Food, Travel, Design and the occassional wordiness

Once an ‘International Student’ February 7, 2017

I met my husband for the first time during International Student orientation at grad school. Then we went for ice cream. We dated, we traveled, we loved, we fought, we married, we have 4 beautiful children- 3 of them are fur-kids, adopted, pets- if you insist, whose American families had disowned them.
You see, like dozens of our closest friends, we were once international students. Scratch that. Between him and me, we’ve been international students 3X, over 10 cumulative years and hold 4 advanced graduate degrees from a pretty fancypants institute we hold (super) close to our hearts. And today, established in pretty awesome jobs in pretty awesome cities, we’ll tell you #imalreadyhome
Utterly grateful, that we both had the money and brains to go to school anywhere. But fate brought us here and #gladweshowedup. We are so grateful that this school and this country we now call home, has enriched our lives beyond measure and blessed us with communities that are now ours to love and build on. This community today is an international global milieu that is so much like the cosmopolitan hometown I once grew up in. So vaguely familiar, yet so utterly different. Hygge* & hujug**, lonely and chilling, rewarding and freeing is the concept of home- a word, only travelers know how to articulate. The feeling that #imalreadyhome is like the feeling of your own couch but sometimes, it is also a feeling of occasionally having to defend yourselves to well-meaning strangers.

I have many immigrant friends, many of whom moved for work, for marriages, for families (or away from families) among a variety of reasons…But I tell you, some of us are different; we are not better or special by any means, but we have all gone through a common set of things that tied us all with one common thread.
This handful of us packed our bags as kids, fresh out of high school or college, some quitting our first jobs going back to school to sit in semicircular large halls. We left everything that was familiar and comfortable, left the comforts and smells of home, left our mothers and our friends, our learnings and earnings, our lives as we knew them, to come here and recreate something we had no clue about, some of us even more than others.
No matter which university we came to, or dissertation we defended, or specialization we graduated with, or department we aced, or airlines we flew in or which country we came from we all pushed our boundaries, competed with our own selves, we created our own lives, we were international students and over decades and generations, we shared a quiet exhilarating experience. We managed to reach out and today… #imalreadyhome

I’m among friends, I’m in my community of peers, doing what I love, creating beautiful things, making change, making ripples in my mid-morning cups of coffee (that you proudly import from all over the world, some of it from my native land) with logic and dissent. I am fighting in my own little ways to pay those cocoa and coffee farmers fair wage and I’m also striving so your dairy co-op in rural Vermont gets their fair share of profits too. And I can do that because I care, because #imalreadyhome

(If you let it) My science makes food tasty, my design makes you happy, my stories make you think. We all have our roles carved out. Some days we will nod and some days we will wave, because that’s what neighbors do. Some days, we will cherish and some days, we will cope. And I will be here if you need me and also if you don’t, because #imalreadyhome Will you also pick up a sign and walk a mile, to defend logic and science and the rights of others less fortunate than you? Will you stand up for my rights and those of our planet? Will you repurpose more and recycle right?

I will always try to want less and waste less, so our Earth stays greener longer for your children and mine; I will always walk more and drive less so our kids can breathe better. I will always try to gift handmade. I will always want less and waste less and ask everyone to do the same, no matter which country we live in, because this Earth is our home and #wearealreadyhome


This is written in acknowledgement of the tremendous amount of privilege I have and also in gratitude to my school and international student community at schools everywhere who make the transition from home to new homes easier. From there on, what we do with our lives, is often up to us. In the recent episodes, it is very easy to get angry and point fingers at everyone and forget the kindness we have received; which in my case has been profound and many times more than any negativity or prejudice, which I have also received. Let it never be said that prejudice doesn’t exist and didn’t exist. It always has and so does all the other ‘good stuff’.
#imalreadyhome is used purposely as a solidarity statement with other immigrants in line with http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/immigrants-respond-to-trump-by-declaring-imalreadyhome-on-twitter_us_588b6f7fe4b0303c07533a65 as a response to recent immigration ban and growing normalization of xenophobic attitudes. Xenophobia towards international students bother me the most, because when I see them I see a vulnerable 21 year old me (and so many more like me) with nothing but packed schedules, too overwhelmed to even feel homesick. So much apprehension, so many mistakes, so much good and so many accomplishments lay ahead of you, dear young international student…If you’re one of those 17, 18, 21, 25 year olds traveling alone to study in a new country, just know, you’re not alone.


*Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a Danish word that is a feeling or mood that comes taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary, every day moments more meaningful, beautiful or special.

** Hujug (hu-Joog) is a Bangla word meaning craze, or impulse usually fueled by passion for something fun



Rising Above. Living Penn State. Part 1 September 18, 2013

Let me start with making one thing clear. I love Penn State. And I do that because somewhere in the chemical web of my mind, I prize ‘sense of belonging’, ‘pride’ and ‘freedom’, not necessarily in that order. And Penn State (or my 2 stints of grad school there) gave me all that and more.

