My name is Yug. What??? How do I say that? Is that short for something? Story of my life. I am a #HigherEdDesi and proud of my culture and my name.
Growing up in India, my parents had a big influence on my life. Meaning, my parents made a lot of decisions for me. In middle school, they told me I was good at “maths” (mathematics) and sciences and that I should think about becoming an engineer. Then in high school, they made sure I was enrolled in pre-engineering classes which were the pathway to engineering schools in India. Well, the plan changed after my parents met my third cousin who was visiting India from the U.S. He had recently finished college and started working in the U.S. His success story showed my parents the benefits of attending college in the U.S. So, my parents came back home and told me, “Son, we think you should go to America for your college and study Engineering.” The following year (in August 2002), I was at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (New Delhi, India) saying good bye to my sobbing mom and my unusually quiet dad.
I came to U.S. as a seventeen year old with dreams and intentions of becoming an engineer. Initially, I embraced these dreams, but a few years into college, I realized that these dreams were not mine but my parents’ dreams for me. I share this story because a lot Desi friends deal with the reality of having their life determined by their parents and then later struggle to find their own path. Well, I decided to find my own path. I decided to leave engineering and create my own vision for my life. Yes, it shocked my parents, but I was at a Christian liberal art college that encouraged finding a true calling and I found my calling in higher education.
I started my higher education career working in Residence Life. Residence life was a very fulfilling yet challenging field to work in. Even with the 24/7 nature of the job, I enjoyed myself and tried to give students a quality residential experience. I mentored and supervised a lot of young student leaders and new Residence Life professionals, which was the favorite part of my job. Residence Life is a very competitive field with a very, very small Desi population. It was hard for find mentors or supervisors who shared my Desi identity. Being one of the few Desis in Residence Life, I also felt a lot of pressure to positively represent my culture and country. I felt successful in Residence Life; I proved to my colleagues and friends that I was a great professional and that Desis can be successful in this career.
A few years ago, I left Residence Life to work with international students. This was a dream come true. This is not to say that I did not like Residence Life; I still have days when I miss being a Residence Life professional. But, being an international student myself, I always had interest in the International Education field and helping international students successfully transition to the U.S. culture. I love my job and the students I work with. I feel that I am able to openly share my Desi identity in this job. This, in turn, empowers my students to share and take pride in their respective cultures and identities.
In my personal and professional experiences, I have faced a lot of stereotypical comments like “You are the only Indian I know in education” or “Why are you not a doctor, engineer, or lawyer”. I have learned to counter peoples’ ignorance with knowledge. Secondly, showing people that you are proud of your heritage also helps. These two thoughts have helped me tear down stereotypes and ignorant comments.
I hope all #SAPros, not just the Desi #SAPros, read our experiences and stories. Thank you for letting me share my story. I am Yug Gill, a proud Indian and #HigherEdDesi.
This post is part of our #HigherEdDesi series, which aims to share the stories of what it means to identify as “Desi” and working in higher ed. We hope to provide a context of how we came into Higher Education and what that journey looked like for each one of us. For more information, please see Juhi Bhatt’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Tony Doody on Unconventional Leadership