People Speak: Ananya Awasthi, Harvard University

Ananya Awasthi-a humble ,sorted and an interest -driven optimistic girl who fought battles like Humanities vs Science ,Dentistry vs UPSC and finally ended up channeling her passion in the most practical and impressive way possible.

Read on to discover this young lady’s journey to Harvard University and her enriching experience of studying in the U.S .

Tell us about yourself..

I always had the streak of doing social work and to bring about a change in the Indian System. I decided to take up Humanities as my stream but thanks to the feudalistic thinking of the Indian society and my family,I ended up taking Science and becoming a dentist!

But my will to serve India directed me towards preparing for the UPSC exam .I gave three attempts.

For the first attempt,I missed out on clearing the prelims with 2 marks.Then for the second attempt ,I fell short of 10  in order to clear the mains and as for the third, I didn’t clear the mains by 1 mark.(Ouch !) 

Were you demotivated at any point of time?

No.I believe one shouldn’t push his/her destiny too much.I wanted to serve the Public and  UPSC was not the only way of doing it.Also, preparing for civil services gives you an insight about the Indian public sector, policies etc.and that enriches your knowledge.

What was your area of interest?

I was always interested in the field of Public Health and social service.  I enjoyed being out there in the field and helping people.Developments in the field of public health  became an intricate part of my thinking.

What triggered the idea of applying to universities abroad ?How did Harvard come into picture?

Unable to let go of my interest in the field of Public health,I decided to do my post graduation in the public health domain from a coveted institute.But unfortunately in India ,there aren’t many institutes which offer this expertise. In fact,many people advised me against applying in the Ivy league colleges due to the notion that rejection from such prestigious colleges would leave a blot on my professional career ,but I was determined and decided to give it a chance and see for myself what exactly is the fuss about. 

What was the reaction of your family ,friends and people in general ,when you got admission into Harvard University, despite being discouraged for the same in the first place?

Frankly, I never expected to get into Harvard .I didn’t even bother to check the results online until a friend of mine reminded me. As for people in and around my family, I was now introduced as “The girl who got into Harvard”. That’s when I realized that the brand value of Harvard University is very high ,at least for the people of India.

Did you choose Harvard for the university or for the course ?

Despite the fact that I got into other universities like Yale, Washington , Columbia,Johns Hopkins etc.Harvard was my choice as it offered a special course on global health ,which had always been my area of interest.

Tell us about the course and composition of your study batch at Harvard. 

I studied Masters in Public Health at Harvard .About 40-50% of our program batch comprised of international students.It was a blend of culture with students coming from  different parts of the world like South Asia,Africa,Middle East etc. This diversity led to a generation of many ideas and concepts about a particular context ,which was personally enriching.

How did it feel to study with students from such different countries and backgrounds?

When you are sitting with people from various countries ,you develop a sense of responsibility towards your country and hence ,your idea becomes your country’s idea. I was a proud representative for India and would give insights regarding health in my country in front of people who have a totally different perspective regarding the same.

Do you think people make the place or  vice versa?

Both the situations are true in their respective sense. But, I personally believe that ,people make the place.The rich cultural diversity the place attracted lead to the amalgam of various ideas and perspectives ,and that made Harvard or any other foreign university ,what it really is today.

Tell us some new teachings/learning  you inculcated ?

Hierarchy was an alien concept for professors ,dean or any authority.I remember calling one of my professors as ‘Sir’.He then told me that the custom of designating teachers as sir/ma’am did not exist here ,unlike in India.I learnt that a person is defined by his/her work and not the designation or position. Also,Harvard taught me how to think “out of the box”.

Studying abroad has also made me more humble,courteous and humane.That sense of treating everybody on equal grounds,be it a cab driver,plumber ,which I feel the general Indian public lacks.I have started respecting people more.

How has the country/university groomed you?

I learnt to let go of any inhibitions while interacting with people,be it a client or any senior official. I now give constructive yet critical feedback and not just rosy or biased views . 

The experience of living in a multi cultural community helped me to develop a new personal and social identity. I have started considering myself as a member of a a global community and that has lead to the broadening of my thinking to a large extent.Also, I have become more inquisitive and have started questioning more.

What were the cultural differences you felt between India and US? Did you face any struggles there ?

Frankly,I did not face any sort of discrimination ,racism etc. In fact, I observed that human society is same everywhere.Be it India or the U.S, humans use social identities and distinctions to identify and club people into groups. I remember being called as ‘Brown girl’ but that was just plain healthy humor and no sarcasm ,offense or anything.

Can you list some differences you felt between the  Indian Education System and the Western Education System.

1.India does not have established institutions for courses like global health ,public policy etc.Though,it does have institutes for engineering and management studies . But it certainly lacks substantial avenues for the’not-so’ mainstream courses.

2.Also,Indian education system cannot be customized according to individual’s like or dislike.Whereas, in the West ,people have the liberty to choose their field of interest and pursue a career in it and that ,actually brings out the best in you.

3.The difference between a teacher-student relationship. In India, students are not fully encouraged to interact and question.There is a sense of hierarchy that is followed here ,unlike in the west, where the focus is on the content being delivered.

4.Indian Education system should encourage interactive learning among students as that method produces better outcomes.

Also, I felt that the universities abroad are more research focused, they give you all the concepts and prospects but the implementation front of these concepts and ideas is weak. 

What did you miss the most about India ?

Family and Food of course !

Thanks to the the free WiFi facility at Harvard campus, it was easier to stay in touch with family as I used to ping them for anything and everything whenever I wanted to .

And as concerns food, since i am a vegetarian,I honestly did not have many options other than cheese sandwiches  .Since, I wanted to avoid eating unhealthy stuff, I actually learned how to cook .

What did you want to do after completing your studies at Harvard?

All my dreams were based out of India.I never wanted to settle abroad.I think the UPSC preparations do you make you feel connected and somewhat responsible for India’s progress. I wanted to work with UN agencies like the WHO, but in the Indian chapter.So,I came back and I feel extremely lucky because my current client in Deloitte,India is, in fact the WHO.

Kindly rate these parameters with respect to your experience in Harvard on a scale of 1(minimum) to 10(maximum).

Faculty-7

Campus-8

Brand Value-10

Alumni-7

Placements-8

Course-8

Cost-8 (Thanks to the Scholarship !)

Value for Money- 4

Any piece of advice for students who are aspiring to study abroad in universities like Harvard

 Yes, Do not mistake going to Harvard or any other foreign university as a method to escape from your current situation and gain a new identity. Foreign universities should be considered as a gateway or a model for learning and to be able to apply that experience in India and for India .Trust me ,it gives a feeling of self-satisfaction.

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