University life and lessons learned

First year in University is almost over. We started out with masks and debates over vaccination and now we’ve evolved into a resilient society of people who have conquered this pandemic that has changed all of our lives. Well, I’m not sure if we’ve completely conquered the pandemic. Let’s just say we’re smarter.

It feels odd to be maskless. While I feel I can breathe more easily, there is a fear of the unknown lurking in my head that makes me want to tug my black disposable mask over my mouth and nose and leave it there, just in case…just in case.

A lesson I have learned comes from what the wise Master Yoda said.

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

How true is that! And that is why education is so vital.

We’ve seen fear manifest into devastating acts of violence and hatred in these last few years. We’ve seen a rise in the division of societies and the hopeless marriage of politics and religion. And amidst all of that, I started a brand new phase of my life as a University student living away from home. Other than the academic aspect which is the usual lecture-lab-assignment cycle, I’ve made a bunch of new friends from diverse cultures and learned how to eat pretty much anything as long as I take my daily dose of Omeoprezole. I have learned to appreciate my home and family more than I did ever before and realized how blessed I am to have them in my life. I’ve learned how to manage my money and juggle my schedule. I’ve learned to prioritize and differentiate between the important and the urgent. I have learned a great deal about how people behave and how to set my boundaries. I have learned that I need to grow up and own my life before it owns me!

Mask or no mask, our personal health impacts community health. And before we expect anything from our community, we must fulfill our responsibility towards it first.

The vaccination dilemma and fact checking

Now with the approval of the COVID vaccine for ages 12 and up, there are a lot of rumors circulating within the teen community about possible side effects. I think most rumors stem from fear, bias and political views.

The last year and a half has revealed a lot about us humans. Our views on pretty much anything are defined by the people we hang out with or our political affiliations. My mom told me when I was very young that “you are what you read and the people you hang out with” which I think she took from a quote by Charlie “Tremendous” Jones:

“Five years from today, you will be the same person that you are today, except for the books you read and the people you meet.”

I think that’s very true. Many people I know are afraid of the vaccination because someone in their social network told them that the vaccination may cause infertility or that the government is implanting micro trackers through the vaccination. I like to research my concerns through evidence from authentic sources, a good practice I learned at school. It is always a good idea to fact check and not blindly follow or believe in theories. Everyone has an opinion for sure but not all opinions are based off of facts. It is in our best interest to verify claims before we pass them on.

As far as the vaccination is concerned, please review blogs from nationally renowned healthcare systems to understand medical facts. Understand that a young teenager like me cannot possibly have the experience or qualifications to decipher medical processes so instead of taking advise from someone like me, please check out authentic information and then make your decision.

Finally, before you dwell in stereotypes and block any learning or information, open your mind! Remember that your mind is like a parachute. It works best when it’s open.

Photo credit: http://clipart-library.com/

Lend your ears

Adults sometimes feel that by their positions in the family hierarchy they have the right to speak, direct and instruct. As a teenager, I value the quality time I get from my parents and I recognize the privilege of their collective wisdom, experience and intentions.

Sometimes, however, adults forget to listen.

Listening is a key component of building solid relationships. Most teenagers are drowned in school work, jobs, peer pressure, temptations, exploration of their own minds.

Schools offer so many options that the plethora of choices is more confusing than exciting. Why is one type of Chemistry class better than the other, for example? Why can’t I just do 10th grade Math in 10th grade? Why do I need to attend 6 classes a day? Then we decide to grow up a little and get jobs but soon realize that no one taught us how to balance checkbooks or make direct deposits or for that matter, create bank accounts! I was fortunate to get help in writing a resume and I am blessed to have a working printer with ink at home. But can you imagine the pressure of a teenager who doesn’t have that kind of support? More often than one would like to admit, parents like their children to be involved in sports and extra curricular activities with every moment of the day filled up and hardly any room to breathe. Sometimes, we don’t even want to pursue those activities but we are thrown into them to get “exposure” or to nurture a passion…usually not ours.

So when your teen looks troubled or resorts to her DMs for emotional support, don’t jump to conclusions that the technology beast has taken over their life! Please ask. And listen.

