Nebiyat Seifedin: Pushing the Boundaries

Ashoka University prides itself on the diversity of its student body. Students here hail not only from all over the country, but from all over the world. To find out more about what it’s like being an international student, we sat down with Nebiyat Seifedin, who shared with us her Ashoka experience.

1. Where are you from?

I’m from Ethiopia.

2. Why did you choose to come to Ashoka?

I don’t think there was any particular reason. Ashoka’s outreach team had come to Ethiopia to promote it, which is how I initially heard of it. A few of my friends and I just applied, and I was the only one who got accepted. At first, I was really intimidated by the idea of travelling to a new place, but my friends convinced me that it was a great opportunity. I was initially unfamiliar with the liberal arts model, but I liked the idea of it. I think the factor that really made me decide to come to Ashoka, was the way the system in Ethiopia worked. At the end of grade 12, all the students take a national exam, and their score on that exam decides which college they attend. I was passionate about studying political science, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t get into a college that offered it. I didn’t want to take that risk when I already had another option. So I chose to come here instead!

3. What were some unexpected hurdles you faced coming here?

I come from a large family, so one challenge was getting used to how individualistic life here is. It was a challenge to eat by myself with just one plate! At home, everything would be taken care of by my parents, but here I’m responsible for myself.

Besides that, there were some cultural differences – my family is more conservative, so I could never question them, but over here we can discuss anything openly. And I also faced some challenges with academics – the differences in timings, and the fact that in Ashoka, you study a lot of subjects that are unrelated to your major, were things that I had to get used to.

4. What were some of your perceptions of what India would be like before you came here?

Bollywood is really popular in Ethiopia, so I was influenced by that. It gave me a certain understanding of how people in India dress, things like that. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to fit in here. Before I came here, my parents told me not to behave the way I did at home, because I would be in a place with a different culture! But at Ashoka, it’s a very open society, which isn’t conservative at all.

5. How about some unexpected benefits of coming here?

I learned a lot of life lessons because of coming here. I didn’t know anything about the outside world before I came here. I almost spent all my life with my family. Here I learned how to manage on my own, to live with a roommate, and to interact and make friends with people from diverse backgrounds. I had the experience of adjusting to a new environment. Also, the quality of education is good here, and I like that we are exposed to a wide variety of subjects outside of our chosen streams, instead of being bound to one subject. I got to experiment with everything, academically and otherwise, and I was able to discover myself.

6. What are some similarities between India’s culture and society and Ethiopia’s?

Ethiopia and India both have highly diverse societies, in terms of language, culture, clothing, and so on. Also, although in college we can all say we’re liberal and are allowed to dress however we want, I think that it’s not the same at home for most people in both countries.

7What’s a way in which your life or personality has changed that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t come here?

The way I see the world has changed a lot – I am open now to any kind of person. I can make friends regardless of their economic background, sexual orientation, and so on.

8What do you miss the most from home?

I was really homesick in my first year. But then once I went back home once, I felt a lot better. I’m not as attached to home. I still miss my family and friends, obviously, but more than that I miss certain moments. Times like going to school with friends, spending time with my family, celebrating holidays, bunking classes with friends, small things like that. I can call my friends and family whenever I want to, but those moments are never coming back. They can never be lived again.

9Do you think Ashoka as a whole does enough to accommodate the international students?

I do. The accommodation and treatment are the best, and there’s a lot of concern for international students. Sometimes I feel like there’s still a slight gap between the Indian students and the international ones. Like maybe in some common spaces, each groups tends to stays within their own group…not to say I don’t have Indian friends or that they don’t talk to me, but there’s a kind of comfort zone – you might be intimidated to talk to an international student, and vice versa. But I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. In terms of accommodation, it’s perfect.

Overall, Nebiyat seems as happy to be at Ashoka as we are to have her. We look forward to spending more time with her and the rest of the Ashoka University International Students’ Association!

Edited by Priyanka Shankar.

All pictures courtesy of Nebiyat.