It is mid November and today has turned out to be a beautiful day. I am seated on a bench in a garden that lies in the middle of the two buildings of Sanford School fascinated by all the color I see around me. Indians are renowned for their use of color, and it feels like I am home with the green, orange, red, yellow, and rusty color splash all around. The leaves sway with the pleasant breeze and I am sinking into a different world. It is moments like these, where you let your mind wander and it is during these wanderings that great ideas surface. Today however, I’d like to share my experience at Duke, a school that I barely know and yet it reminds me of home.
As an undergraduate student I was an integral part of the student life at the University of West Georgia. I have still held on to the t-shirt a dear friend of mine designed which reads, “Hello my name is Mariam and I run UWG, because I am involved in everything!” I was happy and content. Then I spend some wonderful time traveling around Asia and working in Thailand. This was followed by a not-so happy encounter with a prestigious American graduate institution. I do not doubt that SAIS is a prestigious school, but it is not for me. I grew depressed and didn’t know how to snap out of it. I had taken a huge loan(despite my fellowship) and also worked part time as an English teacher to make ends meet. Italy is an expensive country, I had been warned. But it could be dealt with, I thought. I had to learn the hard way that I was wrong. My grades plummeted and I failed to grasp much of the curriculum. I was stuck in a building with no campus life. What works for others did not work for me. I decided to depart from there after I accepted my Rotary fellowship. I was thrilled, and rightly so. I love every aspect of being here. It reminds me of my years at UWG where I was a buzzing bee. Being at Duke is about exploring, learning, and contributing, rather than just writing research papers. I also sense a difference in attitude amid my colleagues. They are not here primarily to network. A large chunk of us have had several years of professional work experience and so they were not as superficial as I felt some of my classmates at SAIS-Bologna were.
Don’t get me wrong, I was able to meet some of my best friends at SAIS, but for the most part, I felt that SAIS was all about competing against one another. At Duke we help each other succeed. I recognized the Americanism that was prevalent amid my SAIS class. Toward the end of my semester there, I dreaded the prospect of being sucked into this system and decided to break free and do what I like best, which I clearly wasn’t pursuing. So finally I took the plunge. Here at Duke the class is a great deal pragmatic and we do have a life beyond the classroom which need not cost an arm and a leg. I chose to reach out to the other promising future that awaited me at Duke and I feel at home again! I have a wonderful host family who adopted me as one of their own. With all things bright and delightful, I can confess that good fortune comes to those who wait.
I am a Blue Devil and am thrilled to be one!