Detina and Argita Zalli, two Harvard twins
When they left with their family for the United Kingdom, the twin sisters from Fier, Detina and Argita Zalli, were still teenagers. Everything that awaited them in the town of Folkestone in the South of England was very different from what their country, Albania, had offered them. That is where their science journey came to life. Harvard scientist and pedagogue Detina Zalli talks in this interview about the newest initiative that will be organized this early May in Harvard, “Good Morning Hope” an event that for the first time is dedicated to the life story of two Albanians, her and her sister, Argita. It is a story that symbolizes the story of many other Albanians and that the sisters will bring through the publication of a book.
Lecturer and scientist at Harvard University. How difficult has this road been for you?
The journey, not only to be a scientist or educator but also to have a better life has been difficult. In 1999 we left illegally as refugees to go to England. There we encountered many difficulties. We did not have documents as our friends, we could not compete in the same universities, or go to the same schools first. Very soon, after many schooling tests, we were admitted to one of the best English schools, “Grammar School” and there many things changed, positively. We started to stand out among the best, even though we still did not have English documents, and this created problems for us.
Your twin sister is also a doctor of science. How was this passion for science born in both of you and how much do you communicate with each other in this regard?
This direction was born “accidentally”. My sister and I wanted to become doctors and not scientists. We dreamed of becoming doctors as children when we often played with our dolls (we pretended to be doctors, while dolls were our patients).
Because we did not have English documents we were not admitted to medical school. Seeing our excellent results, one of the English universities (University of Sussex) insisted that we be educated there in Molecular medicine and helped us to obtain English documents. Studying molecular medicine, we realized that this was our great passion though we had the opportunity to return to medical school, we decided to continue our studies in science and do research, which we like.
In addition to research, one area where you contribute is pedagogy. How difficult is it to do research and pedagogy at the same time?
It is quite difficult because you have to coordinate both. Often when you lecture, you do not have time to do “scientific research”, because lecturing requires the preparation of lectures that take time. However, we like pedagogy very much. We have a passion for it and, we consider it a real passion more than work. We love interacting with colleagues and students.
During all these years outside Albania, have you felt prejudiced as an immigrant?
Yes, in many cases. However, we were also lucky because we met great English people and professors, who helped us move forward by encouraging us every time.
Soon, the “Good Morning Hope” event will be organized at Harvard, an event that is dedicated for the first time to the life story of two Albanians, you and your sister. What is this activity? How will you and Albania be presented through it?
This event is dedicated to me and my twin sister. It deals with the history of our lives that symbolizes the history of many other Albanians. It happened quite a by accident. My colleagues and I were at an event at Harvard, the Harvard Leadership Conference. I was one of the organizers of this event, along with my colleagues. Guests were many actors and authors of world-famous books, businessmen, who gave a lecture to all of us (where they told the story of their lives, how they managed to be successful) and after the event was over, we all sat down to eat dinner. While we were eating, some colleagues asked me to tell them something about my life, because they did not know much about Albania. It was an exciting moment. As soon as I started telling them, I noticed that everyone was looking at me. I had everyone’s attention. I told them a part of the story, and we all thought of creating an event called “Good Morning Hope”. The event title is according to the book, which together with Argita, my sister, we will publish soon. That is because everyone thought it was a story that all people should hear. That has never happened before and made us very proud that we Albanians will be in the spotlight at this event, which will take place on May 2 at Harvard.
What would you say to all young Albanians who want to achieve something in life, but who currently do not have the right opportunities? Where can they find inspiration and hope?
I am convinced that many Albanian students from Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia have excelled and continue to excel in various fields. I believe many of them have the same values as Harvard students. The only thing I can tell them is to never lose hope of being someone but to knock on different doors until they find an opportunity for their careers. For this reason, my sister and I have set up a non-profit organization called ‘We speak science’, which aims to give students and doctors, an opportunity to show their work as well as make connections with scientists/doctors abroad. We have a very strong team of Harvard scientists/doctors, and I would encourage anyone interested to get in touch by contacting us.