Forging New Paths: From South Asia to SoCal

Although I learned that I had been admitted to Claremont McKenna College in February 2013, August 23 would be the day that I will always remember in perfect detail—the day I left India to attend this college. 

Like most high school seniors, I kept thinking of how, in just a few months, I would begin a new phase in my life: exchanging structure and comfort for a world full of unknown situations. But unlike many, I was also leaving my beloved home country, India. 

August 23 marked the beginning of a new path in my education: In an instant, I found myself living in an educational community that I didn’t recognize or understand and in a culture that didn’t understand me. My 18 years as a part of the majority in India had hardly prepared me for my new life as a minority. Difficult and challenging don’t even begin to describe the transition.

I was astounded at the number of questions I was asked pertaining to my life in India. 

I laughed off some, such as those that were cringe-worthy and oblivious: “Do you guys go to school on elephants?”

But if we didn’t get around via elephants, how exactly did we get anywhere? 

A completely serious question: “Do you guys even have any mode of transportation in India?”

Others, like the classic “Is Dubai in India?” made me seriously question my classmates’ knowledge of geography and political boundaries.

While some were based on ignorance, others conveyed genuine curiosity. Through countless conversations with my peers, I eventually saw a change in my friends’ perceptions of India and its culture. They constantly wanted to know more about my past life, and I loved satiating their curiosity. 

As it is for most, my first year was a struggle. I faced challenges everywhere, from not knowing how to write a research paper to adjusting to tests much more based on application than the theory-based tests I was accustomed to in India. 

Fortunately, CMC provided me with the adequate resources and the perfect environment to come to terms with those struggles. During the past 15 months, I have made life-long friendships. I have gained a sense of direction and found my identity: not just what kind of a person I am, but also the kind I wish to be.

Originally, I had wanted to come to the States for soccer. Soccer had been my life in India—I lived, ate and breathed it. Fresh-faced and nervous, I had shown up to the first day of try-outs for CMC’s team exhausted after a 24-hour flight—and immediately thrown up. 

Here, again, my arrival on campus really shook my foundation. My experience at soccer try-outs pushed me into giving up my dream, perhaps regrettably, but not for good.  

Now, I see that soccer will never be gone, but it did need to find a new place in my life. I was playing in attempts to cling to that aspect of my old life, not because I enjoyed it. Upon this realization, I opened up an academy in India where people could train and play, exploring themselves along the way. 

College, and perhaps CMC in particular, is a place where one ends up exploring new things. It urges you to take every possible opportunity that comes your way, reminding you that life has just started and still has a long way to go.

First-year struggles have thankfully given way to a greater sense of sophomore confidence and comfort. Writing a paper, using practical knowledge to make conversations, understanding various perspectives on a particular topic, discovering the essence of culture and most importantly, understanding and respecting everyone come almost naturally now.  

I have learned all of these skills because of the choice I made a year and a half ago—the choice to leave my home, the place I belong to, and come to this country and to this college, which has become my new home. 

Tanvi Bhargava CM ’17 is an economics-accounting major with a financial sequence from Chandigarh, India. Winner of the 2009 International Top Scorer Award, Tanvi captained the Indian Soccer Team for five years. 

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