South-Asian Magic: USF’s South-Asian community brings home to San Francisco

Graphic by Delaney Lumpkin/Graphics Center

I come from two cultures. Like my father, I was born and raised in Sri Lanka, an island country just south of the coast of India. In Sri Lanka I lived in Colombo, enjoying a humid life  near the ocean and drinking thambili (king coconut) water straight from the source —if I was lucky it’d have a straw. My mother on the other hand is my direct access to the Motherland. In India, I lived on Mumbai’s famous Grant Road, eating baraf golas and bhutta masala over various long summers that I spent in my grandparents’ apartment.

My life was so intertwined with my part of South Asia — the lands where I’d lived and breathed for so long — that I was nervous when college was a 20-hour  flight from everything I’d ever known. 

But I didn’t have to be so worried, because it turned out that at USF, home is never too far away, because international students make up more than 9% of the USF population compared to a national average of only 6%. Further, according to Statistica, Indian students are the second largest population of international college students in the U.S. 

 From my experience, it’s not too hard to find another brown person on campus. What is cool is how we all find some way to connect to each other, even though we all met at a relatively tiny private university in San Francisco. 

I love that I’ve met people from my mama’s land, people who grew up in my summer home, and that these people know how foreign being in San Francisco can be. These  people know what it’s like to change your name to be more palatable to the American tongue, what it’s like to not be in the same time zone as our loved ones, and how painful it is to leave home while creating a whole other life of our own. Sophomore finance and art double major Alaikaa Gupta shared a similar experience with me.“It definitely helped that [USF] had so many other South Asian students… it didn’t feel too daunting.” 

At USF, I’ve ironically felt closer to my Indian heritage than I ever did in Sri Lanka. I’ve had more opportunities to practice my faulty Hindi and minimal Gujarati, and I’ve learnt so much about other cultures close to us — like Pakistan and Nepal. I even met another class of ‘26 student from Nepal who knew a guy from my high school all the way in Sri Lanka. This blew my mind, as the entirety of Sri Lanka has a population of only 22 million, while just California has more than 30 million. It’s just a really beautiful thing the way brown people can make the world seem ten times smaller, less like a huge beast that needs to be conquered.

Organizations on campus like Indian Students Organization (ISO) annually plan important desi events like Diwali, and most recently arranged a Holi celebration last month. Vice President of ISO, Anshika Bedi, said “We had a lot of fun playing around with colors and listening to Bollywood songs as we threw [colored powder] at each other. Celebrating our cultural holiday made me and other Indian students feel at home. USF has a big south Asian community and ISO is there to provide a safe space and a home away from home for these students.” 

It is events and student efforts like this that drive forward our community in this global city. It’s a comfort to see some parts of my culture reflected and embraced in all parts of campus life, and it definitely made me feel more comfortable. Student organizations like ISO help us keep in touch with our roots, regardless of whether home is 20 minutes or 20 hours away.

There’s something very special about being a South-Asian abroad, and part of that is the way we look out for each other. We may not know everything about each other or have had similar upbringings, but there is a universal experience in growing up brown.  We comfort each other with these shared experiences, and that is South-Asian magic.

Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor: Jordan Premmer, Opinion Editor: Chisom Okorafor 

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