By Nanjala Wafula, 2016 Master of Science in Global Health graduate
They say, ”Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
This statement is true of Trent Hall, which hosts the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI).
At a glance, this brick building is unappealing to the eye, but it’s not the building that matters—rather, it’s the people inside it. Having graduated with a Master of Science in Global Health (MSc-GH) from DGHI, and as a current Duke employee, I often find myself reminiscing about the time I spent at Trent Hall.
I must also admit that even though I am no longer a student, Trent Hall still has a special place in my heart.
I came to the USA to pursue my graduate studies two years ago. I remember the first time I walked into Trent Hall with a couple of my classmates who wanted to check out the classrooms before the first day of class. We were anxious and, like all other graduate students, constantly aware of the prestigious opportunity of being at Duke.
My first impression of Trent 040 was not exciting, to say the least, for reasons beyond the scope of this blog post. However, in the days to come, Trent 040 would become the place where I would meet new friends, explore quantitative methods in epidemiology and learn from some of the most brilliant men and women shaping the global health agenda in the world.
I will be forever grateful to some of the men and women that sit in Trent Hall for various reasons.
First, as an international student, making the move to the USA was extremely challenging. I was raised in rural western Kenya, in a small village that has no electricity, piped water or paved roads. I grew up looking after cattle, fetching firewood and carrying water on my head from the well for both domestic and farming purposes.
I fought to be educated since the boy child in my tribe is equated to a demi-god and, since I was the eldest child in my family and happened to be a girl, my father treated me like a boy to justify taking me to school. I am the second person in my extended family to go to university, the first woman to do so and the first person to obtain a master’s degree. I was also the first person to study abroad. And for the two years I was in the program, the faces in Trent Hall were family.
Secondly, I suffered from graduate impostor syndrome. This is a phenomenon whereby a student feels intimidated by her fellow peers and, if left unchecked, might undermine the student’s progress in graduate school. It is interesting how the achievements of our peers can make us question our abilities and competencies.
I have a type-A personality, and I’m also very self-driven. I often joke that I am my own best friend and my worst critic. The first few days, I was very clumsy, people did not understand my accent and I had to adjust to my peers eating in class while the professor was teaching (an occurrence unheard of in my home country). I was also entering graduate school after four years in the workforce and experiencing the challenges of transitioning from a full-time job to full-time school.
I am grateful to Lysa MacKeen, Sarah Martin and Dr. Chris Woods for reminding me that I belonged in the MSc-GH program and that the whole point of graduate school was to learn. I did finally graduate with a GPA of 3.927, but I would not have done so if I had not received constant encouragement in Trent Hall.
Lastly, I would not have survived the period after graduation looking for employment as a foreign national here in the USA without my strong network of professors and students from the MSc-GH program who, together with my faith community, helped me find a job:
- Linda Scovill, our career resource person, edited my resume countless times, even when she was in Canada.
- Dr. Wendy Prudhomme O’Meara, my advisor and the chair of my thesis committee, was instrumental in helping me improve on my interviewing skills.
- My fellow global health practitioners from the MSc-GH program, past and present—Adeola Legunsen-Oluwase, Jihad Abdelgadir, Nicole Jadue, Devon Paul, Claire Rotich, Tatenda Yemeke, Starling Shan, Aditya Mehta, Prasana Khatiwoda, Caesar Lubanga-kene and Loise Nga’nga—supported me in various ways.
- My professors—Drs. Joe Egger, Larry Park, Eric Green, Jerry Bloomfield, Kearsley Stewart, Gavin Yamey and Frank Sloan—sent me job postings, provided references, lent psychological support and were just there when I needed someone to talk to.
Although I have now graduated from the MSc-GH program, I still try find time in my day to come back to Trent Hall and catch up with familiar faces.
Trent Hall will always be home away from home, as long as I am here at Duke and in the USA.