My brown hands were clasped around the oversized mug filled to the brim with steaming chocolate and decorated with a frothy white heart. Since Snapchatting screams informality—especially for a meeting like this—I skipped out on taking a pic. The photo would’ve been filtered with some sort of lame caption accented with a heart and a random emoji. When my GSI, or Graduate Student Instructor, sat across from me, I knew the opportunity passed. I grabbed a spoon and stirred the foamy shape until the frothy heart dissipated into the mocha.
“So, why’d you choose Berkeley?” she inquired after our formalities were out of the way.
“To escape an arranged marriage,” I said. My GSI’s amber eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets as her jaw collapsed.
I laughed. “That was a joke.”
My student instructor dramatically let out a deep sigh of relief and chuckled. Then I admitted the actual truth: “If I’m being honest, it’s been my dream school since before I can remember. But I was convinced that I wasn’t going to be able to transfer––”
“Until you did,” she interjected. “It’s often the things we deserve that we least expect to happen.”
I hadn’t been used to meeting with my teachers before college and definitely not with GSIs when I got into university. Then again, I had no knowledge of a plethora of experiences until my arrival at Cal. But a great deal of things remind me of home. The diversity of the people ring a bell of familiarity within my heart. The lush vegetation eases my mind like the fertile green of my backyard. Even the smells of some of the cafés that line Bankcroft remind me of the taste of my kitchen.
I was only half-joking with my mentor, though. If education hadn’t been my priority and if I already found work, my family would be on the hunt for a nice, brown man I could settle down with. My real priority? Becoming such a success that anyone’s doubt of my dreams turns to awe at my achievements. Well, the priority only changed once I realized Bollywood movies showcase love and life on an unrealistic scale. The unpredictability of modern love and toilsome labor suit my existence like rainclouds on a summer day.
I pursued Berkeley. Much unlike the relationships of my past, Berkeley wanted me back. Gaining acceptance where I most yearned to learn transformed my life and changed the goals my family believed I was capable of accomplishing. Now, my family’s astonishment at my acceptance constantly reverberates with proud exclamations, showers of praise and many not-so-humble brags at family parties.
Yet… what my GSI said rang a bell within me.
I had been alone in trying to figure out my next step before my UC acceptance, with no idea what could be in store for me in not just education but my life. I come from a family of Indian immigrants who paved their way to citizenship through hard labor and the strength in their bonds of matrimony. Higher education at an American university? That’s uncharted territory—until I dared to work for it.
The very mug I held between my palms contained a drink my kin once could not afford. My family’s uncertainty at how to pursue higher education couldn’t stifle me. I knew I could make them proud by reaching some of life’s unforeseeable destinations with my own two feet. And I did.
Sometimes, I poke fun at experiences I have yet to endure. And sometimes, I have no idea what could be coming for me. Life doesn’t work like a Bollywood movie, where love at first sight sparks a new dream to dance with the boy who lovingly serenades me in the rain. I mean, nothing more romantic exists than a girl with dreams so big she’ll make her family proud and bring herself a happiness only she’s capable of attaining. That is a dream that makes the sun rise above the clouds.
I smiled at my GSI, “I certainly didn’t expect this but I worked for it.”
What’s better than the ring? The hands that forged the path to knowledge even when they first didn’t realize what those fingers could create.