“More” includes my current romance (we can’t talk about the future but, it has been the most successful one so far. After all in 8 years, he went from my boyfriend to fiance to husband and now the to-be-dad of my to-be-baby). Penn State is where I adopted my dog-Brownie, my best friend and my soul-mate. In a lot of ways, Penn State saw more “firsts” than my hometown did–experiences like living on my own for the first time, earning my first salary, buying my first car, more importantly, buying my first “real” camera with my first salary! Not to mention, this was where I learned to live completely alone, continents away from family and friends who meant the world to me.

Penn State is where and how I outgrew them. And Calcutta. (Something I never in my prior life of 20 years, thought I could).

So to me, Penn State has always been more than football. It is my coming-of-age story. In fact, “football” triggers only the following imagery for me: chilly Saturdays warmed up in glorious sunshine and orange leaves, thronged with white-out sweatshirts and the delicious smell of tailgate. Yum.

So all the recent debacle of football over academics affected me much less than the average PSU undergrad or alum. What saddened me is the stupidity of the nation and the world that plays into the hands of media and lets it be our judge and jury. And the role of media in crucification of lives and beings, for ratings and ads. And that is true for every time you watch the news (about whatever) and form opinions based on it. @$$holes. Sorry.

And it saddened me some when JoePa died; he was, after all exactly my grandfather’s age and I miss my grandfather. And when Graham Spanier was fired from his role as President. I saw him perform with what I didn’t know was the Blue Band on the street, on a late Fall Friday afternoon in 2005, when I was waiting for the R-bus on College Ave. Whatever administrative faux pas and horrible acts of crimes were perpetrated, I am always mildly disturbed when my bubbles and pleasant imagery is played with. To me, Penn State was a place where the President played music with some old guys on the street. Penn State was Happy Valley.

So all that makes me a Penn State loyalist. I walk a block from my home in Huron Village, Cambridge and I see a black car with an alumni sticker on it, my first reaction is I wish I could leave a note–something in the lines of “me too”. See all I want to do is reach out to the Lion in you, not necessarily befriend you or go watch a game with you (seems like the only thing alumni do together, oh and network… blah!) I just want to say, hey I know where you spent a few years of your life, probably your greatest years. I know that you know what Happy Valley is. We drove and walked some of the same streets and now we are both doing the same again on Concord Avenue in Massachusetts. That’s it.

That is also part of why I went back to get my second Masters from Penn State. Not because it was “a great program”, “ranked xx by xx” but because it was home. And also because my husband was in the last year of his PhD there which meant we could finally live together and it could cost a lot less than trying to settle somewhere else and try to figure out logistics of marriage, jobs and school. Oh and an MBA would be nice. Because I had dreams.

I didn’t like Smeal (College of Business). In fact, I have/had no sense of belonging there; in my favorite Brand Management Professor’s words, I am not a Smeal-loyalist. I felt that being Smeal took away from being Penn State. (And the business school worked on it tenaciously, in order to create a brand for themselves, they forgot a brand they already had.) Even when I was there, every chance I got, I spent it in a non-Smeal, Penn State zone, mentally and physically. From formal training in stained-glass to failing miserably at wheel-thrown pottery, walking on campus, choosing Blue Spoon deli over Blue Chip or just visiting my old office in the Food Science building, chatting up my ex-advisor etc.

For the most part, I hated the MBA program. I loved the teachers, really LOVED, well most of them. I loved what they brought to the classroom. I enjoyed the overall energy, the pace and urgency like everyday we were going to war, the workload. I appreciated being in a group of people who were right-here-right-now like me.

But I really despised the in-your-face, kumbaya and coyingly sweet Kool-Aid. I hated the utter naivete and ignorance with which  the real world was talked about, especially by people who had obviously lived that world and frankly should know better! These weren’t 21 year olds! An average age of 26 with 5 years of work experience, demands a little more maturity (for lack of a better word), I thought.

I loved our Saturday evenings when friends got together in our tiny living room and played Uno and Poker and Mafia and other silly games, where romance/s flourished, +1s added and stress melted, all over bowls of salsa and chips. I liked the fake camaraderie too, to an extent, also the need to be “proper”, but I hated the forced need to belong, the constant policing and mostly, the need to define success the same way everyone else did, I really hated the lack of personalization. I hated living each others lives.

I hated being a statistic. I know I came in as a GMAT score, as a diversity factor (one of 2 in 23 Indian students, without a prior job in the software industry) and I left as a salary ($_xx,xxx within x months of graduation). Unlike my fellow international students, I wanted an MBA not just because my goal was to get a job and a life in America (I already had one that I thoroughly enjoyed). I wanted to learn persuasive but subtle advertising that would work for low-budget and no-budget non-profit causes; I wanted to drill into the consumer’s mind and make food (and other consumables) that spoke to them. I wanted to make (and sell in order to make more) art. I wanted to make more money. And of course I wanted to change the world. duh.

