Global experiences led this student to embrace the resilience of the human spirit

By Bill Ibelle, Editorial Director

When Adrienne Peng was a freshman studying in Greece, she visited the Eidomeni refugee camp near the Macedonian border. In addition to learning about horrors of the war in Syria, she witnessed the resilience of the human spirit and the enormous generosity of the Greek people.

“At that time, Greece was in the middle of their own financial crisis and yet people were willing to give up so much for those they didn’t even know,” said Peng, BHS’19.

Peng wanted to be that type of person.

Adrienne Peng, BHS’19

Adrienne Peng, BHS’19 Photo by Bill Ibelle

“I knew I wanted to go into healthcare, but I wanted to learn more than just the hard science—I wanted to take a holistic approach by blending hard science with social science,” she said. “That’s why I came to Northeastern.”

Peng’s experience in Greece sparked her passion for global health. Over the next several years she participated in two more international study opportunities, one in Ghana and the other in Singapore.

Earlier this month, Peng was honored as one of four Presidential Global Fellows, selected by Northeastern President Joseph Aoun from a pool of 200 global scholars across the university. The Fellows are chosen because they embody Northeastern’s identity as a global university that fosters cultural competency in students who are determined to make an impact on the world.

For Peng, this means using her public health training to combat infectious diseases, particularly sexually transmitted diseases. For her capstone project, she worked in the HIV/AIDS division of the Massachusetts Department of Health.

“Infectious disease requires a bridge between social sciences and hard sciences,” she said. “Infection rates are dramatically affected by healthcare disparities. I’m fascinated by both the science and by how public policy can affect the greater population.”

Honing her goals

Peng’s interest in sexually transmitted diseases was sparked by an encounter during a Dialogue of Civilizations trip to Ghana led by applied psychology professor Vanessa Johnson. While visiting a village to explore malaria prevention, she met a woman who had been diagnosed with HIV.

“She talked about the importance of personal resilience,” recalls Peng. “Before she could concentrate on helping others by becoming an HIV prevention advocate, she had to rise above the shock and horror of her own diagnosis.”

Again, international study had helped Peng refine her calling.

“I try to live by my motto: Experience does for the soul what education does for the mind.”

That’s why just days after graduation, Peng will be on a plane to Ghana, where she will work as a teaching assistant to professor Johnson, on the same Dialogue she participated in as a student a two years earlier.

On her own

Peng’s final study abroad as an undergraduate was at the National University of Singapore, where she worked as a research assistant working on tuberculosis in the Department of Biological Sciences. The co-op was made possible by Northeastern’s Presidential Global Scholar grant.

Unlike her previous international experiences, there was no group leader to smooth the way or cohort of American students to provide a cocoon of American culture. This time she was on her own.

She embraced the challenge, using her free time to explore Singapore’s vibrant culture as well as that of other southeast Asian countries. During one excursion, she visited a monastery in Myanmar. Her guide told her about the country’s long history as a “pariah state” because of its long history of violence and oppression.

“He said that in Myanmar, ‘we have everything from snow-capped mountains to tropical islands with beautiful beaches—the one thing we don’t have is peace.’”

Yet in spite of the country’s long struggle, she said the man retained his optimism about the future.

“I was impressed by the hope that filled this man—the resilience of the human spirit,” said Peng. “Looking back on my international experiences at Northeastern, that is my favorite memory.”

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