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Strydom leaves behind life of fear in South Africa
Debbie Epping
Antelope Staff
Photo by Debbie Epping
Marcelle Strydom, a 21-year-old biology major, moved halfway across the world from South Africa for a better life when she was 10 years old. Last summer, Strydom was accepted into the INBRE program, a two year research program that awards students money for biomedical research. Strydom currently works in the microbiology lab under Dr. Julie Shaffer, assistant professor of biology.
Marcelle Strydom

When UNK senior Marcelle Strydom was 10 years old, her parents moved her and her two siblings halfway across the world for the chance at a better life.

The 21-year-old biology major from South Africa and Holdrege High School graduate came to UNK on a tennis scholarship, but had to finish her athletic career a year early after injuring her shoulder joint last season.

Now Strydom is taking on everything life serves her, one day at a time.

Strydom moved to Nebraska with her parents, Louis and Emilia, her brother, Louis, 19, and her sister, Reinette, 15.

"It was scary," Strydom said.

Strydom's parents moved their family off the farm in South Africa to give them a chance to live free of fear away from barred windows and locked doors. Strydom said white Dutch descendants are the object of genocide in South Africa and her family would be one of the prime targets.

"It's crazy reading about farms around my home in South Africa that have been attacked," Strydom said.

Strydom's grandparents, Elmo and Mariette Van der Merwe came to Nebraska shortly after her family made the move, but had to go back to South Africa because of difficulties with their paperwork.

"I talk to them, and it's so sad," Strydom said. "You can hear they're getting older, and I'm clear across the world. I've never been back."

The rest of Strydom's family including aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces live in South Africa; some she's only met via webcam.

"It'd be nice to go back and visit, but I want to stay here," Strydom said.

Strydom has come a long way from her days as a scared 10-year-old girl who didn't know any English.

Last summer, Strydom was accepted into the INBRE program, a two-year research program that awards students money for biomedical research.

The research is made possible through the INBRE grant, a grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to UNK and nine other colleges and universities across Nebraska.

Strydom currently works in the microbiology lab under Dr. Julie Shaffer, assistant professor of biology.

"We're working on alkaline bacteria from the Sandhills Lakes," Strydom said.

In addition to her academic accomplishments, Strydom was a student-athlete for her first three years of college.

"I've been playing tennis since I was seven years old," Strydom said.

After placing second in state in both her freshman and senior years of high school, Strydom played No. 2-No. 3 singles and No. 2 doubles at UNK on a tennis scholarship.

"On a varsity team you have six players and one alternate," Strydom said. "Your best player is No. 1."

The team went to nationals in Florida Strydom's sophomore and junior years, but lost in the first round.

"Personally I've learned how to have fun with it," Strydom said. "I was always so driven to win in high school. College taught me how to have fun and lower the stress level."

Strydom said the play is more competitive, but it's also more of a team effort.

An injury to her shoulder joint last fall brought Strydom's tennis career to a halt, but it won't stop her from cheering on her team.

"I cheered them on last spring, and I'll be cheering them on again this year," Strydom said. "I wish them all the luck."

Strydom graduates from UNK in the spring, and her ultimate goal is to go to medical school so she can come back to Kearney and be an anesthesiologist.

"I don't have my green card yet, so I can't go to med school or grad school," Strydom said.

Strydom's family has been trying to obtain a green card since they moved to Nebraska 11 years ago.

"It's been an ongoing process," Strydom said. "We were supposed to know about five years ago."

Strydom has turned to her alternative plan of applying for an accelerated nursing program at Creighton next fall.

"I might be stuck in this limbo position for the rest of my life until I get married," Strydom said. "Hopefully it works out. I'll just see where things take me after nursing school and hope for the best."


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