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As the halfway point of my time in Miami passes, I can’t help but look back and reflect on everything that’s happened since I arrived here. In particular, one thought that’s popped up in my mind time and again is how this summer fits in with my long-term goals. During my first week here, I remember feeling somewhat out of place at the office. Every time I was introduced to someone, I would inevitably be asked, “So what do you study at Duke?” And every time I responded with, “Biology and global health on the pre-med track,” there would be a short pause, usually followed by something along the lines of, “Hm, that’s interesting. How’d you end up here, then?”


The first time this happened, I struggled to find my words. I hadn’t given too much thought to how this summer would relate to my career goals in medicine. All I knew was that I was interested in immigration, and having worked with immigrants and refugees in my local community and having seen news reports every day about immigration and refugee crises around the world, I had developed a passion for learning more about issues faced by these communities.


My response to my interlocutor would thus contain something like what I’ve just described, and as time went on and I was faced with this question over and over again, my response became automatic. In fact, this very exchange took place three times today, and each time I prepared myself to deliver this well-rehearsed response as soon as the topic of conversation shifted to my studies. However, though my mouth has gotten used to forming the requisite words for this response as if it were second nature, no matter how many times this dialogue plays over, my mind always wanders back to ponder on this thought: “Why am I here?”


Like many pre-professional students at Duke and peer institutions, I often feel as though whatever I choose to do with my time–especially during the summer–should be explicitly related to my future goals. For a pre-med student like me, this could include shadowing a physician, volunteering at the hospital, or getting involved in a prestigious research program. For a computer science student, this might include securing a coveted internship at one of the top IT companies or a start-up. For pre-law students, this could include interning at a law firm or with their senator on Capitol Hill.


While the pre-professional culture that pervades many college campuses does have its merits, these very benefits often end up being some of its major drawbacks as well. Some students, myself included, may feel that by pursuing interests unrelated to our future careers, we are somehow failing to make the most of our college years. On the other hand, isn’t the whole point of college to explore your interests and take advantage of every opportunity, perhaps discovering something new that you might not have otherwise considered? That being said, while it’s important to prepare oneself to join the workforce after graduation, doing so does not necessarily preclude one from pursuing other interests as well.


Like many conflicts, reconciling one’s career goals with one’s interests requires striking a balance somewhere between the two. In my case, I haven’t yet found the perfect balance, but I have come to the realization that my studies and my passions need not always go hand-in-hand. So the next time someone asks me, “How did you end up here?”, I won’t feel as lost or clueless as I did the first time; instead, I’ll feel more confident about my response, knowing that I’m one step closer to figuring it all out.