My senior year of college was arguably the most social year of my life. With a freshly 21-year-old ID, I indulged in Taco Tuesdays, spent weekends in Vegas, tirelessly practiced into the night with my collegiate dance team, and tried every restaurant that Yelp recommended. Life couldn’t get any better—it was almost as though I was getting college credit for the amount of socializing I did. I got through each week daydreaming of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, which consisted of drinks, dresses, and dates.
Fast-forward four years to today, I find myself halfway across the country in graduate school, with social challenges I never would have imagined during, what I now refer to as, the peak of my social life. Once a week, I meet with a counselor for an hour, mostly brainstorming things such as “breaking out of my shell” and “having more confidence.” When my parents dropped me off at graduate school I surprised myself when I literally cried for three days straight. As we were saying our final goodbyes, my mother held me and said “You were never like this. You used to be so social, what has happened?”
Only now, one full year into my master’s program, did I really give that question any thought. Had something happened between my college graduation and the start of my graduate program that made me such an introvert? Or had something around me changed?
I am no psychologist, but I do believe that environment influences behavior and the environment I was in in college was damaging for both my social skills and mental well being. I was guilty of every stereotype that guys make about Indian girls: dramatic, judgmental, competitive, ego-centric, etc. I never valued any of these qualities, and in fact, had always tried my best to avoid becoming these things, yet somehow, I fell into their trap.
My friends gossiped with me about our other friends, and then gossiped with our other friends about me. We spent hour upon superficial hour in front of the mirror trying to be the hottest girl at the party, but really fearing what other girls would say about our appearances. We hooked up with random guys and talked about it the next day. It felt like every move I made was for someone else, but never for me. The environment I was in was highly judgmental and catty—and it had made me that way too.
Now, tossed into the real world, I struggled with the basic act of just introducing myself to a classmate. I punctuated every sentence I spoke with an “I don’t know,” fearful that someone would judge my words. I spent Friday nights alone watching Netflix, because it seemed socially safer than being in an environment like the one I had been in before. The Indian college scene had completely deflated me!
Am I glad this happened? No. Did I learn anything from it? Absolutely. Many Indian girls inevitably make a choice to be in the Indian crowd or not; you can make the choice to be involved in your college Indian community, but also be aware of what messages your actions are sending out. Be the girl that everyone admires, because she never talks sh*t about anyone else. Thinking something negative is just as toxic as saying it, so re-frame your thoughts to be positive ones. Ones that nurture friends and relationships—not bring down others. Never doubt that Converse sneakers can can look as cute as complicated stilettos, and you don’t need to spend an hour getting ready if that’s not your thing. Wear your values with confidence and just be yourself—chances are no one will have anything to judge about someone so comfortable in their skin.
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