After traveling about 8,000 miles from her home of New Dehli, India, to attend the University of Missouri–St. Louis last fall, business major Prachi Talwar experienced a touch of culture shock and more than a little bit of homesickness.
“I was totally lost,” she said. “I faced language barriers in class, and eating American food was fun for the first week, but then I started to really miss my mom’s curry. So I packed up and went back home. But after a few days, I realized that there was something special waiting for me here [at UMSL]. I left India again and returned to college for my education.”
Talwar started mapping out her academic career in high school and chose UMSL for its top-rated College of Business Administration. She knew that connecting with industry leaders and a cutting edge information systems program would be integral to her plans of building her own e-commerce platform and finding ways to bring her dad’s real estate business online.
“I was always interested in website design and wanted to know more about how they work,” she said. “I talked to my dad about it, and he told me ‘this is the right thing for you.’ When I become competent at building websites, I want to help take his business to the next level. He has worked constructing houses, villas and apartments for almost 15 years now. His clients in the United States want to buy houses in India, and I’d like to help this work out even better. I want to make it easier so that they can connect with him conveniently.”
Talwar confided that refocusing on her goals helped her find new determination and laid the foundation for personal growth. After consulting with her academic adviser, she connected with UMSL’s International House and took the first steps toward discovering a sense of community, self-sufficiency and confidence in her leadership capabilities.
“At first I was only interacting with other Indian people at school, but then I started going to the International House events, and I was very impressed,” she said. “During the first event, I encountered so many different nationalities and met so many different kinds of people. They had left their countries and were all alone here, like me. So I thought, ‘If they can manage, I can manage too.’ Starting a new life here can be challenging, but it’s not that tough.”
Beyond attending and coordinating International House events, Talwar found a variety of ways to cope with student stressors and enjoy her new surroundings. As a former member of her high school athletic team, she makes regular use of the Recreation and Wellness Center pool. She also describes the center’s rock-climbing wall as “scary but so much fun.”
Talwar has further immersed herself in the surrounding culture by using her student Metrolink pass to explore hot spots around St. Louis. So far, she’s racked up multiple visits to the Saint Louis Zoo, City Museum and Forest Park. And she uses her newfound interest in popular American culture to help refine her usage of vernacular and understanding of accents.
“I love watching scary movies with the subtitles on and listening to song lyrics to get a better handle on the language. I like Taylor Swift and 21 Pilots a lot.”
Coming full circle, Talwar hopes to share her challenges and triumphs with incoming students this fall. As a member of the International Buddy program, she will aim to ease the transition into a new community for international students.
Talwar’s younger sister has been so impressed by her older sister’s experience that she plans on studying engineering at UMSL in the future, prompting Talwar to pursue the creation of an Indian cultural organization.
“I just want to help all the international students coming this semester,” she said. “I’ll be there in the orientation, and I’ll explain that if they’re having any doubts, they can come talk to me any time they want. I’ll be more than happy to help, even if it’s just going out and showing them places around St. Louis. If you go get involved, you’ll see positive change, and you won’t miss home after that.”