I adjusted my communication style.

Now, I am very comfortable with this new mode of interaction. It is very predictable and very pragmatic. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I sometimes miss communication like just chatting for its own sake.

A photo of JB Fuqua, the namesake of the business school.
The bust of J.B. Fuqua, for whom the school is named.

In the Eyes of a Child

Let me conclude by confessing why I am so into Fuqua now: it’s because of our little one. My son, who is learning American English with his classmates, asks us every time we drive off his daycare parking lot, “Are we going to Fuqua?” And whenever I bring him to school, like for Fuqua Friday, he will immediately pinpoint the bust of J.B. Fuqua, which is located in one of the main hallways.

Beaming with delight, the boy shows off his knowledge and always says, “Papa, Herr Fuqua, Herr Fuqua …” (“Herr” is German for “Mr.”). It’s just so heartwarming to see how much he has come to like Fuqua, and it’s contagious!

Oh, but by the way — sorry, J.B., one qualifier — there is one celebrity my son admires even more — the Duke Blue Devil mascot!

Kim Lambert

Kim Lambert

Daytime MBA, Class of 2012

After volunteering with the Virginia Public Health Association, I became interested in healthcare, which led me to Fuqua and its Health Sector Management (HSM) program. I also pursued a concentration in marketing and was an Admissions Ambassador. After graduating from Fuqua, I accepted a position in media at Intel.

Learn more about Kim | View all of Kim's Posts

  • Mark H

    Nice post Ralf! I found your cultural observation about straight-shooting Americans very interesting. I’ve never heard it before, but I suppose it makes sense. I will say that “Americans only communicate when they have something concrete to say. Otherwise, they will simply look past you” is a generalization. The culture at Fuqua is specific, and you might find things different, even at other graduate schools at Duke!

  • Ralf Kloeckner

    Mark: thank you for your reply! I appreciate the thoughtfulness very much.
    I write my blogs with a certain audience and very specific objectives in mind. That said, the topic itself is certainly worthy of a more in-depth discussion than can be provided in a blog. The blog is meant to encourage reflection and stimulate effective communication rather than to deliver answers. If you have any concrete questions, I will be happy to take them offline with you.

  • GMAT Prepster

    Oh how I miss Durham. Approaching 5 years since graduation. Can’t wait to come back.