BY GABBY RAYMOND ’20
The first international student studied at Mount Holyoke in 1839, just two years after Mary Lyon opened her doors to educate women from all over the United States, according to the Mount Holyoke website. In the 2016- — 2017 school year, students from over 61 countries attended Mount Holyoke College. Because one person cannot speak for a whole community, the News seeks to tell the individual stories, like that of Sarjana Jaiswal ’18 from Lucknow, a city in Northern India.
At the end of high school, Jaiswal — like many other students around the world — began her college search. She started looking at liberal arts colleges in America to avoid the British system where students have to apply with a specific major in mind, as opposed to being able to try out different tracks. Disney Channel shows and movies influenced her ideas about American schools. “They seemed very fun in High School Musical,” said Jaiswal.
During her first year at Mount Holyoke, she found cultural differences to be a bit overwhelming. “You’re not just part of a crowd [here] you’re part of a community. But first year I was having a hard time finding my place. Back home you are really involved in friendships — everybody knows each other and knows each other’s families — but here I feel to a certain extent there is difficulty getting a big group together and feeling in sync. [In not] feeling isolated,” Jaiswal said.
However, she eventually found her place on campus; “I had a group that caters to my religion [Sisters of Hinduism Reaching Inwards] and a group that hosts events to express my culture [South Asian Student Organization]. I feel okay being who I am here,” she said.
Jaiswal also had a surprising connection with one of her teachers whose class she was struggling in. When she visited his office, she didn’t anticipate, “feeling like [she] had entered an Indian shop. He had so many desi [local Indian] trinkets and paintings. He told [her] he had spent two periods of six months teaching in India and he just knew how hard it was to adjust to the academic system because he had been there,” said Jaiswal. She immediately felt comfortable and supported by having someone outside her culture who could empathize with her experience of studying abroad.
While Jaiswal was able to connect with a faculty member who made her feel like she was not alone in her hardships, that is not the case for everyone. She feels the College could work on helping students past the logistics of studying in another country. “[In terms of] big things like traveling and having year-round storage [it’s fine]. The smaller things, not so much. We weren’t really helped to transition past initial cultural shock. Finding your place and finding friends is on us, but they could do more to educate us on certain issues people before us have faced and how to navigate those so we don’t feel alone in our struggle,” she said.
But after getting past the hardships of first year, Jaiswal said, “these last four years have been good. It’s been beautiful.” Now she has begun to look past Mount Holyoke College and into the job market, where she hopes to find work in economics as a consultant. Jaiswal said, “I am hoping to get work here, but it is getting really hard for us international students to find jobs because of the Trump administration, so I’m not entirely opposed to going back to India.” She explained that while “none of this is official, I have been told there’s a lot of uncertainty that firms are experiencing in investing their time and money in training students who may not be able to get their [H-1B] visas [because of the administration’s rhetoric against immigration].”