Journey to IEDP series: Here we are again in November, continuing our series from October on our cohort’s distinct experiences that brought us to IEDP. Many of you reading this blog probably have myriad of questions: “should I go to graduate school?” “if so, which program should I apply to?” “how would my experience fit in IEDP?” “why would I want to be in IEDP” are probably only SOME of the questions boiling in your minds. This blog post series will show how some of our cohort mates have explored those very questions and came to our conclusions.

Grey and wet weather didn’t feel too bad after a conversation with Shristi, a Fulbright scholar, at her place with warm chai and treats. I’m extremely thrilled to share our conversation with greater audience as it for sure is a fascinating story that should be known to more people!

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Those crackers and chai were only the starters, followed by donuts and chips… #bliss

Hannah: What kind of thoughts, moments, experiences from your previous work experience that got you decide to apply to a grad school?

Shristi: I did my undergrad in business. For that reason, my family and relatives raised their eye brows when they heard that I want to study education and said “how did your business mind take turns all of a sudden?” I guess though passion towards doing something in the field of education came from my own experience as a student who was brought up in the Nepali education system- one that focuses on rote-learning and memorization. I used to be someone who would always complain about what’s lacking in the system and as a student, I was not happy with the way I was being taught.

So the particular experience that got me to act out on doing something in the field of education was this one international case study competition, called Chartered Institute of Management Accountants(CIMA) Global Business Challenge (GBC) 2013. With my friends, I participated in the competition, then we won the competition and represented Nepal in Johannesburg. I was always considered a top student during my undergraduate years. I was extensively involved in extracurricular activities and would get straight As in class. However, after being exposed to something as big as GBC, I realized that despite putting in our best efforts and being chosen as the best team from Nepal, our team was outmatched in critical analysis and creativity. That was the second I decided rather than complaining, I’m going to do something to change this. Because I don’t want any Nepali students to face that when they go abroad. With a friend, with whom I shared passion for education, I used to talk about where does the problem lie in Nepali’s education system. The more we talked about it, the more we realized that the problem lies in school. I tied my GBC experience to my school experiences of how I felt like I didn’t learn much.

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Shristi presenting at the CIMA GBC National Finals!

So, when I was offered a teaching job at a school in Kathmandu, I did not think twice. I loved my job as a teacher and felt I was making an impact on my students’ lives, which gave me tremendous joy. After working for 8 months in the school, the school shifted to a newer building because it was damaged by the earthquake. This different building was on the outskirt of Kathmandu so on my commute to the school, I had to pass the slum area. Every morning I would question myself “Is what I’m doing meaningful enough?” Because I would see kids in the slum areas not going to school and their parents cared less about it. Yes I’m making an impact in the lives of children my own school and contributing my skills and expertise to make the school a better school, but what about these kids? That’s where I started to think of making a difference in a more holistic education system. That’s where I felt like IEDP would fill that gap.

Most importantly, education was something that was truly close to my heart because I grew up listening to the stories of my father, how he did not get a chance to afford good education and same with my mom. As a first-generation student, I grew up listening to stories of my parents about how they could not afford to go to school because of their financial circumstances and how they feel they would be in a better place had they gotten a chance to be educated. The same passion to provide children, like my parents, an opportunity to access quality education and learn to overcome the educational disparity in Nepal is what led me to apply to grad school and pursue a degree in IEDP.

Hannah: What was graduate school searching process like for you?

Shristi: The graduate school searching process really started with a lot of self-reflection. More than the school, I started by looking for the programs that would serve my passion to create access to quality education in developing countries. When I finally made up my mind to do grad school, I consulted with a couple of my mentors who advised me. I knew I wanted to go to IEDP, but I still looked for other universities. One of my mentors went to Yale, and he taught me a lot on how I can navigate the graduate search better. So the first thing I did was to make an Excel sheet, writing the names of the programs, GRE scores and notable professors and all that. So I had a list of five to six universities. While I was researching more about the graduate schools, one of my mentors connected me to a friend who knew a friend who was in IEDP. I just had a couple of questions to an alum but she responded to me with a long email, with all the good things to talk about Penn. Alumni are the best resources that you could reach out to.

Hannah: Reaching out to alums can be really intimidating but you made a courageous move!

Shristi: I was scared at first! Should I reach out to them? How would they take it? But turns out sometimes, you just have to try. What’s the worst that’s going to happen – I’m not going to get a reply. Ask! If there’s something you are not sure about and you need more info about. And most of the times, people were so happy to share their experiences and help me. In fact, that email I got from an alum was what made my conviction stronger.

Hannah: I know you had a lot of difficulties in your process of applying to IEDP. Any insights you gained from that struggle that you’d like to share with prospective students?

Shristi: Applying to IEDP through a scholarship, like you mentioned, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. There might be days that things go in a different way than you thought. But I think you need to be sure of what you want. Sometimes it feels like “Am I even in the position to make a call? Should I refrain from sticking to my point?” It is just about rightly communicating it to the right person. Both university’s and scholarship institution’s best interests lie in your success as a graduate student and beyond. So, don’t hesitate to communicate what you believe is right for you. Especially, people here are more than willing to tell you. I am glad everything worked out the way I wanted it to. But it would never have been possible without the collective efforts of everyone involved to make my dream of attending Penn a reality. I am forever grateful to Fulbright and Penn (particularly Lauren, my guardian angel) for that.

Hannah: It seems like you answered pretty much all the questions I had for you except one: have you ever felt imposter syndrome? How did you cope with it?

Shristi: Penn being such a prestigious Ivy League institution, I always thought I would feel intimidated by the environment here. Especially for international students, especially if this is their first study abroad experience, you can feel that. All I can say is that it is okay to feel that. It’s not something that only you feel. Even domestic students can feel that way. Also if this is your first time away from the family, the imposter syndrome can get stronger. because you don’t see familiar faces around. But that’s what you make friends for! That’s how your cohort members and faculty members can help you and that’s how I’m combating the imposter syndrome. Sometimes it never goes away.

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This is no longer a dream!

Walking on Locust and looking at people around me, I do think to myself “how did I get here?” When something that you never imagined happen, you are bound to feel that imposter in you. It is just amazing: thinking where I was three months ago and where I am here. Without you knowing, you are a part of Penn already. It’s so amazing how things happen. Making magic happen is hard. But when it happens, it’s beautiful.