Finding Home

Finding Home

International students face different choices as they consider life after Colby

By Gerry Boyle '78 | Photos by Fred Field

brian wadugu
Brian Wadugu ’09 works in the chemistry lab at Colby. A stint working at a rural clinic in his native Tanzania compelled Wadugu to plan to return to Tanzania to practice medicine after he completes medical school in the United States.

For many international students, professional opportunities—even apart from finance and medicine—simply can’t be matched in other parts of the world. Renzo Mendoza Castro ’07 works in Boston for ACCION, an international microfinance organization. Recently promoted, Mendoza said he loves his job. If he could find a similar job at an NGO at home in Peru, it wouldn’t pay enough to support him. “I would have to have a second job,” he said. “It would be hard.”

For some students and international alumni, economic booms in their home countries make the decisions easier. Jayadev Vadakkanmarveettil ’07 was working in consumer operations for Google at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters when he got a chance to move to the company’s new gleaming offices in HITEC City, a technology center in south central India—just 700 miles from his home, which is in the Indian state of Kerala.

Vadakkanmarveettil wanted to see the economic changes in India firsthand, he said from his Google office in Hyderabad. “It’s really important for me to be close to my family at this point in my life.”

 Since moving back to India last spring, Vadakkanmarveettil has visited his grandparents and parents, his younger sister, his extended family. For the first time since he left for Mahindra United World College in India, outside of Mumbai, he was home for the Solar New Year festival.

“I’ve been away from family for more than seven years now, from sixteen to twenty-three,” he said. “You miss out on a lot of stuff. Your cousin’s wedding, someone gave birth. You sort of lose track over time.”

Vadakkanmarveettil said the move back was relatively easy, trading one Silicon Valley for another, with his meals, housing, and transportation provided by his employer. But not far from the shining glass buildings are occasional reminders of the area’s other economy, he said.

“As soon as the car stops there are these mothers carrying their little babies who come up to the car and start scratching the windows, start begging for money,” he said. “They don’t have anything. This is in HITEC City, of all places. Even though the change has been dramatic, there are always reminders of the India that is not getting free food every day.”

“Eventually you have to make those difficult decisions. Focusing on myself is not necessarily turning my back on my responsibilities or my commitment to community and family and giving back to them.”

Annelene Fisher '08, Cape Town, South Africa

Vadakkanmarveettil, who took a semester off to work at the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center with 2004 Oak Fellow Chanthol Oung, and with Burmese refugees in Thailand, said the economic disparity in India is troubling. “At Colby I was fairly critical of all the people who took those high-paying jobs on Wall Street,” he said. “It was like they were betray­ing some of the ideals that UWC tried to instill in us. But, in the end, I had to make one of those sorts of choices. I made it out of my free will but, when the opportunity presented itself, I would say that I was not terribly different from some of those people.”

However, Vadakkanmarveettil said, it is important to build a foundation that will allow him to eventually “do some of the things that UWC and Colby and other places and people have inspired me to do. … I can’t preach on an empty stomach.” Nor can he always preach the beliefs he has formed in his time away from India—views formed through a liberal arts education, reflecting different values than those held by some of his coworkers.

“Occasionally, when I sit in the office or I go out to dinner with coworkers—still there’s a lot of tension between Hindus and Muslims in India, so you go out to dinner and this is a super-educated person who works at a company like Google or at Oracle—you’ll occasionally hear them say things that you personally find unacceptable about another religion or any of these other classifications.” Sometimes he speaks up, he said, and other times he holds his tongue.

“There are times when I can actually step in and shape someone’s perception of a certain issue,” Vadakkanmarveettil said. “And there are times when it’s better for me to be silent and not put on my progressive, U.S.-educated liberal hat.”

He isn’t alone in finding that his worldview has changed in his time abroad.

An economics and mathematics major, Demeke Wondmagegn ’06 is teaching mathematics and studying German in his home city, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While he is afforded “automatic celebrity status” for having studied in the United States, he said, he also is seen by some in Addis as “extremely [perhaps to some distastefully] liberal, capitalist, and individualist.

“I have developed an appreciation for diversity of opinions and ways of living,” Wondmagegn wrote in an e-mail. “Well, some may consider this disbelief in moral absolutism moral degeneration, but I call it tolerance."
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