Funny thing? I did many of those things and I know I can do the rest in the future. I learned the lessons I wanted and needed to learn, picked the brains of my choice, chatted with people I wanted to connect to and changed my world. No regrets. What I wish though, is that they (the professors and mentors) talked a little more about fit and choice; that it was okay to pick and choose who you want to be, what you want to learn and how. Penn State was about freedom for me, remember? I just hope my Smeal educators practiced a little bit of that too.

There were questionnaires and research and discussions about how important personal values and fit was in happiness. Did you forget to teach the same to your career counselors? Or did you somewhere lose faith in what you preach? Because like the rest of the world you judge people by what they are and not who they are? Maybe you could take this cue to rising above the definitions we seem to want to live by. Title over role. Money over happiness. Size over value.

Rise above the title, package and size of the company and focus on what makes me give and get my best.

Rise above homogeneity. Rise above dogma. Rise above parameters and measurement and most of all, the need the measure. 


“You will always be Penn State” August 25, 2011


Email Editor News » Columns
(had to repost)

Jay Paterno: You Will Always Be Penn State
by Jay Paterno on August 25, 2011 12:01 AM

As the sun peaked over the crest of Mount Nittany on Monday morning, The Pennsylvania State University’s 156th school year was born.
For the newest group of freshmen, it was the dawning of their first classes at Penn State. The business of education was at hand.
But their Penn State education will not be limited to the classroom. Hardly.
No matter how a student gets to Penn State, he and she will ultimately discover that Penn State teaches lessons far beyond the textbook and the blue book, that there is lasting value inherent to the Penn State experience — from the first days as a freshman to decades later as a loyal alum.
Penn State is a journey that molds us.
As it states in the alma mater, many of us arrived here “when we stood at childhood’s gate, shapeless in the hands of fate.” This journey comes complete with hills, valleys twists and turns. The path winds along a route created by choices made by each student, as well as turns forced onto the student by circumstances of life beyond their control.
For all Penn Staters, it essentially runs along the same basic tracks. But depending on where you look or when you ride the train, the scenery and the things you take away will be different. Still, that track remains constant.
That journey — and Penn State itself — become many things as we pass along the way.
Penn State is a sunrise over Mount Nittany.
Penn State is breakfast in the dining halls or at the HUB. Or an Irving’s bagel. Or a cup of coffee with the townies on College or Beaver.
Penn State is a tuition bill, a student loan and an annual tuition hike.
Penn State is the route that takes you from your dorm or apartment to your classes – and a route where you see the same people every day along the way. (Penn State was that pretty dark-haired, blue-eyed girl I passed every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in my junior year.)
Penn State is running out of meal plan points before the semester ends or having too many to dump with days to go.
Penn State is a jam-packed bus ride on the Loop on a cold rainy day. Penn State used to mean having a roll of quarters handy when the Loop used to cost 25 cents.
Penn State is a class in Willard or a class in the Forum. Penn State is an 8 a.m. class at the building on campus that is furthest from where you live.
Penn State is the Willard preacher.
Penn State is acing a test you studied for. Penn State is not doing well on the one you didn’t prepare for. Either way, Penn State is learning a lesson about how to succeed or not succeed in life.
Penn State is that professor who tells you that you are capable of doing even better.
Penn State is a group project and late night meetings fueled by coffee or Red Bull or Diet Coke (or, in days of old, NoDoz caffeine pills).
Penn State is hanging out in the HUB between classes or at lunch or just because.
Penn State is a sorority or fraternity or a team or an interest group that gives you a base foundation of relationships to build upon.
Penn State is holding hands with a special someone walking across campus on a warm spring night. It’s wearing a jacket again to face the first cold snap of the fall. It’s being bundled up as the snow falls.
Penn State is the flash of light in the eyes of the girl you asked to dance at a party.
Penn State is late night pizza. And grilled stickies.
Penn State is the electricity in the air on a crisp fall Friday afternoon the day before a big home football game.
Penn State is a fall Saturday afternoon in a white-clad Beaver Stadium — the heart of Penn State pumping energy and pride outward to Penn Staters all over the country and the world.
Penn State is the earth-shattering roar as the record-setting fundraising THON numbers are held up on Sunday evening.
Penn State is alumni crowding into The Tavern, or revisiting the old haunts that still stand, like The Skellar, The Brewery or Zeno’s.
Penn State is several hundred at an alumni event in Scranton or several dozen at one in L.A.
Penn State is my friend going to work out in Germany wearing a PSU shirt and hearing from across the hotel gym, “We Are…”
Penn State, ultimately, is the place where you are forced to turn inward and rely on your classmates. As a college town far away from the population centers of the state and the East Coast, Penn State is a society unto itself. The isolation forces students to bond with one another through a shared set of experiences, places and events.
Penn State is those ties that bind Penn Staters to each other in ways that don’t fade with time, nor lessen with distance. Across the miles and across the generations, we all share some common experiences that lead to a unifying love of our alma mater.
But we are now reminded that Penn State all starts with that first sunrise, that first week, that first test, that first party.
Penn State builds from standing at childhood’s gate. And although Penn State will certainly mold you through college, its effect on your life will never end.
You will always be Penn State.

Jay Paterno

State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events. And he is the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.


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