The summer I learned to say “dhanyawaad” instead of “thank you” ended up defining three years of my life.
I found myself in the Indian village of Bihar — the heart of Indigenous Madhubani art, an ancient painting style practiced by the region’s rural women — without much more than my journals and camera equipment. But these items, along with my love for art and my interest in economics, enabled me to start an independent nonprofit to revive the art form and empower its artisans. I named it The Mithilaki Project.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in outer space, leading to my love of physics. And for years, I’ve had wanderlust for a more easily accessible destination: Japan, the home country of my aunt. My first semester at Mount Holyoke, in addition to classes in physics and astronomy (Force, Motion and Energy; The Sky), I decided to start taking Japanese. To pave the way for my dream trip and better connect with my aunt, who was so excited when I told her!
When I mentioned studying in Japan to my Japanese professor, Professor of Asian Studies Naoko Nemoto, she gave me a list of potential summer programs. I chose the Hokkaido International Foundation’s Japanese Language and Culture Program because of its proximity to Sapporo, the city my aunt is from.
To all the high school students near and far, I invite you to meet Mount Holyoke. Especially those of you who are not aware that women’s colleges even exist — as was the case when I began my college search process. The schools I was initially interested in were mainly co-ed, on the west coast and definitely housed more than 2,200 students.
It was my mother who first found Mount Holyoke. She raved about how it would be the “uncommon but impeccable choice,” and how she was absolutely certain that she could see me here. As I began receiving college acceptances, there was only one that made my mother cry — the one from Mount Holyoke. When I flew up to experience campus for myself during MHC Preview weekend, an event for admitted students, I was ecstatic. I had never been to the Northeast before, but I soon realized I had an opportunity to enjoy a life I had never imagined.
The Moroccan sun was blazing outside, lighting up Rabat, the city that would come to feel like a second home to me. In the maze-like medina, the oldest part of the city, women were bargaining for fish and bread. Pastry chefs were selling fresh almond candy to children who were leaving school for their afternoon break.
Old men sat in cafes on the side of the road — smoking cigarettes and sipping espresso for hours, talking to old friends. Fishermen were hauling their daily catch in the bay next to Le Dhow, a traditional Arab wooden boat with a bar inside. Businessmen were catching trains and university students were cramming into trams. And in the middle of the city was me. Sitting alone in McDonalds, eating french fries and crying my eyes out.
In my final semester at Mount Holyoke (I graduated in December 2018), I’m hit with waves of nostalgia as I see the places and people that have become important parts of my journey — that from a naive, timid first-year student to a pretty bold senior. But if you had asked 17-year-old me if I would get to this point of nostalgia, or even get through these four years, I’m pretty sure I would have scoffed. Loudly. That’s how unfathomable the idea once seemed.