Photo by Sunny Chen

Duran pursues passion for medicine at Harvard University

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When she first set foot on campus, senior Valeria Duran was left in awe as she gazed up at the historical buildings of Harvard University. For weeks, she had been packing and preparing to travel to the East Coast where she would spend two weeks studying medical anthropology.

“I was kind of surprised that I made it in,” Duran said. “It seemed really unrealistic. It didn’t seem within my reach.”

Duran discovered that she had been accepted into the Harvard pre-college program back in February and chose to attend in order to broaden her horizons.

“I wanted to see what it was like so far away from home,” Duran said. “I just wanted to experience that because as a senior, I’m going to be applying to different colleges, and I wanted to get that feel.”

Initially, Duran was hesitant about taking the course because it was a long way from home and a costly class to pay for. Luckily, Duran was able to convince her parents to allow her to attend.

“My parents were still apprehensive about letting me go,” Duran said. “I didn’t have the money to go, [but] I got a generous scholarship and financial aid, so it was okay.”

During the two-week course, Duran expressed that she had felt out of place compared to her other classmates at the start.

“I felt very intimidated—I felt scared—because I [didn’t feel] like I was supposed to be there,” Duran said.

Nevertheless, Duran was able to see and meet students from all over the world.

“Making friends seemed like it was going to be hard at first,” Duran said. “But we got to know each other very quickly because of how much time we spent together.”

On the first day of class, Duran had felt nervous—but mostly excited—to learn more about her course and classmates. Her professor, Dr. Jason Silverstein, had just finished his Ph.D. at Harvard and taught at the medical school there.

“I feel like our class got the best professor in the program,” Duran said. “He was very encouraging and made his class a space where it was easy and natural to volunteer an opinion or answer.”

Duran described her work at Harvard and the material that the class focused on, including her final project—a “biosocial analysis on a disease and community. ”

“Everyday we’d read our book and then write a paper about our thoughts on the reading,” Duran said. “I chose to do [my final project] on alcoholism in young Mexican-American males who live in U.S.-Mexico border communities.”

After the program came to a close, Duran had not only gained knowledge from her course, but also life experiences from working with different kinds of people.

“As the whole course went on, it was kind of realization that I can do it too,” Duran said. “The most valuable thing that I got from it was my sense of self-worth.”

Duran hopes to continue studying public health and medical anthropology when she begins college next year.

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