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I was born in Denmark to a mother who left school after 9th grade and a father who left after 6th grade. Still, they provided well for me, partly because the Danish system is much more egalitarian. After high school, I came to the US to work with a theater group and travel around the world. Those were amazing days, during which, among other things, I must have spent at least 200 nights staying with different families in Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Michigan – states I toured with the theater group. Once when our van broke down on some long desert stretch of highway in the middle of the night in California, some man showed who had listened to the police calls showed up and helped me and my teammates by taking us home and giving us food and shelter. Experiences like these gave me a real appreciation of the lives of many Americans who live on little but share a lot.

The more I saw, the more I realized that I might need some education. Since I had few means, I started in community college and supported myself as a federal work-study student working for $4.25/hr. in the continuing education office.  On Saturdays, I oversaw a flea market in the college parking lot.  After earning an Associate of Arts, I transferred to Stanford University because a professor at the community college was kind enough to tell me about higher education.  At Stanford, I was living off campus because I was married, and my husband worked various jobs to help put me through college.  Our joint income when I started at Stanford in 1995 was $11K so I had lots of grants and loans.  I survived on simple food, and never bought what to me was expensive food on campus.  I worked multiple jobs throughout my time at Stanford, one of them babysitting in exchange for rent reduction.

I never really thought of myself as IG/LI until I came to Duke and heard the expression.  I still think the obstacles faced by today’s 1G/LI students are far starker than the ones I faced.  Even being an immigrant was very different for me than what some of today’s immigrants face.  I had no money, but I still had many advantages coming from Denmark.

I hope that my experiences have made me more sensitive to first-generation, low-income students here at Duke.  It can be like a parallel reality to come to Duke. Sometimes even I feel like I don’t fit in at Duke. When I first walked into the new Broadhead Center, for example, I felt this strong sense that this was not my world. My life as a college student had been so different. Sometimes I still feel like I come from a different planet.  Because of my background, I still struggle to identify with the culture at Duke today, and I wonder how low-income students feel on our campus when the facilities and manners differ so greatly from their backgrounds.  Coming from a more equal country and being a first-generation student of modest means has shaped my aspirations to make the world a better place for all through public policy.  I welcome any 1G/LI student to stop by my office if they need anything!