Thank you Rubens for agreeing on being our featured student for the month! As a Karsh Scholar I have been able to appreciate your openness to new students and willingness to help everyone and before you leave I want to share your story with everyone!
- Tell us a little about yourself: who you are, where you come from, how you got to Duke.
Hi! I'm Rubens - with an s at the end. It's a common mistake people make since the Spanish version of my name doesn't have an s - like the Ruben or Reuben sandwich. It doesn't really bother me but it's entertaining at points.
I was born and raised in northeast Brazil - state of Ceará. I mostly grew up in a small town called Nova Russas but I've lived in Sobral and then Fortaleza (the state capital) before applying to US universities. I used to participate in Scientific Olympiads at the time and I went to the IJSO in Tehran in 2012 where I met this guy that had graduated from MIT. I knew very little about US universities back then but knowing someone first hand gave me motivation to apply. I ended up being accepted to Duke and Columbia but Duke gave me more fin aid and honestly I didn't want to live in NYC for undergrad. Also, Duke sounded a lot more exciting overall!
- What is the role that the Karsh International Scholarship played in your life?
Back when I started it was a very tight group - there were a lot of close friend groups and overall everyone was pretty active in activities, so I ended up with my first two or three close friends from university and had access to a really nice group of experienced international students that were a great resource at dealing with US laws and bureaucracy.
Besides, the financial aid literally enabled me to come to university and be completely worry free - we don't even need to pay for work study so it was a very very chill experience compared to even my friends with full rides.
- What were your expectations for Duke before you came and what is your opinion now about this university?
I honestly came thinking it was kinda like high school but really without making any expectations. It turns out it's a huge mix/mess of studying and hanging and planning and sleeping and anxiety and friends with mental and physical health issues and managing food points and staying up till 5am and getting As and getting Cs and failing life and studying some more and going out for food while managing real money and trying to make a relationship work out and trying to make another relationship work out… Well, it's a chaotic mess but I love it. Compared to universities around the world it feels like Duke and mainly the professors actually care about you and your future and that's such a big help and relief.
- What was the hardest of the challenges adapting to the American culture?
I believe this is partially a Duke problem but it's so hard to get to know people and their lives and getting close to them. I guess because I come from Latin America and families are important and communities and if you like someone you'll probs become friends or at least good acquaintances. Here though, it feels like it's trivial to become a “friend” that lasts like 4 hours or maybe even 2 weeks or even 1 semester and then suddenly they won't even say hi to you anymore. It can be depressive at times and depending on who you are and your current social scenario. Also coming from Brazil, having to call professors “professor last name” instead of just “first name” was quite a nuisance.
- What are the things of the U.S. that you appreciate the most and the least?
Amazon Prime, crazy good credit cards, internationalization - maybe biased because I've only lived in cosmopolitan places like Duke and the bay area, but the amount of international or well cultured people and food is mind-blowing.
- Tell us a little more about your 5 year at Duke: how did you use your time here?
I mostly studied and traveled and chilled with friends. I regret doing a bad job of exploring clubs and activities (I helped with Hack Duke a bit but that was it). I spent a lot of time still trying to get involved with programming contests that were fun and I don't regret but I think there were better uses of my time. I did do a good job of exploring classes not related to my major though.
- Where are you heading next/ what are your dreams for the future?
Right now the plan is to work in Google in Waterloo, Canada - I messed up my opt on purpose so I ended up having to leave the US. To be honest though, I don't feel bad I have to leave. It's just a bummer because there are so many amazing job opportunities for software engineering in this country, but I'm actually hoping to move to Europe sometime in the next 2 to 5 years :).
- Do you feel you will be an attached and active alumnus? In what way do you want to keep in touch with Duke in the future?
I am part of a fraternity here so I'll probably come for alumni events every year or so for the next 5 years.
- What is the legacy you want to leave to international students at Duke?
Not sure about internationals in general but I do am hoping that peeps at my scholarship will remember me and maintain an welcoming and thriving environment for them and whoever comes after.
Thanks for your time Ruben!!