Tanvi Sakhamuru was born in India and moved to the United States with her family when she was just four years old. She visits her home country often to see her extended family, which has greatly influenced her academic choices and perspective on life. Splitting her time between two countries has nurtured her deep love for culture and the arts. In June of 2016, Tanvi graduated from College of the Canyons with an associate’s degree in liberal arts and sciences with a focus on social and behavioral sciences. This summer, she was one of 10 students invited by the Chegg Foundation and MeToWe to spend two weeks participating in service learning projects in Ecuador through the #GiveBackAndGo challenge. Now that she is back home in California, she is working toward her bachelor’s degree at UCLA with a major in cultural anthropology.
Q. How often do you and your family visit India?
My family and I like to visit India as often as possible. On average, we visit about every year and a half.
Q. During your stays, have you ever held a job, an internship, or taken a class in the country?
I lived in India for the first four years of my life, so I have vivid memories of my experiences attending a Waldorf preschool. Other than that, I held an internship at a small bakery last summer. It was an eye-opening experience. I got to see the much less glamorous side of running a small business and the norms of interaction. It was more than an internship; it was a closer look at how people in another country with a completely different culture handle day-to-day life.
Q. How did that influence your education?
Starting school in India impacted my education greatly. I had started to learn English at school, which helped the social adjustment. Unfortunately, the public schools in America did not take kindly to my Waldorf education. The system does not place a greater emphasis on spoken word than on written [word] and does not teach the alphabet until around first grade. Needless to say, it set me back when I was enrolled in preschool here. I struggled to pick up the new pronunciations and dialect of the language and was put in English learning classes, which catered to students who struggle with English. Anything that remotely had to do with reading was my least favorite activity for years. With my mother’s guidance, support, and lots of interesting books, my confidence in my abilities grew. English and writing are now two of my favorite subjects.
Regarding the internship, I think it contributed to my education in an unexpected way. I had already decided on anthropology as my major when I took the internship, but I had no idea how closely it would relate to my academic life. I thought that I already knew about the cultural norms in India and how people interact with one another. I was surprised when I learned a lot of new aspects about the sociocultural practices in modern culture. It was fascinating to observe the way people acted differently in various contexts, in contrast with my family’s values. It increased my urge to delve deeper into sociocultural anthropology.
Q. Do you feel that your travels prepared you for winning the #GiveBackAndGo contest through MeToWe and the Chegg Foundation?
I have traveled to many different countries, but winning the chance to #GiveBackAndGo was something for which I was not prepared. I was prepared for the new foods, which has been my favorite part of any previous travel experience I’ve had. And I think my visits to India prepared me to meet the local Quechua healer because he talked a lot about energy or aura, which is emphasized in India. I have spent maybe a few days in a country at a time, sightseeing until I am barely able to walk anymore. There was nothing in my past travels that prepared me for daily canoe rides on the Napo River, making chocolate from scratch, or trekking up a mountain in the Amazon rainforest.
My touristy experiences in other countries, save India, deprived me of meeting local communities and fully immersing myself in the culture. I was not prepared for such a profound experience, which was largely afforded by the community service and critical thinking exercises that were incorporated within this trip. MeToWe and Chegg Foundation allowed me to be more than an observer in a new place and [gave me] a chance to truly appreciate another culture.
Q. How would you describe the difference between traveling to India to stay with family versus visiting Ecuador and experiencing its culture for the first time?
Traveling to India takes way longer! In all seriousness, the two experiences are worlds apart. Going to India is like going home for me. It means quality time with the people I miss, staying with my grandmother for weeks on end, and eating amazing comfort food. There is an ease and familiarity with the language and customs. I fall into a schedule and know what to expect every day.
Visiting Ecuador with a group of people I had never met was a swift push out of my comfort zone. Being pushed out of my comfort zone turned out to be the theme of the trip for me. Like I said, my travels and experiences in other countries did not prepare me for the trip. There was a new activity every day, and I never knew what to expect. The indigenous culture combined with various influences over the years was beautiful, and the people we had the privilege of befriending were so lively and kind. Community members we worked with were welcoming, always greeting us with smiles and humoring my broken Spanish. It took me time to adjust to all the unfamiliar facets of the country. It was an unforgettable trip.
Q. Why do you feel traveling is important for young students?
Personally, I have been very focused on my academic studies for the past couple of years. I have overworked myself countless times and taken a lot for granted in the process. Traveling is important for young students because it allows them to try on a new perspective, to at least consider that something may not be as it appears. With that, I think, also comes a different kind of appreciation for another country that goes far beyond anything that can be learned through academia. Anyone can read about customs and culture, but it is nothing compared to being a part of it. It is also a great way to challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone, which tends to illustrate that people are generally capable of more than they think.
Q. Your parents worked hard to be able to move to California from India. How do you feel they have influenced you in your pursuit of higher education?
My parents are brilliant. My mother earned two bachelor’s degrees and worked as a teacher, and my father is a chartered accountant. [As I was] growing up, not pursuing a higher education was outside of my realm of possibilities; it never crossed my mind. They raised me in way that always made it seem like college was a no-brainer, which can partly be attributed to our culture. More than making them proud, I know that they want me to have more chances than they ever had. Understanding how hard they have worked and the countless sacrifices they have made has motivated me to work harder in my own pursuit of higher education.
Q. Did your parents help you choose a community college for an associate’s degree?
My parents actually had nothing to do with choosing my community college for my associate’s degree. Let me start by saying my parents are not traditional, strict parents by any means. They definitely had their opinions about me rejecting some great California state universities to pursue [the] University of California [schools], all of which had rejected my applications. My father was especially dumbfounded by my decision to go to a community college. It was a personal choice, and my parents supported it completely once they realized how set I was in the decision. The most impactful decision they ever made was to let me choose my own path in terms of higher education. I worked twice as hard to show them it was the right call.
Q. Has being a first-generation immigrant given you a different perspective than your peers? How would you describe the way you perceive life and education?
Being a first-generation immigrant has definitely given me a different perspective than my peers. I think I still have a lot of cultural values deeply embedded within, like with the expectation of pursuing higher education, for example. Sometimes I tend to be more conservative in the choices I make as well, especially when it comes to conducting myself in a way that feels appropriate. Something else that I have noticed is that I seem to appreciate my citizenship and life in this country in a different way than others might.
My sister and I sometimes reflect on our cousins’ lives in contrast to our own lives; the freedom that I have to express myself devoid of any expectations that others may have is so liberating. I don’t know if others really think about that. If I were not a first-generation immigrant, my self-expression would have been so stifled.
I strive to be the most authentic version of myself while having integrity in what I say and do. I don’t think that most people my age have that kind of perspective.
Education is, to me, a given and a necessity. I have seen how important education is in my culture and family. There is more of an emphasis on completing a college education than there is in America, which I carry with me. More so, I love learning more about the world around me and learning from people who are passionate about what they teach. I definitely believe the saying, “Knowledge is power.” I have friends who are not as motivated academically and some who have chosen not to pursue a higher education altogether. They are both valid decisions; it is just a difference in values.