Freddie has served as an inspiration for many since we met him in high school. He has always been ready and willing to help others without fail. We wanted to share his story, so that others can find their passion too.
Since you went to high school in California, was it difficult to transition into an East Coast college?
I would be lying if I told you the transition was easy. I attribute much of my struggles to culture shock. On the one hand, I came from a small town and a high school that was predominantly Asian. On the other hand, Duke is predominantly White and composed of a slightly different demographic than what I was used to. To complicate things, I was the only person – from my high school – to attend Duke in my year. It was difficult finding a stable group of friends to lean on, especially if I was having a difficult time. I often dealt with homesickness and nostalgia – the typical things most freshmen, who leave home, encounter during their first year.
Over time, things got better; I am now comfortable living and studying at Duke whereas before I was a bit anxious and uncertain. I would not say that I have completely transitioned to Duke culture quite yet, but I have made significant strides since my freshman year.
What was your freshmen year at Duke like?
To be entirely honest, if I had a choice, I would not revisit or relive my freshman year. Hands-down, it was the most difficult year of my life. I struggled with grades, self-confidence, and self-care. I often found myself lost both mentally and spiritually. I did a lot of soul-searching; I was not sure of my direction in life. For example, I explored religion, different clubs, and was even on the rowing team for a few weeks.
What is your passion and how did you find it, if you did?
I have known, since high school, that – regardless of what I chose to do in life – I would involve myself in a career where I would be directly helping others. In high school and my freshman year, I dabbled into different types of service organizations to help me identify a particular interest. Despite my effort, I was still rather confused as to what I wanted to do after I completed my freshman year at Duke. I defined myself as a pre-medical student but was not certain as to whether I would continue; I also had other interests in business, law, and politics.
Determined to verify whether medicine was the ultimate career path for me, I devoted my summer to a soul-searching process. I spent the entire summer, between my freshman and sophomore years immersing myself in the medical profession: from first-hand exposure with patients to academic coursework. First, I participated in the above mentioned LEAP program to learn and appreciate the science; the experience reassured me of my interest in biology and medicine. Then, I took a two-week trip to China with the International Scholar Laureate Program (ISLP) Delegation on Medicine. While there, I interacted with physicians, nurses, dieticians, medical students, and other pre-medical students from all over the world. I asked health care professionals and medical students their reasons for entering the medical field and, in the process, learned of their life stories. Many were driven by an inner desire to help others; others were fascinated by the science of human biology; some were captivated by the type of people (i.e. patients and colleagues) that they met in the field. I became fascinated by all of their stories and returned to the United States refreshed and rejuvenated. Soon after, I began an internship experience at a local Kaiser Permanente hospital and shadowed a family medicine physician named Dr. X*. Prior to this learning experience, I had never observed first hand a physician at work for an extended period of time. To be honest, at the time, much of my knowledge of a physician’s duties was based largely on my interactions with my own doctors and volunteer experience. At Duke and in China, I saw other doctors interact with their patients, but I was astonished by Dr. X’s passion, drive, and kindness. It was obvious that he loved his job. Naturally, I was intrigued as to how he identified his calling in life to become a physician. Dr. X would never tell me in person; he would simply smile and encourage me to “find my calling.” I eventually learned of Dr. X’s story after I finished my internship. He sent me an e-mail attachment of a speech he had given recently at a local community college. In it, he encouraged me to “Be Great, Find your Voice, Be a Healer, and Go Make History.”
After my shadowing experience, I returned to Duke to tackle Organic Chemistry II and did surprisingly well. By summer’s end, I took time to reflect – I realized I enjoyed science, especially human biology, was sociable and enjoyed hearing others’ stories, and was comfortable working with patients. At a certain point, the light bulb in my head went off; I knew I had found my direction in life.
*For privacy reasons, I omitted Dr. X’s real name.