By Hank Tucker

hankphoto.JPG“It was beautiful,” Dr. Karen Nielsen said, remembering the first time she saw snow in her life. She was in her mid-20’s and she had just moved to Durham the year before. She vividly remembers walking down the street by Duke Hospital and suddenly seeing the snowflakes starting to fall. She could barely contain her joy. This event marked a new beginning in Dr. Nielsen’s life as an American after years of hard work in Brazil and the United States.

Dr. Nielsen grew up in the city of Curitiba in southern Brazil. She worked hard as a young student and quickly developed a love for science. After taking an anatomy class at age 13, she decided to become a doctor. A difference in the Brazilian school system from our school system is that there is no college, so she went straight from high school to medical school, which lasts six years. She worked extremely long hours during her training to become a doctor.
After finishing her training in Brazil, she decided to work and study for one year at Duke Hospital and planned on returning to Brazil afterwards. However, she decided to stay here permanently when she started working and realized all of the opportunities that she could take advantage of here.
Dr. Nielsen had never visited America before moving, and she expected her new home to be like a stereotypical “New York style of paced, lots of banking and economic ventures...” She did not expect to find a rural college town like Durham, but she was pleasantly surprised by the lifestyle here. When she moved, she did not know very much English, she missed her family, she had no friends here, and she missed the food in Brazil. It took her about a year to learn the language well and become familiar with life in America, and she has loved it ever since.

Dr. Nielsen still works as an anesthesiologist at Duke Hospital and lives in Durham with her husband Ricardo. She tries to go back to Brazil every couple of years, and when she doesn’t visit, her family visits her. Her parents, one of her sisters, and a lot of extended family still live in Brazil, but now she can call them on Skype and see their faces any time she wants. She is able to stay connected to her home country through jewelry. She loves a Brazilian jewelry store called H. Stern, and she brought a pair of earrings from the store to show me during the interview. Dr. Nielsen truly has worked hard to get to where she is today, and she is grateful to her home country for helping her begin a great life.