From Clute to Nykøbing
Juul, whose name sounds like “yule” rather than “jewel,” was born in 1980 in Clute, Tx., a small town near Houston. His mother, Julie, was the daughter of an honorary consulate to Denmark whose job included throwing parties for Danes living abroad. His father, Peter, was a Dane living abroad, working in the Houston mill industry for his apprenticeship to a mercantile company. The two met at one of these parties. “It was interesting growing up in Texas with a father who was Danish,” Juul remarked. The family owned three horses, but his father made sure they rode English style rather than Western, the Texas standard. For his 12th birthday, Juul received a 20-gauge Remington pump action shotgun. He was raised by Danish au pairs for most of his childhood because his father wanted a “good Danish influence.”
When he was 14, Juul spent a year living in Denmark with his father’s sister. He became fluent in Danish within a few months. “I was young enough to blend right in,” Juul said. “I was just kind of a part of Denmark.” Though the experience was an important one, Juul isn’t sure that it changed his outlook that much. “It’s still something I try to figure out. I lived in another country for a year. That should have been a drastic change,” he said. However, he did add, “If I wasn’t independent before then, I was independent after that.”
Juul returned to the U.S. for his freshman year of high school. He had never really liked school, which he partially blames on his father’s “very strong iconoclastic streak.” He inherited his father’s distrust of education. “I don’t usually believe the things I read. I don’t really like reading. I don’t like books,” he said. Rejecting academics, Juul turned to music.
In sixth grade, Juul chose to play the cello. He was influenced by his older sister Sarah’s experiences in orchestra and by a Yo Yo Ma concert he attended with his grandmother. In high school, his teacher saw his great potential and sent him to Meadowmount, a selective summer program. Encouraged by his experiences there, he began to practice a great deal. He tried homeschooling for a semester, practicing four hours a day, but it was “miserably lonely and not academically interesting.” He returned to high school and spent his free periods practicing.
“I decided that I would do music [after high school] if I got a good teacher,” Juul said. “And then I got a good teacher.” He was accepted by renowned Lawrence Lesser at NEC. Even though his experiences with Lesser were extraordinary, he quickly realized that NEC was the wrong choice. “I kept trying to convince myself that I wanted to be a musician,” he remarked. Juul decided to stay at NEC for a second year to make sure the school really wasn’t the right fit. It wasn’t, so he transferred to the University of Texas�Arlington. The transfer was a temporary stop, and he lived at home while he researched schools. “It was like being in high school again,” he said. “It really sucked.”
A new direction
Juul was two days from leaving for Rice University when Amherst called with a better financial aid package. He applied to the school based on its reputation and the praise it received from some of his NEC professors. He was done with music; his parents had to convince him to bring his cello. He was now eager to take advantage of the unstructured liberal arts education and to pursue an area in which he’d always been interested: medicine.
His interest in medicine dates back to high school. Tracy Kidder’s “Mountains Beyond Mountains” encouraged this interest, particularly in the area of public health. Juul wanted to do pre-med with a possible economics major, but there was no way he could complete this in just five semesters. “I thought I could do what I wanted and as long as I kept paying, I could stay,” he admitted. He discovered that he had been accepted to Amherst for only two years. Despite his reluctance to get back into music, he became a music major so he could complete the pre-med requirements.
Amherst has changed Juul’s mind, at least to some extent, about academics. “This is the first school that I’ve ever liked,” he revealed. “I wish I had been here for all four years.”
“It’s really a big change from wherever the conservatory was sending me,” Juul observed. Amherst has introduced him to a variety of new ideas. He finds that his friends and classmates challenge his conceptions more than any professor. He values the faculty and everything he’s learned in pre-med, but “pre-med doesn’t teach you much about life.” He’s come to appreciate books, though he’s still wary of intellectualism.
After this Juul made some of his closest friends in an unusual way-he had a lot of living unit value points as a transfer, and a room group latched onto him. “They adopted me. They called me transfer student for at least a year,” he joked. He’s developed many genuine, valuable friendships in this group, something he really appreciates.
The College has awarded Juul two Fellowships for Action. The first was for Texas Inmate Services, a non-profit in Fort Worth that helps ex-offenders reintegrate into society. He spent the summer of 2003 with the organization. “I met a lot of really interesting people,” he said. “It really changes your perspective on crime when you meet prisoners themselves and work to help them.” This was his first social justice experience, and it left a big impact.
The following summer, Juul received a second Fellowship for Action. He spent eight weeks in Soweto, South Africa, near Johannesburg, working at the Baragwanath Hospital. He’s always been more interested in hands-on work than books. “I wanted to go to a country and see their problems. I wanted to get whatever training I needed to help,” he said. He spent some time traveling around South Africa, “enchanted by the country and the people.” His experiences in South Africa remains important to him. “There are so many memories that will never go away because it was such an incredible, poignant experience,” he said.
It also sparked a large interest in public health and social justice. He’s primarily interested in the developing world and public health, which combines three things that he loves: “going to interesting places, economics and medicine.” He plans to go to medical school some time in the future, either two years from now or, if it makes sense to do so, a year from now in Denmark, where education is free. He’s following in the footsteps of his sister, who is 27 and currently in medical school. The siblings share the same interest in public health. “It’s not like I idolize her,” he said. “I just end up being interested in the same things.” Until he enters medical school, he hopes to do research and work in public health.
An impact at Amherst
Though he joined the orchestra primarily to meet people, Juul has continued with music. Professor of Music David Schneider said, “His presence on campus has had a profound effect on the musical scene at Amherst and he will be sorely missed.”
Juul recently performed the Elgar Cello Concerto with the Amherst College Symphony Orchestra, and Schneider described his performance as “at once elegant and impassioned-a pure pleasure to hear.”
His focus isn’t music, though, it’s medicine, and his professors see him on the path to success. Professor of Physics Kannan Jagannathan described Juul as “obviously a man of many talents.” Though Schneider praised Juul’s musical abilities, he admitted that medicine was a good choice. “If he practices medicine with as much elegance and understanding as he plays music, his patients will be fortunate indeed,” said Schneider.
His friends have also been impressed with both his abilities and his laid-back personality. “Nick was a transfer student to Amherst, but he’s fit into a close-knit group that formed freshman year with ease,” said Jon Wemette ’05
“He’s just so easy-going and friendly, with a great sense of humor. I’ve also always been impressed with the way Nick balances his interests in the arts and science. He’s deeply knowledgeable about both.”
Amherst has made its impact on Juul as well. He’s going to miss “being around thoughtful, intelligent people.” He added, “I’m going to miss being in a place where everything’s taken care of for me and all I have to worry about is learning.” The College has left Juul with the desire to explore the world with an open mind and the urge to help. He wants to leave the senior class with the message “iKeleng ka khotsa ya morena,” Zulu for “Go with God.” His host doctor in South Africa said this to every patient, a message of good will and hope for the future.