Bullying: A story from my life

When I was in elementary school, I never felt like the other kids in my class. I set myself apart from them and could never fully feel comfortable in any environment. As an Indian-Pakistani American in a predominantly white school, I compared myself to the other girls in my school. I would look at their beautiful vivid blue eyes and their perfectly straight, blonde hair and think about how all I had was thick, dark-brown hair and boring black eyes. The boys would call me ugly and constantly point out the hair on my arms, legs, and above my lip. They would ask why I never shaved, and my response was always, “I don’t know.” It’s truly unfortunate that as a child, many of my peers would make me feel inferior to them. 

I remember one day I walked into school with a different outfit than usual: skinny jeans, a purple top that I had seen as cute, my best pair of sneakers, and a baseball cap. I had even straightened my hair to my best ability and shaved my upper lip with my mother’s razor. I thought I would be the best dressed in my grade that day, and I confidently strutted down the halls with that thought. But I realized the only attention I gained was negative – the same boys who made fun of me before laughed at my appearance. I even remember one of my friends saying, “what are you wearing!? What happened to your face!?” I sought the validation of the beautiful blonde girls in my grade. I desired to look and dress like them, but I guess I hadn’t done too good of a job. It broke my heart and I never tried again.

Truthfully, I remember wishing I looked like the other girls in my class but I don’t remember why. I suppose it must have been because of the societal standards and a perception of the expectations that I tried so hard. I don’t blame the others for bringing me down. I blame society for imposing unkind beliefs into the delicate brains of young people. I also needed to be comfortable in my own skin and embrace my qualities. This can be hard for many people, especially young children as they may not have learned the skills used to navigate through a judgemental society.

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that can include a real or perceived power imbalance, and can be repeated (stopbullying.gov). There are many reasons why students may be bullied. They include but are not limited to differences in race, ethnicities, physical appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, learning abilities (of all levels). Anyone can be a target of bullying, even popular kids who seem to have everything going for them. 

If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self that there are far more significant things I could do than worrying about “fitting in.” What would I even achieve if I had “fitted in” then? Nothing of true importance would have been obtained. The most important thing that I did indeed obtain eventually was my own identity and understanding how to differentiate between superficial standards and those that are of value. I learned that I don’t have to look like everyone else to be beautiful and that beautiful has many definitions and flavors. Also, I realized that I did not need to be accepted by everyone. Every individual is unique and possesses many strengths. With that mindset, I grew more confident. I truly believe that once you learn to not care about societal beauty standards, your happiness will increase.

A global pandemic: from the eyes of a 17 year old

When I was 11, we visited Savannah, Georgia for my dad’s interview. One evening, we went for a stroll and stumbled upon a beautiful graveyard. As we were walking through it and paying our respects, we noticed hundreds of graves of little children and adults who had one thing in common: they all died of influenza during the Flu Pandemic between 1918-20. That sent shivers up my spine and we had a long discussion on pandemics that night. My parents had never experienced one though they did mention the Ebola outbreak and the Swine Flu from a few years before, and I went to sleep that night feeling safe but with a heavy heart for those who died years ago.

Fast forward to 2020.

My junior year.

It had started off great, contrary to popular belief that junior year is the worst. For example, people told me there was a lot of academic work involved, but it was quite enjoyable for me because I feel I learned a lot. Socially, my year was the most wonderful it had ever been. I had co-written a play and acted in it as well as participating in the school’s musical. I made a lot of memories that will forever hold a special place in my heart.


I didn’t know that the last week of the musical would be the last time I would see many of the people I spent so many hours with. I remember shopping at Walmart with my mother the night of March 16. She had gotten an email from the school district that the schools were closed for the week and that we would be returning the following Monday. Sadly, we never went back to school that Monday, and have been quarantined due to the Coronavirus ever since.


Initially, I was very hopeful. I had hope that we would return to school and everything would be normal again. When the chances of things being normal started to diminish, I began to grow fearful and anxious. I was finally happy, settled, and enjoying everything my junior year had to offer and then it was taken from my grasp. Along with the fear of unavailability of basic products like toilet paper and hand sanitizers, I was unmotivated to take care of myself and truly reflect and understand the negative thoughts swarming around in my head, so I escaped that by doing schoolwork. There were many times where I had tried to make exercising a daily task and had tried to go on walks regularly, but it was not nearly enough to satisfy me, and I was beginning to give up. My extroverted side thrives off of social interaction. Before quarantine, I hung out with my friends often and found immense joy in doing so. It’s not that I had taken those moments for granted, but I truly did not understand how precious they were until I could no longer experience them anymore. Every day felt the same. I was bored, there was nothing to look forward to, and I had no idea what to expect.

