Sudeeksha Bhati is a rising junior at Babson College, majoring in Bachelors in Business Administration, concentrating in Global Business Administration & Finance. Hailing from a village in Uttar Pradesh, she attended a boarding school for meritorious students - VidyaGyan Leadership Academy. Writers Qi worked with Sudeeksha closely to help highlight elements of entrepreneurship in her resume and apply early to Babson College, where she ended up on a full scholarship.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background and journey in applying to US colleges.
A: In the 11th grade, I attended an entrepreneurship summer program at Lehigh University, and that is what motivated me to apply to colleges in the US. I was always interested in writing and reading and was initially interested in journalism. But Writers Qi helped me figure out my strengths in business and entrepreneurship. With their guidance, I ended up applying to Babson College, which offered me a full scholarship.
Q: How did you navigate going to college in the US? Tell us more about your college life.
A: I was very confident about my academics in general, but was hesitant about my English and social skills to attend college in the US. Initially, I felt very inferior to everyone else and had a tough time overcoming the culture shock. Besides, I do feel that CBSE and other Indian boards often do not prepare you enough to do well in an American college. So, my first semester was very rough, but gradually I got the feel of things, and my experience improved from the second semester onwards.
My college has been very supportive, especially my peers and professors, and the global scholarship cohort I am with. My host family was very nurturing and helped me adjust.
I enjoy an active student life on campus now, taking part in theater, dance troupes and the Babson students’ political group. As part of the political group, for instance, I help organize events on different current affairs, such as the ongoing election debates. I have also organized an event on women in politics.
Q: How has your college responded to the current COVID crisis?
A: My college was very pro-active and considerate of Covid-19 restrictions. They shut down the campus on March 12/13, while we were on spring break, and people had time to pack and leave. International students were allowed to stay if they couldn’t afford the flights.
Classes were moved online within a week, faculty were simultaneously trained in WebEx and other tools. Our teachers were very considerate of time zone differences and lack of internet connectivity in different places and have gone out of their way to support students.
In the midst of all this, our college has always assured us that the safety and health of students is their top priority.
When my college initially announced that classes were moving online, I had initially planned to stay back and figure out their housing. One of my donors was constantly in touch with my college, and with me, and they found a way to arrange for me to come back to India within 48 hours, even though I was totally not sure how to get back on my own.
Q: How has the current crisis personally affected you?
A: I am staying at home in India. I came before the lockdown and travel restrictions were put into effect. Continuing with my academic classes after coming back home has had its own challenges: time-zone differences, internet connectivity issues, and the motivation to study amidst all sorts of distractions home. For instance, I live in an open house in my village and it is difficult to isolate myself completely to participate in classes where I am required to speak. There were other challenges like having a strong data connection to attend video classes.
But there have also been positives.
I got to stay with my family and loved ones considering how uncertain and tragic circumstances seemed. I had some time off for myself. I am doing things I always wanted to but had excuses not to do. I go for long runs and practice yoga and meditation which has motivated many people in my village to practice some sort of physical exercise. I also have time to read more which was tough to do in college because of all the curricular and extracurricular activities.
In terms of my classes, my professors really stepped up to support me- instead of office hours, I would text them my questions and they would record the answers and send it to me. In most of my classes, professors have relaxed deadlines, and waived certain requirements like participation grades and found new ways of adjusting our grades. In my Arabic class, my professor reduced the syllabus and removed the final exam to make it easier for us.
Q: Do you miss college? How are you thinking of the next semester and your future academic plans?
A: I miss college, however, I have decided to focus on the positive side. I am getting to live with my family after many years. I am getting to do what I want to do at my own convenience. Of course, I worry whether I can go back to college for Fall. I would really like to go back, however, in case the restrictions don’t permit that, I will continue with online classes and try other activities on the side.
Officially, college is expected to open in fall, with a combination of online and offline classes, that will take into account students’ personal situations. We’ve been told about measures taken to ensure safety, such as limiting the number of students in classes and changing some housing arrangements to prevent social distancing. For instance, some dorms that have triples or quads might be changed to reduce the chances of gathering in a group.
I am reassured by all that the college administration is doing. But more than anxiety, I am in a dilemma on the way forward, like planning for study abroad programs and internships, which have been rescheduled. In case in-person classes are not possible in fall, many students are considering taking the semester off because it is hard to imagine college simply as a set of classes. My Study Abroad program was scheduled for fall, but it has been rescheduled to the spring, so that is a relief.
Q: What have you learnt from this crisis that you think will shape your future?
A: I am very inclined towards social entrepreneurship and providing quality education and healthcare in rural areas, irrespective of opportunity. It has become even more important at a time like this.
Personally, the death toll is a reminder to all of us to not take anything for granted.
I often think about how we were running after money or careers without thinking about our health or spending time with our loved ones. In this crisis, I am more resolved to not take my health or resources for granted. The lockdown has affected those without privilege very badly and we must all think about how we can serve those in need.
I am also determined to fight the stigma around epidemics like Covid-19 more. For instance, people in my village saw me as a potential carrier of the virus since I had come from a COVID-19 affected country. Even the police had come to check on me after the rumour had spread that I’ve travelled from a corona affected country. To keep a cool demeanour amidst those rumours and the unnecessary inquiry was more difficult than I had imagined.
But I continue to be inspired by how my college community has responded to this crisis and it has taught me that this is a time for all of us to reflect and do better.