Chaubey adjusts to life here by getting involved

By Karin Dienst

Princeton NJ -- Sometimes it's the little things that make adjusting to a different culture and environment the most daunting. For Varanya Chaubey, an economics major from New Delhi, India, eating meals with others was an immediate challenge-- not because she was shy of meeting people, but because she was unaccus-tomed to using a knife and fork.

Varanya Chaubey
"I didn't really know Western table etiquette. It was intimidating, especially since the first social event was a dinner and that's when you meet so many people. So I found myself avoiding some of the meals in the dining halls; instead I bought food from the University Store and ate it in my room," said Chaubey.

But it was at an International Center lunch that Chaubey realized she was not the only new student feeling trepidation. "That lunch gave me a lot of strength because we openly talked about some of the things that were making us uncomfortable," she said. "By discussing (issues like) alcohol, the Street and unfamiliar dating practices, we overcame some of our inhibitions."

Chaubey said she quickly learned that the best way to adjust is to get involved, but she was also keenly aware that international students should not sacrifice their own identities just to fit in. "In September of my freshman year I organized an International Center discussion at Forbes College with my friend Adura Selamat, who is from Malaysia, because we were plagued by the question of assimilation and preserving one's own identity."

Knowing the challenges many international students face, Chaubey became a minority affairs adviser at Forbes. By helping guide incoming students, she adds a personal touch to the pre-orientation for international students organized by Associate Dean Marianne Waterbury and the International Students Association at Princeton, as well as the numerous events and programs sponsored by the International Center.

Chaubey advises international students to "put yourself out there and share, otherwise this is not going to be an easy experience. It is always easy to classify yourself as an international student and to move only in that group, but that is not conducive to getting the most from your time here," she said.

"Otherwise midway through your first semester you might get hit by a feeling of dissatisfaction because you don't know many Americans. You cannot exclude the American experience because you have to learn about where you are."

Chaubey's home base for "putting herself out there" is the International Center. Her involvement with the center continually brings her new friends and enables her to work with others to share the diversity of cultures at Princeton. In her freshman year she helped plan the International Festival as the project leader for Asia. In her second year she co-chaired the planning group with Selamat, and this year she is president of the Consortium of International Student Organizations and is overseeing the overall planning of the festival, along with other initiatives. The festival, which is held at Frist Campus Center in the early spring, includes three days of exhibitions, cultural shows and other events.

"The planning is going very well and we have a diverse group of project leaders, including a lot of Americans, so I'm pleased about that," she said. "The International Festival is a monster; you work on it nonstop."

Another current focus is her junior paper, which is on India and its fiscal deficit, in particular relating to that country's 1991 economic crisis.

"I've had wonderful courses," she said. "One was an accelerated French language course that met every morning at 8:30 and could have been a complete nightmare, but the professor was great. There were a lot of international students, and we discussed so many issues from different perspectives.

"I'm now taking a course on Sufism-- the mystical dimension of Islam-- that is fantastic. We called and interviewed Sufis in the New York and Philadelphia areas, which was an eye-opening experience," she said.

Chaubey is committed to maintaining a bridge between India and the United States. When she received the Martin Dale Summer Award last year, she used it to pursue her interest in Hindi films by visiting a movie set in India and interviewing everyone there.

"I started watching Hindi films in the United States to be reminded of the language and culture," she said. "On the film set in India one thing that really bothered me was the disparity of wealth. Many of the young men were family of the producer, so they were made assistants to the director. They would stand there with the most expensive Japanese cell phones and then you would look up and see balanced precariously on a beam a daily wage laborer in a torn shirt doing all the hard work."

Chaubey's effort to bridge two cultures is a demanding task. "Sometimes I wonder how such different worlds can coexist," she said. But she is greatly supported by the presence of her parents and sister, Naynika (now a Princeton freshman), who moved to New Jersey with her at the start of her studies. Her father works at the United Nations. "We are all homesick," she confessed, "but this has worked out well for us."

After graduation, Chaubey is eager to return to India to use her education in economics, among other subjects, "to help out" her country.

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February 24, 2003
Vol. 92, No. 17
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Page one
Princeton joins brief asking court to uphold affirmative action policies
Making connections: Rosen sees changes in Muslim culture up close
University heightens security measures

International students offer world of ideas
•  Allen explores diverse range of interests
•  Chaubey adjusts to life here by getting involved
•  Ng pursues career and passion at Princeton
•  Rahim focuses on global issues in and out of class

VP Mulligan to leave in June
Happer and Ong named to endowed professorships

Nassau Notes
By the numbers: Alumni in government service
Calendar of events

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Editor: Ruth Stevens
Calendar editor: Carolyn Geller
Staff writers: Jennifer Greenstein Altmann, Steven Schultz
Contributing writers: Karin Dienst, Eric Quinones, Evelyn Tu
Photographer: Denise Applewhite
Design: Mahlon Lovett, Laurel Masten Cantor, Margaret Westergaard
Web edition: Mahlon Lovett