Ebola fear inspires passion to protect people against disease | Duke Kunshan University

Ebola fear inspires passion to protect people against disease

“Where are you from?” is a tough question for Reika Shimomura to answer. Born in the United States, she moved with her family to Japan when she was just 2 years old and spent a large part of her adolescence in Ghana.

When it comes to questions about cultural identity, she said she has no easy answers.

“Each location brought me closer to who I am today,” she said, explaining that her experiences helped shape her own unique culture. “Without them I would not have found my passion.”

An easier question for Reika would be “Where are you going?”

She will be one of almost 100 international students starting at Duke Kunshan in the fall as part of the Class of 2023. These students represent 28 countries across six continents, including the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, India, Italy and Ethiopia.

Reika said she’s looking forward to studying technology and computer sciences, and how they can be applied to solving global health challenges.

Her interest in health care and disease prevention and control began in 2014, when an Ebola outbreak swept through West Africa. At the time, she was studying at Lincoln Community School in Accra, the capital of Ghana.

Unlike Sierra Leone, Nigeria and other countries in the region, Ghana was able to prevent the disease from entering its borders. Yet the “sense of fear from unseen threats” was palpable even after the last reported case during that outbreak, Reika recalled.

“I learned about health disparities from the media. Some populations do not have the same health information or access to the health systems as others do,” she said. “This created confusion and misunderstanding, and it became a part of the big issue in treating and preventing Ebola.

“This had a great emotional impact on me, resulting in a strong desire to protect people from infectious diseases. I believe that reducing the disparity within a small community can help to maintain the health of surrounding areas and, eventually, the entire globe.”

While in Accra, Reika took part in an after-class activity called Street Girls Aid, in which students visited a day care center for local children. “It was one of my favorite activities,” she said. “It allowed me to connect with the locals more. I’ll always cherish the memories I made there.”

After returning to Japan, Reika was enrolled at Ritsumeikan Uji High School in the Kansai region. She continued to expand her global health knowledge, including by taking part in Jichi Medical University’s Doctor Experience seminar in 2017.

She also attended the Disease Detective Camp, a five-day interdisciplinary education program run by the CDC Museum in Atlanta, U.S., in the summer of 2018.

“I am looking forward to learning and doing research in the local community around Duke Kunshan University and further,” she added.

Reika, who applied as an early decision candidate, saw the Duke Kunshan campus for the first time when she participated in the International Admitted Student Experience (IASE). The four-day event in late April featured group activities, a waterside barbeque, sample classes, a lightshow and a trip to Suzhou, which is a short drive from campus.

“The campus is wonderful – I’ve never seen a place where modern buildings and nature coexists,” she said. “I also liked how the campus has different rooms and spaces for every purposes. We can have a conversation, study quietly, eat with faculty and play table tennis all in one place.”

During the IASE, she said she got to know as many people as possible, talking with her new classmates at breakfast time, on bus rides and back at the hotel.

“Interactions during the group activities like blindfolded basketball shooting and jumping rope really made us close friends,” she added. “I can’t wait to reunite in August!”

Watch the video below to hear Reika talk about her hobbies and interests, and why she's excited to study at Duke Kunshan.