(apologies for the typos and “not so crisp” writing – I was a bit…well…you know…)
Please allow me to let you in a very private part of my life.
By now, you must have gone through hundreds of applications from very intelligent and well qualified prospective students. What makes me stand out? You ask…
I almost left this section blank, assuming that my story was the reality of most students. But if you allow me, I will share some of my life challenges, tribulations, and how they converge to today.
I arrived in the United States 20 years ago, from Brazil. I had a very comfortable life in my country. I went to the best private schools, I was in the varsity swimming team, I had a good network of friends, and had all the privileges a teenager could ask for. This lasted until my parents decided to move to the U.S.A.
At that time, violence against middle/ upper middle classes was running rampant. Many of my parents’ friends and their families were the target of kidnappings in Rio de Janeiro. Sometimes this was deadly. My parents were deeply concerned for our safety and decided that we should leave the country.
We arrived in Boston in 1992. Everything seemed great at first. Until a few months later, when we started facing what I know was one of the most challenging phases of our lives.
We found ourselves removed from our social networks, while also having to arduously transition into this new cultural reality. We were always a very close family, so my father managed to visit us in Boston seven times in the course of one year. Little did I know that he did not have the financial resources to support us. Paying for seven round trips from Rio de Janeiro to Boston was definitely out of our means. Every time he showed up unannounced I was overcome with a sense of happiness and security.
The financial and emotional challenges were great. There was a serious economic downturn in Brazil during the early 90’s and the Brazilian currency was very weak. My father realized he could never replicate the quality of life we had in Brazil. The life that we knew was over. Our social networks were broken. We now faced the reality of living with very little money and not having much to put on the table at times.
I was only 14 years old and my siblings were one year apart. We were scared and did not know anybody or where to look for help. My mother, a very strong woman, struggled with depression from this major transition. She did not speak English well and only grew inward.
During our early struggles here, I learned that people can be very ill-intentioned. We were the easy targets of “unfortunate” souls who wanted to humiliate us and take advantage of our goodwill.
I know that this experience served to lay a solid foundation for success in my future. I never shied away from challenges, facing them head on and always trying to excel. Most importantly my family never resorted to the “easy way out”.
We were ready for College and were still struggling to buy food. I knew that in order to succeed I had to concentrate on doing well in school despite my problems. My parents juggled their money and barely managed to pay our way through college. My siblings and I had to work full-time throughout school to help in the house.
I started volunteering at the Massachusetts GeneralHospital and several months later I was offered $6/hour to work at the lab. One day, I was approached by a staff of the Registrar’s office who told me I had defaulted six months in my tuition. They gave me two choices: pay or leave.
I was determined to finish my undergraduate degree. I scheduled an appointment with the Dean of the school to discuss other options. After reviewing my grades and understanding that I worked full time to maintain my basic needs, they decided to give me a scholarship which helped me stay in school for that semester. But I still had to come up with another $4,000 to pay for the remaining tuition. Dr. <name removed> (MD., PhD. – mentor at MGH) lent me the money so I could continue my studies.
I never felt discouraged by these struggles. I stayed on course and graduated with an excellent GPA, and two professional publications from my work at MGH. In the meantime, my parents were in the middle of getting a divorce.
I worked in public health for a few years, and then decided to pursue my Master in Public Health. My income covered my basic needs but I did not have the money for the tuition. Once again, Dr. <name removed> came through and co-signed my school loan so I could attend school. I worked full time and attended school full time.
I did not have the money for my third semester. History repeated itself and I found myself meeting with the Dean of Boston University School of Public Health. He carefully examined my academic performance and concurrent professional achievements. He spoke to some of my professors and they decided to award me with a 50% scholarship, which is given to two students every year. And this is how I completed my master degree.
Why am I sharing all of this with you? It is because I understand that most of the applicants to your program are very qualified for acceptance. However, I believe that my excellent academic and professional achievements, despite all the challenges in my life, are living proof that I have the drive, intelligence and assertiveness to complete my PhD program. Furthermore, I understand the struggles that immigrants have to face on a daily basis to succeed and provide for their families. I lived through it and deeply sympathize with their difficulties.
It is a victory for me to be applying to your PhD program and to be relatively competitive with other applicants. It is truly an accomplishment that I am proud of.
I hope that this serves as a statement of my deepest motivations to pursue my PhD. I want to continue helping the underrepresented as I know I once needed that same help.
Sassi the Spider