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Wesley Pritzlaff’s love of teaching and empowering others–and a desire to experience a completely new culture–inspired him to apply to DukeEngage-Zhuhai in 2019. Little did he know the program would help him discover a new career path. After graduating early, Pritzlaff has been working as a physical therapy aide and will matriculate this fall at Duke’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program as part of the Class of 2024.

Why did you choose your DukeEngage program/independent project?

I chose my DukeEngage program to explore a known passion while simultaneously stepping out of my comfort zone. I have always enjoyed teaching others and empowering them to achieve their goals and better themselves, which is why DukeEngage-Zhuhai’s focus on English and extracurricular education initially sparked my interest in this program. Having not traveled out of the country before, I wanted to explore a culture that was different from what I had known—I was intrigued by the idea of teaching in an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar language, culture, and history. Thus, my interest in DukeEngage-Zhuhai was solidified.

What are you doing now academically/professionally?

After graduating in December 2020, I have worked as a Physical Therapy Aide for Pivot Physical Therapy in Wake Forest, NC. I plan to work as a Physical Therapy Aide/Clinician Extender for ATI Physical Therapy in Greenville, SC this summer. I am committed to pursuing a career in physical therapy, and I will attend Duke’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program starting in August 2021 (Class of 2024).

Did DukeEngage influence your academic or career path? If so, how?

Yes! DukeEngage had an invaluable influence on my career path for which I am forever grateful. Prior to my DukeEngage experience, I was stressed and anxious during my sophomore spring as I was unsatisfied by my academic and career outlooks—after dropping pre-med during my first year, I defaulted to a path of research/graduate school seeing no other path as a neuroscience major. However, my DukeEngage experience made me fall in love with connecting with others again and inspired me to pursue a career working for, with, and about people! After my newfound realizations and commitment to redefining my academic and career path upon my return from Zhuhai, China, I explored alternative professions in health care, ultimately landing on physical therapy.

What was the most meaningful part of your DukeEngage experience (personally, academically, or professionally)?

The most meaningful part of my DukeEngage experience was, as its motto advertises, “challenging myself, changing my world.” There were many moments during my DukeEngage experience when I felt challenged, humbled, embarrassed, and insecure. However, it was through these difficult moments that I realized my own potential, identified my strengths (and weaknesses), and sought opportunities for personal growth. For example, I did not speak Chinese, which made it difficult at times to communicate with my host family, students, and community partners. Recognizing my ability to make others feel welcome and appreciated, I learned to foster connections through broken sentences, body language, active listening, laughter, and a smile. I continually try to connect with others on a level that transcends language.

Do you have a specific lesson learned from your DukeEngage experience that still holds true today? If so, what was it?

One specific lesson that I learned from my DukeEngage experience that still holds true today is that in every interaction, each individual has something to teach and learn. Even though our DukeEngage program gifted us the title of “English and art extracurricular instructors”, I was also a student—learning from my younger “students” about the Chinese language, culture, and history. I learned that everyone has a unique story with experiences and perspectives worth listening to and cherishing, so I now seek to listen more to others even when I am in a position of authority.

Are you still connected to DukeEngage? If so, how and why?

I am still connected to my DukeEngage program by connecting with and mentoring new participants. I am grateful for the previous participants who helped prepare me for my DukeEngage experience and inspired me to stay connected to the program in this capacity.

Do you think DukeEngage is an important program? Why or why not?

Yes! Yes! Yes! I strongly believe that DukeEngage is for everyone, regardless of the academic course of study, career goal, personality type, etc. Even if there is not a program that directly aligns with your interest, the lessons and soft skills that you take away from DukeEngage will forever impact your perspectives and values. DukeEngage was my favorite experience from my time at Duke, and I believe that it is a must for students to apply and “challenge themselves, change their world.”

What’s one thing you want people to know about DukeEngage—in general, or about your particular experience?

DukeEngage is so much more than a short project description and its photo could depict. The lessons you learn, people you meet, perspectives you gain, values you develop, service you perform, and growth you experience cannot be imagined until you are immersed in the DukeEngage experience. If you are even the slightest bit interested in a program, APPLY! APPLY! APPLY! 😊

Anything else you’d like to share?

Thank you, DukeEngage, for your invaluable impact in shaping me into the person I am today; for allowing me to “challenge myself, change my world;” for being (without competition) my favorite experience from my time at Duke; for enabling me to maintain a relationship with my host family and students; for broadening my perspectives and opening my eyes to the beauty of the world and all its people.