Updated: Jul 6, 2020
| This is the 13th story of Our Life Logs |
Growing up in a small town in Madhya Pradesh, India, I enjoyed my life as a child. I was the youngest of the three children in a middle-class family. It was a loving and cheerful setting. Adding to the happiness was that we were also part of a big joint family where several generations and related families all lived together. It was a lot of fun as I had many cousins to play with all the time. Although my parents used to work, my grandparents stayed with us and there were also the many uncles and aunts who lived in the same household, so there was never a time I was left alone. With that much family around, my childhood was filled with love, fun and laughter.
While the family love persisted, the togetherness got impacted when a big decision was made on me when I was ten. An opportunity to attend an elite boarding school arrived that year. Seeing a bright future attached to the prospect of attending such a school, my parents were interested in sending me there, but my grandfather was strictly against it, “Why are you trying to send a small kid away?” He was concerned that I would not be able to grow up in my hometown and it would be wrong on their part to send me out at such a tender age.
I, on the other side, fascinated by the idea that if I studied hard in a good school, I would be able to become a police officer (yes, that was my childhood dream), was all excited about going. They talked it over at a big family discussion, and it was finally decided that boarding school was the right way to go, and I was going to do whatever it took to get selected.
I prepared for almost a year and took the entrance exam. Then one day, the good news came. I was in! The school was specifically for kids who lived in rural areas. It was fully sponsored by the government, so the students didn’t have to pay tuition and would receive everything for free, from books to meals. Only eighty out of a few thousand who took the exam got accepted. I was a little champion.
So there I went.
The beginning was hard. For a little boy who had never even slept on his own, to be apart from his parents and live in a brand-new environment was tough. I couldn’t fall asleep at night. I would cry, wrapped in half fear and half loneliness, until the exhaust put me into sleep. And that lasted for six to eight months.
I also struggled with the rigorous daily routine at school when I first started. We had to wake up at five o’clock in the morning and wouldn’t end the day until 9:30 in the evening, with a full schedule of activities. If we didn’t wake up early enough to be on time for the morning exercise, there would be punishment. The routine was strict and tiresome. But it didn’t take too long before I got used to it.
Everything else seemed to fall into place relatively easily as time went by. Although I couldn’t go home often except for during major festivals and summer vacations, my parents would come to visit me every week, sometimes twice a week, and take my dirty uniforms (I was a naughty kid!) back home for laundry. At school, there were a few senior students who helped me a lot when it came to knowing what to do and what not to do. They acted almost like my mentors, helping me with my studies and protecting me from being bullied. I’m not sure if I was just lucky or the common idea of seniors hazing juniors is but a misconception.
One thing that deeply impacted me and my perception of the society during my years at the boarding school was to see the kids from all different backgrounds, which made me realize for the first time that the world was not even and people were divided, some rich, some poor. There were kids coming from an extremely luxurious background and having a superior lifestyle. Then there were others coming from really poor families whose parents, being farmers or day laborers, would struggle a lot to go out for them. That was quite an experience for me. I felt fortunate that my parents, though not at the top of the ladder, were able to provide me with a relatively easy life where I didn’t have to worry. Further than that, I got to see how hard those students from less privileged conditions studied and held onto their dreams, coming a long way with strength and determination to fight for a better life. That inspired me as a child.
It was indeed a beautiful experience overall at the boarding school. Tough as it was for the first few years, it made me stronger and more independent, and certainly broadened my view.
Being a police officer was after all but a fantasy childhood dream. Once I got into the ninth grade, I realized that I wanted to become an engineer. In 2006, I graduated high school and moved onto Rajiv Gandhi Technical University to further my education in engineering. College days were hectic but worth the trial. Upon receiving my degree in 2010, I got an offer to teach at my university, and I accepted it. I taught there for three and a half months before I got my first professional job as a software engineer.
In the meantime, as part of the company’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) program, I volunteered every other weekend to teach visually impaired kids English and basic computer skills. Teaching those students brought me a different perspective toward life. Although many of them couldn’t see at all and others had a very poor vision, it was amazing to see how well they could concentrate and learn through hearing, a great manifestation of how God closes a door and opens a window. Yes, there might be important things in life that we don’t have or are incapable of, but there are always alternatives that we can look for.
It was during those working and teaching years that I grew a new dream—I wanted to further my studies and pursue a master’s degree. It was not a quick decision in terms of which institution to pick, but I was affirmative from the very beginning that I would fund it myself and would not ask for any support from my parents. I felt I could do it, on my own. I talked to my parents about it, and they were supportive, “If this is what you want to do, go ahead and do it.” I got their blessing.
It took me a lot of thoughts before I decided to come to the United States instead of staying in India. I understood the cost would be much higher to pursue my degree here, but the quality of education, the level of exposure, and the opportunities that it presented were irresistible to me. After the decision was made, I worked hard to save up for this next adventure of mine and meanwhile, started to prepare for GRE and other admission requirements for Graduate Schools.
I applied to six universities in the US and got accepted into all of them. Under the recommendation of a former classmate, I eventually zeroed it down to the University of Cincinnati.
In 2016, after working for five and a half years in India, I quit my job and boarded on the flight to Cincinnati and hence, started a new journey in my life. If going to boarding school was the first biggest decision in my life, coming to the US to chase my dream must be the second. Except this time, the decision was made all by myself. And I’m glad I did.
The beginning, like what all other international students would experience, was filled with a mixture of excitement and nervousness to face the new and explore the unknown.
It was my first time to be in the US. The city of Cincinnati, with my limited knowledge of it before I came, turned out to be very different from what I had perceived a US city, like New York which we often see in movies, would be. But it was more of a surprise than disappointment. I soon grew to love it.
The tough part was to get used to school life again after working as a professional for years and to adjust to the lifestyle here in general. While in India an average income family might be able to easily afford maid services, I didn’t get to enjoy that luxury here. I learned to do everything on my own; I even started to cook. Between classes, school assignments and household chores, there were days I had to work more than eighteen hours. It was a challenge, but a refresher at the same time. It helped me explore my potential; it built my confidence and belief that one could always walk that extra mile to make things work.
I’m still in school now. As I sit and think about my life, I realize what a wonderful, well-thought decision I have made to come back to school. It does not only give me an opportunity to study and increase knowledge, but it also brings me a chance to refresh myself in all the possible ways.
I always believe that life deserves to be treated seriously. Actions have to be thought out before taken. And it makes a difference if you put a lot of efforts into what you are doing. As I was taught as a kid, “Do whatever you like to do. But make sure you don’t regret.”
After all, it’s my dream that we are talking about.
This is the story of Nikhil Gupta.
Nikhil is in the last semester of getting his master’s degree in Information Systems at the University of Cincinnati. He has also been working full time since June, 2017 as a software engineer at a global technology company headquartered in Mason, Ohio. Though far away from his homeland, Nikhil keeps a close relationship with his family back in India, with a talk on the phone every day.
This story first touched our hearts on October 18, 2017.
| Writer: Nia Fields | Editor: MJ |