"I met students from places like Uganda, Mexico, San Francisco, Texas, Las Vegas, Kenya, Massachusetts, London, New York, Brazil, Mauritius, Boston and China."

SEE 2016
Kinshuka Solanki
From left to right: Axel de Bossiard, Hannah Pedone, 
Kinshuka Solanki (myself), and Hero Hendrick Baker

Excitement and anxiety, expectations and more were written large a few months back. Just as the award letter for my selection to Yale Young Global Scholars Program for Sustainability, Energy and Environment (SEE) at Yale University, USA, was received, I was in a state of being my confident, composed self. Yet, soon after my parents announced that they were willing to allow me to miss school for close to a month in the midst of my class 12 career year to be at Yale, I was faced with some very different emotions. My immediate thoughts were somewhat like these:

· How am I going to “fit in” with the diverse set of people from across the world?

· Will I be able to cope with the demands of a program format and structure so drastically different from mine?

· What if the other students don’t find me “good” enough?

Well, all my fears turned out to be exaggerated, to say the least. When I first entered the huge gates of the Pierson Residential College, I was greeted by a jolly looking instructor who welcomed me and gave me directions to the program office. I later found out that the same instructor was assigned as my family leader too!

Before the first lecture, I remember how lost I was, because I didn’t know anyone. But then I realized that nobody knew anyone. They were all just like me. It seemed that I had got an answer to my first question - “Nobody fits in, because everybody stands out”.

I met students from places like Uganda, Mexico, San Francisco, Texas, Las Vegas, Kenya, Massachusetts, London, New York, Brazil, Mauritius, Boston and China. The opportunity to meet high spirited students from around the world in such a short time was unique to YYGS. I was especially happy when I met three students from my own motherland- India. Soon I discovered that I was looking for differences and similarities to know myself better.

By the very first dinner, I had made about a dozen friends – and each of them had fascinating views about my country, as I had about their. I was struck by the helpfulness among participating students. Regardless of whether I knew them or not, every single person went out of their way to make me comfortable. Everybody was available to give me directions to reach my seminar room, lend a hand, or simply chat with me on the way back to Pierson.

Amidst the secure surrounding, honestly, throughout the two weeks, I was constantly challenged. Before arriving at Yale, I had made up an imposing plan that I would hit the gym at least thrice a week and wake up at six every morning. But little did I know how much hard work capstone would be, how intellectual lectures could widen my understanding of topics, and how engaging each seminar would get! Late nights, early mornings, quick shower, to be just in time for breakfast became my typical day.

The students, with or against, whom I was debating during seminars, were the same with whom I laughed, cracked jokes and hung out at Starbucks or Froyoworld. This was yet another different aspect of the program. It taught me to make quick adjustments without much fuss, efforts or anxiety.

The capstone project exposed me to a new approach to learning. Exploring the relevant sources, analyzing the arguments, creating a project outline and discovering counter arguments against our project theme; it was all very alien and yet so exciting. I learnt to appreciate others opinions and develop in area where I lagged. Without doubt, I can say that stimulating students and guides turned my two weeks at New Haven into a New Heaven!

My stint at Yale, allowed me more room to be myself. No more inhibitions and no more judging. It meant freedom to learn at your own pace and style with almost double the motivation. This was one more uplifting experience.

“Family time” was that part of the day I looked forward to the most. I did know why many others seemed to dislike family time. But I was blessed and lucky to have an amazing, blended family of nine! They were each from a different place including Toronto, Connecticut, China, Texas, Nevada, New York, Houston and India. Family is a group of people you are assigned to at the beginning of the program. Bonding in a more relaxed setting, talking about our future plans, playing ‘spud’ (the all-time favourite) and ‘Ninja’ was pure fun. ‘Rose and Thorn’ was a kind of ritual for our family wherein each member described the best and the worst part of their day, respectively. The program included exposure visits to prominent locations at the University like the Yale Art Gallery, the Kroon Hall, the Yale West Campus and the Sterling Memorial Library.

I am an art lover, so being in a university which adorns art was an advantage. One of my cherished take-away was capturing myself in a photograph alongside the two volumes of the oldest (1450s) or first printed ‘Gutenberg Bible’ at the Yale Art Gallery. My mother believes that my visit to witness this rare collectors and historic “Holy Bible” print copy was not planned but an opportunity which was designed by the Lord for me. And I quickly agree.

Without doubt, the program was demanding, but also an eye-opener for me. Auditioning for the ‘Speaker Series’ was the most rewarding experience. I remember how nervous I was at the thought of speaking in front of 500 brilliant minds. Although I wasn’t selected in the final list of 14 speakers, I was glad I did not miss the opportunity to register, prepare and participate in the selection rounds.

Our final capstone presentation (mine was a group of four students -1 from the UK, 2 from the US, and me from India working on Sustainable Transportation) was a job well done. Each group did its best. The act of listening to gain wider understanding on the array of the topics that other students’ groups presented has been very rewarding! After the capstone, we had the graduation ceremony. Holding the certificates and being part of the ‘Yale Global Scholar 2016 Graduation Ceremony’ filled me with a sense of pride.

My last day at the program approached. Bidding adieu when you have just made everlasting friends across borders and promising each other to keep in touch was the bitter-sweet parting lesson.

A fortnight whizzed past, and before I knew, it was the ‘Talent Show’ night. From solo singing to pop dance and from magic tricks to martial arts, the participants stunned everyone! I sang a Hindi song “Neki ki Rah Pe Tu Chal ” (Choose the Path of Righteousness) - from the Hindi movie ‘Traffic’ which has its roots in biblical verses. I shared the song’s essence and meaning in English. When I was done, I was greeted with cheers and applause from the audience. YYGS 2016 concludes.

My world was enlarged. This was what YYGS did to me.

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