By July I had developed a routine. I was no longer in denial that the virus was real. Well, I knew the virus was real, I just couldn’t believe it was happening. It had felt like something out of a movie. I had learned how to keep myself busy. I slept a little longer than usual most days, which was followed by working out, baking, cooking meals, going on walks, and especially talking to friends on the phone. I stopped feeling sorry for myself because that wasn’t going to change the situation. I made a decision to accept the present and make the most of it. Think about it, years down the road, our COVID19 experience will become valuable history. I once read that there are certain things in life that we can control and there are some things we cannot control. We cannot control the coronavirus at my level or the global pandemic or the government regulations and the medical management. I can, however, control my reaction to the circumstances created by it.

One of my masks.

We are now back in school, virtually in most cases. I am now in my senior year and life in the pandemic has brought masks to be as common as socks in a store. I now own several colors and styles of masks and wear them as naturally as the rest of my clothing!

As of today, my city is still in Phase 1 but many retail stores have opened to the public with restrictions. I have many tasks this year: classes, college tours and applications, scholarship applications and writing a personal statement! I also have a part-time job at Starbucks which I love. Life goes on, and I am blessed with health and opportunities. As I review news items every now and then and read articles on the impact of COVID19 around the world, I understand the enormity of it and how peoples’ lives have changed because of it! Many people have died, many are suffering due to underlying health issues or lack of proper medical care. Many have lost jobs as industries have shut down or downsized. There are countries with huge populations and controlling the spread of Coronavirus has been challenging for them. 

As I sit in my comfortable room this cozy Fall morning, I am grateful for the things I have learned through this shutdown. I am grateful for my family, my home, my resources, my health and last but not the least,  for the ability to use technology for education, information and communication. 

Just like everything else, this too shall pass and we will emerge stronger than ever before.

Nana

I always anticipated traveling to India every couple of years as I would get to see my mom’s side of the family – some of the people who mean the most to me. My grandpa, or my nana as I called him, was a very important man to me. He was one of a kind. Even in his eighties my nana would still try to be active by going on long walks every evening. He would buy groceries for the family, take care of his grandchildren, and do whatever it took to keep the household stable. 

Once when I visited at the age of 14, my nana and I walked hand-in-hand around the busy streets of Bombay. We needed to purchase a few grocery items for the house, however, the walk was lengthy with many twists and turns. I remember that day vividly. It was a comfortably warm, foggy and dusty, blue sky turning into a gray kind of a day. Children of all ages laughed as they danced around each other. Street vendors yelled out to people walking by to try and persuade them to buy their goods. Stray dogs, cats, and chickens roamed around barking, meowing, and clucking. Maybe to the average person it would seem overwhelming, and trust me, it was. Yet, I felt at peace being surrounded by my blood, my kin. 

When my nana and I arrived at the shop we desired, he selected the items he wanted to buy, and then proceeded to bargain. Him and the street vendor argued and argued. I admit, it was amusing, but the stray dog in front of me is what truly caught my attention. Petting the cream-colored canine would have been a poor decision, which is why I chose to slowly approach it and see what would happen. I felt bad for the dog. It was rolling around in its own filth and muck and I wanted to help it, although that was completely out of my hands. A disheveled man a few inches taller than me had caught me off guard. He came very close to my face and grabbed me by the wrist and tried pulling me. I was more perplexed than fearful at that moment, but the way the man stared into my eyes made me uneasy. “Nana!” I called out loudly only being a few feet away from him. Alarmed, my nana immediately turned around and pushed the man on his chest very hard so that he would ungrasp my wrist. Nana put me behind himself and he and the man began to yell at each other in Hindi. I understand Hindi well, but the speed of which they were quarreling made it difficult to comprehend. My nana told the man to go away and fortunately he did. 

Fresh fruit at a street vendor in Mumbai, India.

On the way home, my nana explained to me that I need to be more careful because there are bad people in this world who just want to see others hurt. But he also said that there are also good people who I can learn from and look up to. People that are selfless, compassionate and kind. He said to never forget the good ones, something that I will always remember. And here I am, typing this almost four years later. My nana was the most selfless, compassionate, and kind man. I never forgot you, nana. And I never will. You are the best kind of person you can find in this world.