Corina Apostol, Duke University, NC alumna
Corina is currently pursuing a PhD program at Rutgers University, NJ
Student highlight as featured in the Undergraduate Newsletter, Fall 2010 issue. Want to learn more about Duke University? Read the university highlight available here.
When I received the invitation from the Fulbright Educational Advising Center to write about my undergraduate experience at Duke, I leaped at the opportunity to share with you all the life-changing impact the school, as an academic environment and also as a community, has had over my life in the past 5 years. From the beginning I want to emphasize that, aside from being ranked as a top institution in the US and in the world, Duke was the only university that offered me a full financial deal covering my entire undergraduate career, with no strings attached as to what course of study I would elect or any obligations at the end of my studies.
I arrived at Duke in the summer of 2005, decided to pursue my passion in Computer Science, but also open towards exploring other fields in the Social Sciences and Humanities. As it turned out, after my freshman year, which unfolded into several inspiring courses on contemporary art, a part time job at the Nasher Art Museum on campus, and a research assistantship in the Art Department, I realized that my real calling lay in the study of art, architecture and social studies.
Thanks to a combination of my professors' constant support for my work in the arts, developing and presenting projects with like-minded colleagues and constant financial support that allowed me to travel, do original research and connect with artists, critics and institutions, Art History became more than a major – it actually turned into my new path in life. After four years that afforded me the unparalleled opportunities to substantiate and create an audience for my research, gain crucial experience by interning in various departments in art museums, local galleries and non-profits, as well as the privilege to take courses and work one-on-one with some of the finest scholars in the US and Europe, I felt more than ready to commit to a PhD program and a career in Art History – a dream come true for me when I was accepted with another generous fellowship at Rutgers University in NJ, starting in September 2010.
As an only child in a tightly knit family from Constanta, it was not always easy to convey to my kin the necessity of studying so far away from home, nor the substance of my work, which many in Romania consider a dead profession. That is perhaps why my research has been increasingly directed at bringing to the fore the importance of culture in the processes of recovery and reconstruction in Romania and Eastern Europe in general. At Duke, this interest and my own critical perspective were not only encouraged but given as an example and thus legitimized. As a woman working independently on neglected and belittled urgencies reflected in the art produced in Eastern Europe, I felt I had a voice and, more importantly, I was given the confidence and resources to make an impact in my home community. Additionally, Duke's International House, a wonderful resource for all students struggling through similar issues in different fields, became my second home and the meeting place where I developed long-lasting friendships and collaborations.
While I was at first deterred by the amalgamation of cliques in the university, which I think is characteristic of the US educational system in general, I nonetheless established a circle of friends from all parts of the world, something which continues to enrich me. Although I did not want to commit to any group in the beginning (out of the dozens of sororities, religious, scientific or environmental communities), I always felt welcome to join whatever activities were going on – from concerts, film screenings, theater performances, spontaneous jam sessions, to lectures, yoga & meditation, or cooking lessons.
During my sophomore year, I rediscovered a forgotten passion for live music and, encouraged by some artist friends, I joined a folk-rock band and later established a music venue on campus, dedicated to inviting local performers to play for students, employees, and faculty. Again, my endeavors were supported both in spirit by the school officials and my peers, as well as with the capital I needed to start an organization on campus from scratch. Not only did opening my own venture give me a great sense of accomplishment, but it was a great lesson on community building through sharing of culture. My music venue became more and more significant to me as it brought me in contact with people from all sorts of backgrounds and from beyond the university walls.
All in all, the time I spent in and outside the classroom at Duke has been the most formative and exciting part of my life. If you are not afraid to step outside your comfort zone and open your mind to new cultures and new ways of thinking, then I encourage you to take on the myriad opportunities the US education system has to offer.
My fulbright experience
Students at the advising center