Diverse Views, Diverse Cultures

It is early evening and a group of incoming students from different parts of the country have brightened up the quiet ambience of Project Otenga, a cafe on the Ahmedabad Campus. Conversations flow effortlessly, moving from different cultures, making friends, exploring local street food, discovering new modes of transport, and hangouts on and off Campus! It is almost symbolic that these students with such diverse backgrounds should meet up at Project Otenga, a multi-faceted, multimodal collaborative space for learning beyond classrooms that welcomes people from diverse fields and serves food from the northeast of India.

Baibhav Sharma, who comes from Assam, has joined the BBA (Hons) programme at the Amrut Mody School of Management and plans to major in Marketing. He has moved from the eastern side of the country to the west. “It definitely was a big shift and I thank my school counsellor for introducing me to Ahmedabad. Settling into a local college or university would have been the easiest option but this shift has given me the opportunity to discover more. That was something I sought. The University is one of those places where I can explore much more than just academics. We had our Club Carnival this month where senior students presented to us the various activities of each Club. They’re open to letting amateurs join too, and that’s reassuring.” Baibhav is a professional dancer whose eyes are set on the Dance Club, where he hopes to build a community with other dancers as passionate about the craft as he is.

The shift from Bangalore, Karnataka, comes with clear objectives for Het Desai, a national-level rifle shooter, who is pursuing her Integrated MS in Life Sciences at the School of Arts and Sciences. She wanted to pursue her sports goal at a university that nurtured a holistic learning environment. “Holistic learning, that allows me to keep my sport ahead while focussing on my education, matters highly to me. I assessed the sports culture at Ahmedabad University strongly before I made my decision.” Het has moved from a Bangalore-based university to ours and the Foundation Programme at Ahmedabad comes as a refreshing change for her. “I attended a general education programme intended for first years in Bangalore too. However, the focussed and interdisciplinary approach we take in our Foundation Programme Studios is very unique. Specifically, I look at the water crisis every differently ever since I have experienced the Water Studio at our Foundation Programme,” she says. 

The Circle of Care that helps students make the transition from school life to university life is a support system that incoming students heavily rely on. Het says, “I must add about how very wary I was of moving cities, especially about moving to such a large University. I have always been in smaller education spaces. However, the manner in which the Circle of Care welcomed us, quickly becoming our first group of friends at this large place, has come as a life saviour. It’s beautiful; I see each Circle of Care as a small part of Ahmedabad University itself!”

“I totally agree!” says Rithu Vijay, who discovered that Het was her neighbour from the same locality in Bangalore after she joined Ahmedabad University. “I was fortunate to find several friends almost instantaneously. Het, for one, and the Circle of Care, were like manna from heaven. I think I was sure I wanted to shift out of Bangalore though Ahmedabad was not on my shortlist initially.” However, Rithu was drawn to Ahmedabad University when she compared it with others and realised it had an urban campus. She says, “Every other university I was considering was in a secluded corner of the city or on the outskirts from where moving out to shop or for entertainment or simply to explore life outside campus would easily mean a commute of an hour at least! Ahmedabad, in contrast, offered me an urban ambience with the best facilities and laboratories, and faculty that come from the most highly recognised institutions globally.”  Rithu has enrolled in the Integrated MS in Life Sciences programme. 

Choekyi Tseten Tonyot comes with a boarding school experience. In 2017, she had moved from Sikkim to Tamil Nadu for her middle and high-school education where she formed a close-knit bond with her community at the school hostel. “I used to be the person who would help integrate new students into the school; now, the tables had turned and we had this wonderful Circle of Care do the same for me,” she says. For Choekyi, Ahmedabad University was a deeply informed decision. “I wanted to be in a University with a liberal education approach. Also, at my high school, co-curricular activities were greatly emphasised. I didn’t want to compromise on this holistic learning.” During her admission process, she engaged deeply with the faculty from her choice of Major - Social and Political Sciences, and formed an instant connect.

Lekisha Gandhi from Mumbai, Maharashtra, is pursuing her BA (Hons) in Economics. For Lekisha, interdisciplinary learning at the University was the chief reason for seeking admission at Ahmedabad. She says, “When Ahmedabad says interdisciplinarity, I see that they mean it. During our admissions process, we were given to understand how classes are interdisciplinary here and right through the Foundation Programme I have seen that happen. My group has students from different Programmes across the different Schools of the University working on specific areas of serious interest in the 21st century. Imagine having access to this quality of education within India.”

The Orientation process that was a week-long engagement with students, faculty, and staff of the University, was something she had not anticipated. “You expect one-way communication that possibly lasts an entire day. My school friends, spread across India, were surprised that we had interactive sessions throughout our Orientation that allowed us to express ourselves, raise questions, and get immersed in the culture that the University stands for.” 

Raipur’s Anshul Pritwani has joined Ahmedabad University to explore what she wants to pursue. She says, “I am delighted that the University has offered me a great place to grow. I have come in as an ‘undeclared’ student. I think that allows me great scope for exploration and I plan to make the most of it. I am 18. I may not be in the best position to decide what I’d like to pursue finally as my profession or field of study. Ahmedabad has allowed me the time and space to discover this potential.” Anshul also says that the Student Clubs at Ahmedabad University offer a great platform to students to build unique communities around diverse interests. “I would like to actively engage with the Clubs. As a psychic and tarot card reader, I am yet to find someone with shared interests but I wish to propose a new club around these areas in the coming years and have my own community going!”

Rithu speaks about how the diverse culture at the University has given her a sense of belonging. “Even though we may come from vastly different regions and cultures, the University culture is unique; it is pluralistic. We have seen not just students from diverse cultures but faculty too.”

Falak Gurnani is from Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh, and she immediately connected to the green and sustainable Campus. She says, “Even while I was doing initial research on Ahmedabad University through the website, I was in awe of its Campus. I will be honest to confess, it drew me in completely. During my personal interaction with faculty, I got to know about the air quality index project on Campus. Now that I am a student, I have seen all the sustainable practices we undertake and it fills me with a sense of pride.”

Falak considered the international education opportunities that Ahmedabad University offers while she was finalising her choice for undergraduate education. “My aunt in the US was insistent that I study abroad. She was the one who took me through the academic style of the University as it aligns with international universities and will help me greatly when I consider my master’s.”

Het adds that it’s the spirit of contextual learning and never turning down opportunities for learning that had her excited about the University. Something Vice Chancellor Pankaj Chandra said during his Orientation address to the incoming students stayed with her. She says, “He gave us various examples of how a good education prepares us for the long game, notably mentioning Steve Jobs and his course on calligraphy that helped define the typography of Mac eventually. He said, ‘Make the Ahmedabad education your own.’ And I have decided to do exactly that.”

Choekyi says, almost poetically, that this is yet another experience in life that will shape her as an individual. “I come from a place where the mountains are our guardian deity, our family is an essential part of our identity, and traditions are woven from stories from the past. Growing up in Sikkim, I was always surrounded by people I knew and, like every other 12-year-old girl, depended on my parents for everything. Sikkim was the only home I knew. Making that shift to Tamil Nadu was vital to me. As time passed, I grew to appreciate the place I now call my second home. I am in an unknown city again, this time a little older, hoping that with each passing day, this too will be a home away from home.”