I was born in the mega city of Gujarat called Ahmedabad. I used to live in a joint family with my grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins. All my cousins used to go to the same school. We used to borrow each other's clothes, books, notes, and even shoes.
My school had 8 class periods, each 30 minutes long. After completing 8th/9th grade, almost all the students in my school joined some type of extra classes or group tuitions in addition to the school. Students after 9th grade who did not have tuitions were questioned by society, about whether they will pass the board exams or not. This did not bother me until I moved to the United States of America. I learned that the world is so different than what I had thought. I got admission in 10th grade. When my cousin told me that we are going tomorrow to meet your counselor and select classes, I was like, “What do you mean by counselor? Do I actually get to select classes?” The next day, I read the course catalog and selected the classes that were worded long, such as Digital Graphics and Animation, and Business Information Management. I didn't really know what I would be doing in those classes nor did even understand what they were about. It was crazy to me that students were actually given the choice to explore different subjects and go to college with the specific major in their mind when students in India were never given that opportunity.
The next day was the very first day of my new school. I was so nervous that I remembered mumbling something like, “What if the teacher will ask me something and I won’t be able to answer it or if I answered then what if my classmates laugh at me? I don’t want to go to school” and that’s basically all that was wandering my mind. After entering the school, I saw so many Indian faces. The presence of them, of a familiar culture so close to my heart, calmed my thoughts. This made me felt less anxious. I even tried to approach them with my Indian accent and poor English, but it was so hard to understand what were they saying. Still, it was nice speaking to them, having someone to somewhat relate to.
I entered into my first period class, room C119, Chemistry class. It didn’t feel like school; students were using their phones and some didn’t even have backpacks. I went to the last desk, sat alone, and started analyzing my surroundings, really absorbing the atmosphere. Soon enough, the teacher started calling for attendance and stopped at D-d-dev and I politely replied, explaining its pronunciation as “d-ai-v-ah-n-sh-ee”. My day went on and I found so many things fascinating to me. I was completely amazed after seeing the science labs and all the materials open to students. It was so totally cool. I was blown away by the fact that every classroom had a projector and computer for teachers to use. For the next year, I kept comparing the education system to India’s.
But again, I was missing India. All my memories clung to me. Here, during lunch, everyone in the school used to laugh and have fun with their friends in the cafeteria while I sat alone, missing my old school days when I used to have fun with my friends. In India, I was with the same people in my class for straight 10 years. In those years, a strong relationship built between all of us. There were around 50 students, but we all had memories with each other. When I compare that to here, every class has different people with different backgrounds. It was hard for me to develop a good relationship with one person. I was really lonely and might have cried more than several times because of it, but I never let my parents know that I was alone and missing India. Many times, in my world history class, people used to laugh at my Indian accent. It was so hurtful. I stopped liking going to school. I remember crying while taking showers so that my mother wouldn’t figure out that I was actually hurting so much from all the change. This continued for almost 7-8 months.
One night, I decided to do something about it. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I wrote down all the problems I had on a piece of paper and decided to find the solution for each and every one, without involving my parents. The only solution I found was to become more open and extroverted, stop caring about people judging me. I ran as a Historian for National Honor Society and gave a speech in front of 400 people. Even though I didn’t get that position, there was a small spark of confidence that developed inside of me. I started to explore the education system by talking to classmates, teachers, and counselors.
I came to know that there was a class called Independent Study and Mentorship (ISM), which includes intense research, original idea generation, original product design, and written analysis of research. In addition, ISM teachers also worked with the students on professionalism, time management, resume writing, and goal setting to help prepare students for future. I knew I wanted to do something related to Computers. Seeing my dad always on the computer helped inspire me to learn how the computer functions ever since childhood. He always used to update his computers, phones, and pretty much everything. The internet came out in 1990 and it was in his office by 1998. No one really knew what it was, but he taught me to always accept change and learn new things since there is so much to learn out here. I applied to ISM and even went for an interview. It was all so professional. Again, I didn’t get into that class. But on that day, I promised myself that I will apply again next year and do whatever I can do to succeed.
I learned that there are three types of classes for each subject. For example, let’s take Chemistry. There is on-level, Pre-AP, and AP Chemistry. In On-level, you learn the basics about that class and what’s required of it. AP is an Advanced Placement class, where you have the opportunity to earn college credits while in high school, learning the subject more in detail. Pre-AP is in the middle, between on-level and AP. I talked to the AP teachers in regards to taking AP classes as I was an ESL (English as a Second Language) Student. Although they all said I would have hard time processing, I still took four AP classes. I was struggling to understand the concept of studies here as it was very different to that in India. My whole day passed by in school and doing homework. It took me more time than other students to understand and do my homework efficiently. I went to tutorials and ask for teacher’s help, but I never gave up. That year, I made some good friends too. I was happy. Not liking my school wasn't a problem anymore.
At the end of that year, I heard the announcements that ISM applications were out again for the 2016-17 school year, which I was waiting for. I applied for it and went in for an interview too. Out of 200 students, only 60 were selected. I was so proud that I was one of the 60 students. I remember the day I walked into that class, scared and nervous. I knew that my accent and my poor English was my first obstacle for this class. But without any hesitation, I can now say that my fears and doubts have been replaced with courage and confidence. I also remember on the second day of the class, we were required to give a 5 minutes introduction speech. I entered the class seeing people cramming and memorizing their speeches, which created a tense environment. I was so scared. But now, when I compare that to today, I feel more positive. I feel like I am not me, I am almost another person, who is proud of her unique identity and has come out of her comfort zone, and I’m happy with who I’ve become. My ISM teacher, Brian Wysong, has played a major role in my life. He is my inspiration. ISM has given me the courage to approach many professionals in the field of Computer Science for my research interview. During this ISM journey, I also found a very helpful person whom I could call my mentor, Dr. Michael Hahsler.
Moving from India, I got so many opportunities in the United States of America to explore the field I was most interested in. It was incredible that I was able to learn animation, internetworking, and coding. I also got an opportunity to be part of Independent Study and Mentorship program in Frisco ISD. Developing countries do not even give choices of classes to students. After 10th grade, students are supposed to select their major and their field of study. Without any prior knowledge or introduction, “How can you tell this is what you wanted to do for rest of the life?” This question is still bothering me. I feel bad for those who selected a major under the influence of others and did not like it.
Through my Final Product, I want to try to solve 0.01% of this problem. I have decided to organize a workshop in India. Through this workshop, I want to inspire the young generation to generate curiosity for Computer Science. I will introduce them with a Scratch software for coding. With Scratch, young people can program their own interactive stories, games, and animations. It is designed for ages 8-16 but is used by people of all ages. Scratch helps students learn important strategies for solving problems, designing projects, and for communicating ideas. This workshop will help students define if Computer Science is a thing that they really want to pursue or not. I have started a Campaign called A Workshop in India, which will provide computers and the internet to a school in India. Here’s the link for my campaign, www.gofundme.com/finalproduct. It will provide students to learn and explore more. It will introduce the student to the totally different aspect of learning.
I want to implement what I learned so far in improving India’s education system. My dad always interrupts me when I talk about something not being right. He always says, “If something is not right, then what are you doing to solve that problem. Stop complaining, and do something.”