Going into the conversation with international students and scholars, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I found this conversation to be one of my favorite things I’ve participated in at Duke. I think because I was born and raised in America, I struggled to be critical of the institutions and practices surrounding me. I always figured that the people who created these systems, ran our governments, wrote my textbooks, knew better than I did. Hearing from these international scholars made me realize that there are many shortcomings to the American status quo.

From this conversation, I saw American education from many different perspectives. I got a better grasp on how constructions of race are much different in the U.S. than in other nations when Rita described her realization that her identity as a Black woman meant something very different in America than in her home country of Kenya. I gained insights on the power of applying yourself and your passions in Selena’s experience as a woman of color in engineering was enriched by her resilience and persistence to pursue high achievement. I realized that sometimes, luck plays a large role in our lives through the experiences of Alan and Rohan.

These experiences were all something that I felt connected to. I struggled to find my sense of belonging at Duke. I came from a relatively homogenous community in racial, gender, and socioeconomic identities, and there were many times I realized that my identities at Duke are very different from what they were at home. Even today, I continue to struggle to fit into the “effortlessly perfect” Duke student archetype, academically and socially.

Hearing these experiences of international scholars was incredibly important to me. It’s sometimes easy to become trapped in the Duke bubble and obsess over issues that may not have as lasting of an impact as I may think. From this conversation, I can honestly say that I want to re-think my approach to my academic and career goals. I’m beginning to realize that the pre-planned journey that I had laid out in my head, with awards I want to win, graduate schools I want to attend, is not essential to true success.

I want to thank Dohwon, Rita, Carla, Maria, Alan, Rohan, and Selena for sharing their stories. Sharing these struggles and successes is not always easy, but thanks to them, I have learned so much.