Priyanka Singh from Nepal studying at Southeastern Louisiana University is a finalists for the ISV Magazine Summer scholarship. Read her essay about overcoming stereotypes he’s faced as an international student.
If I had to describe my experience in the United States in one sentence, I would say “all that glitters is not gold”. In my country Nepal, the common belief is that America is a country of dreams. American residents have a pretty luxurious life and they have machines for almost everything. But those luxuries come at a cost: living away from your family, working very hard, and adapting to a different culture. There are numerous challenges, but the one that I had the hardest time with is blending in the American world. When I first came here I was a confident student. I was not at all aware of the generalization they had about most Asian countries.
I had already lived in two countries before I came here, so nationality made little difference to me. I am a people person so I just wanted to make friends. Before I left Nepal, I went to a culture shock class where I was told about American culture and about what to expect as an international student. One of the things they said was that in the cafeteria the international students will eat separately from Americans. Back then, I had thought that I was definitely going to be a floater between the two groups. However, reality seemed to be different when I started going to school here. There are so many ways I tried to adapt and blend in the American environment, but it never ceased to be challenging. I joined a couple of organizations, spoke up in my classes, and tried to talk to people. My major hindrance was my heavy accent. People would not understand me, and hence there was no one that wanted to converse with me.
Another thing that was bothering me was the stereotypical Asian that they saw in me. There were so many instances where I felt like I was looked down upon. One time we had a motivational surprise from our bosses at work, where our family members had sent us letters. Then, one of my co-workers asked me how my family members sent my letters. I said they probably emailed them and my co-worker was amazed to find out that we had computers in Nepal. She had thought that the whole country looked like the village in The Jungle Book. Also, a lot of people asked me if we showered every day. My American friends were so shocked when they found out that I listened to English pop songs and I went out like a normal teenager. They were really taken aback to see that I did not study all the time. One other case I experienced was in one of my classes where a girl just found out somebody from Afghanistan had hacked her facebook account. To that her friend’s reaction was, “What the heck! Do they even have computers there? Isn’t that the country where everyone is a terrorist?” All this was giving me a hard time relating to this place and at the same time it made me feel unprivileged to be an international student.
Then the worst thing happened to me: inferiority complex. I started feeling like I was good-for-nothing as I was ignored. If I ever did not like an American dish, an American would say, “At least here, you get enough food to fill your stomach.” At one point I just stopped trying because it made me feel bad about myself. That is why I limited my social life to my international friends. When all of this was going on I made one great decision. I applied to be an orientation leader in my university and I got selected. Orientation leader is a team of twenty student leaders that guide hundreds of incoming freshman through their first experience of college life. In 90 years of the history of the university, I became the first international orientation leader. Throughout the training, I was very quiet and introverted; socially awkward would be the most suitable phrase. There were times where I wanted to quit because I did not think I belonged to the team. My first orientation was a disaster, I was shaking and stuttering. I felt like a joke in front of the freshmen and I was not really able to “guide” them. But I did not give up this time. I tried hard to be a part of the team and to be a good orientation leader. Six months and seven orientations later, I am not only a confident and fun orientation leader but a wiser and better human being as well. I met some really good people during this period and with their help and my own endeavor, I rediscovered my life. I got back to being the happy and positive me. Today when I think of all the instances that I have mentioned earlier, they motivate me to break the stereotype of an international student. They make me feel how privileged I am to be well-informed about the things that happen outside the borders of my country.
Now one of my goals is to help those international students gain confidence and not let bad experiences make them lose their self-worth and dignity. This is a slight reflection of what I aspire to do after I graduate. I am a sociology major and my long-term goal is to help create opportunities for the people that are not as fortunate as I am. I am working towards graduating college with an honors degree and a 4.0 GPA. After that I want to go to graduate school to be more specialized in the field. Then I want to go to developing countries to work with an INGO or a UN organization and provide the people with resources and opportunities that every human being should get. I already have worked with numerous campaigns for different causes in Nepal and I want to continue doing that. I believe that I have to stand for the cause if I expect to see any betterment. I cannot just sit and hope for someone else to make things better. One step can make a huge difference and for me I have to take that step.
If I get this scholarship it will contribute towards my education and make it easier for me and my parents to pay for my tuition. Getting a degree is going to make me knowledgeable enough to achieve my goals and fulfill my aspirations. The path that leads to my dreams is difficult, so this scholarship is an aid that will give me some amount of relief at some point in this long journey.