Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pitamber Adhikari: "Though I am financially poor, mentally, I’m rich!"

Guest author: Pitamber Adhikari

Pritam's tassels attest to his multiple honors and awards
at the Druid Hills High School 2011 graduation ceremony
Tamar Orvell's editor's note | The young scholar's journey — from expulsion and refugee status to welcome and opportunity, attests to determination to survive and hope for a better future. In August 2008, Pritam and his family — stateless victims of ethnic cleansing in their homeland, Bhutan, joined Atlanta's growing Bhutanese refugee community of 6,000 through combined efforts of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Third Country Resettlement Program and the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program. (Among Pritam's 100,000 fellow ethnic-Nepali Bhutanese refugees subsisting in holding camps in Nepal since 1990, about 60,000 have been resettled nationwide, and more relatives and neighbors are expected to follow.)

Last fall, Pritam applied for college admission to realize his fondest dream of becoming an aerospace engineer. On publishing this essay, which he sent with his applications, Pritam writes, "I want to thank everyone for giving me a golden opportunity to tell about my life, from my native land to the USA. I also want to recognize Ms. Tamar Orvell for helping me out and encouraging me."

° ° °

I was born in a small, rural village in Bhutan, a monarchy on the border between China and India. Everything was backward, lacking, or undeveloped — education, transportation, sewage, electricity, and medical facilities. In 1992, when I was two years old, the cruel monarch expelled me and my family (mother, father, brother, and five sisters) and our 100,000 Nepali-origin community from our homeland. We were sent to live in Beldangi-2, Jhapa district (one of seven Bhutanese refugee camps in neighboring Nepal). There, we lived in bamboo huts with mud floors and newspaper-covered walls to keep out the winter cold and rain. We cooked, washed, and used toilets in outdoor communal facilities.

Though refugee life in the camp was miserable, I spent 15 years studying hard, participating in our cultural festivals, playing sports (soccer, table tennis, and Badminton), and volunteering in two organizations helping young children and teens: “Save the Children Forum” and “Youth Friendly Center.” In the United-Nations-run English-language-school where I had a golden chance to study, I was known as a smart and likable student. Though my parents attended only grade school, they inspired me by their example to work hard and discipline myself for a bright future.

Questions filled my imagination.
Pritam, age 12, in Beldangi-2
refugee camp
Since age six, I loved playing with small paper airplanes with my friends and family. Questions filled my imagination, and I have been curious to find the answers to them and to other questions ever since.

For example, I wondered —
  • How does this paper plane fly? 
  • How can I make it fly higher? 
  • Is it like a real airplane? 
  • How can an airplane fly, but not a car? 
In fourth grade, I learned a bit about engines, and I wondered, How can engines be made stronger so that airplanes can carry more weight? And, in seventh grade, I wondered, Why don’t jet airplanes fall because of their huge mass?

I have always loved and excelled in science and math, and have planned on a career related to aviation since I was 14. In 2008, when I was almost 17, I was excited when my family and thousands more got a chance to leave the refugee camps and to resettle in the USA. Finally, I could continue my studies at higher levels and at more rigorous standards.

Relocating to a new country is hard! 
I am constantly adjusting to new people and different customs, foods, and habits; navigating busy roads and many buildings; and managing language and communication challenges! I am an active volunteer in two of my local community organizations, Bhutanese Community of Georgia and Sewa International (Sewa is a Hindu word for volunteer), and I accompany my family to health care and immigration offices where I translate for them and agency officials.

At Druid Hills High School, I learned a lot about computers, which I had never even seen in the refugee camp, and I discovered the aerospace field through my chemistry teacher and friends. My fellow students come from all over the world, and I love this diverse society. I am practicing to be a careful listener, to speak clearly, and to appreciate and respect differences among my peers and others. I’m steadily improving my English in composition and literature classes and in speaking with American-born friends while working hard to maintain good grades in all my classes, including advanced placement (AP) classes in physics, statistics, calculus, and economics. (The last two years, I earned straight A’s and have been on the Honor Roll.) I am a member of my high school International Club and The National Society of High School Scholars. After graduation, I seek to fulfill my dream to do research, to obtain valuable real-life practical experience, and to study through the doctorate level.

During the Dashara festival, Hima and Yamuna
flank their brother Pritam, 2010

I'm excited to make an outstanding contribution.
Life circumstances required me to follow a long, nontraditional route toward my goal, and though I am financially poor, mentally, I’m rich! I bring to an academic community unique gifts of a refugee student from another hemisphere and who can teach and inspire fellow students and others. I'm excited to share my experience, knowledge, culture, traditions, and positive attitudes, and to make an outstanding contribution to the community.

 ° ° °
Editor's note |  On graduating from high school, Pritam was among the top 10% in his class; a member of the school's International Club and The National Society of High School Scholars; Advanced Placement Honoree (three or more AP classes); and Work-Ready Certified, Gold Rank (to perform 90% jobs in the state). He was also awarded the Emory University Award for Academic Excellence, Georgia Certificate of Merit (top 5% of his junior class), and President’s Award for Educational Excellence (recognition from the U.S. President and Secretary of Education to students whose outstanding efforts have enabled them to meet challenging standards of excellence). Seven schools accepted Pritam, including Purdue University, in Indiana, and in Georgia, Mercer University and Oglethorpe University. In August, he plans to begin post-secondary coursework at Georgia Perimeter College, then transfer to Georgia Tech. 

Editor's note, August 2011 |  Pritam participated in a special project at Georgia Tech's Combustion Lab

Editor's note, January 6, 2013 |  This week, Pritam was to have started classes at Georgia Tech, where he had transferred. Today, Pritam's parents and immediate and extended family, friends, and community — more than 1000 people attended his funeral, in Atlanta. Pritam died following a brief illness. He was 22.

Related Posts
An Appreciation: Pritam Adhikari
At Georgia Tech's Combustion Lab, you're never too young to learn

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