We have another guest post on the blog this week! Ujjwala Maharjan is a current IEDP student from Nepal, and is one of the founding members of the Word Warriors, Nepal’s first spoken word poetry group.

Do you know those moments in life when you look around your group of friends and you realize that you LOVE these people and you have this urge to declare it to them or shout how awesome they are?  It could be anything – a shared laughter, a sudden recognition of the wonderful company you’re in, a moment of acceptance – that makes you remember that with friends, life’s pretty darn good!

When I was back home in Nepal, I was lucky to have experienced several of these moments being surrounded with amazing friends and people I dearly loved and looked up to. When I decided to come to Penn, I was anxious about moving to a new place and meeting new people as an international student. Just three and a half months in, though, I can happily say I have had a couple of those moments here already and I am sure there will only be more.

Ask any of us right now what the best thing about IEDP is and the answer you’d surely get is “the cohort.” I know most people think their class in school is the best, but there are things about this cohort that I genuinely appreciate. Having recently come back from Thanksgiving break, and having enjoyed a Friendsgiving dinner with the program just a few days before the break, I thought I’d list down a few things I am very grateful for in our cohort.

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Friendsgiving, IEDP-style! (There is more than one male in the program…)

Everyone helps everyone.

You would think that at an Ivy League school people would be very competitive about grades. But everyone helps everyone – with readings, classes, discussions and even graded assignments. There have been so many times when someone has come up to me after class because they saw me struggling with a concept and they have taken their time out to explain it until I got it. For so many of us who are mortally afraid of STATA for our Monitoring and Evaluation class, our mathematically brilliant friends are our angels because they are the best tutors one could have – and we get them for free. It’s a great feeling to walk into the Graduate Student Center knowing one of us will definitely be there and you can always ask for help. Also, when there’s a major assignment, we are super cute working together, nibbling on food, getting distracted with jokes and fun stories we absolutely have to share with each other, and then coming back around to work again.

The cohort cares.

People notice when someone isn’t in the class. They reach out. They bring flowers and tea when you are sick. They bring you the desert you were absolutely craving because they’re just nice like that. They give you hugs when you look super stressed. They agree to become your drivers when you need to move things in your apartment. They ask if you got home safe. You let everyone know you got home safe. They look after your pet and your house when you are away. They ask you how your trip was. They share their exciting news with everyone. They listen to you vent your frustration about things that go wrong. They feed you. They care in a family-like way, and for a lot of us away from home – the cohort has often been the closest it gets to home.

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Susan hosting some of the cohort for Thanksgiving at her family’s home.

Always ready for fun!

I am also super impressed by how this cohort can manage all the demanding tasks required of a serious grad student, and still always be ready for some serious fun. Be it mid-week Karaoke nights, house parties, movie time, dancing, some drinks, food hopping around town, walks alongside the Schuylkill river, gym (fun for some), an Escape Room, trivia, beer gardens, salsa, hanging out at Clark park, happy hours or exploring Philly, whenever one of us proposes a fun idea in our Whatsapp group, there will always be takers.

To long-lasting connections and social justice!

One of the things Dr. GK always emphasizes during our Proseminar course (or really in all of her classes) is that it will be our cohort who will get us jobs. Knowing all the amazing work the people in this cohort have done and how passionate they are, you know they will go places and help you get to all the places you’ll go too. It will be these people who will remember you and the things you are good at, who will connect you to people, be your references, and who may be the link to your dream job. While this is in the future, in the present, too, the cohort has been an extremely supportive group and appreciative of the diverse perspectives we bring to classroom discussions. One more thing I greatly admire in this cohort is their sensitivity to people and issues, and their willingness to question privilege to make way for empathetic practices and actions. Whatever route they take – development workers, educators, entrepreneurs, policy makers, researchers – it makes my heart happy to know they will be working towards social justice with their full capacity.

No wonder, when I look up from my desk sometime, I catch myself looking around the room and already missing these people. (I might also be an overly emotional person.) Though it is only the end of the first semester, we know how quickly time goes by. One of the thoughts that frequently runs through my head is that, with the diversity we have in our cohort, when the program ends these people will be your connection to so many places around the globe. I also get excited thinking about hosting them back home in Nepal when they’re visiting, meeting up after a long time and catching up on things. In the present though, I am thankful we host each other and care for each other, as we all get by with a little help from each other.