Please tell us about yourself

The Office of International Programmes is a division of The Office of Global Education and Strategic Programmes at Ashoka University. Anuja Kelkar, who works at the Office of International Programmes, shares her experience of studying abroad, working at Ashoka University and of working with Ashokans.

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Q: What were your interests in college? What was your career path? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

A: I majored in French Literature in college (Fergusson College), did my Master’s in French Translation and interpretation (Jawaharlal Nehru Vishvavidyalaya) and also studied Spanish side by side. I have always been interested in languages. I then did my Masters in European Union studies in Netherlands and Czech Republic; my interests in languages shifted a little. I worked for the Embassy of France in India to pursue my love for French. Later, I got a glimpse of Ashoka University and decided that I would like to work in the sector of higher education in India and here I am.

Q: Why did you choose Ashoka University as a workspace over other colleges?

A: I had visited Ashoka University when I was working at the Embassy of France in India. I had done a presentation on scholarships that the Embassy offered to students who would like to go to Sciences Po for exchange programmes. I was also on the committee that chose the best applicants. That is when I first got a glimpse of Ashoka University. I saw the applications that the YIFs had sent in and was very impressed because their applications stood out from all the others. When I visited the campus, I fell in love with it. I was sure that Ashoka University was the place where I’d be if I wanted to be someone in something. So, I chose to apply to the Office of International Programmes at Ashoka.

Q: What is one aspect of the Ashoka workspace that you really like?

A: I love working with students. I never expected conversations with students to be so fulfilling, interesting, and so rewarding. All students ask themselves what they are doing with their lives while filling out the applications and I am excited to be a part of the little journey that they take to International Colleges. Even if it is a 0.0001% of that journey, I am happy to be a part of it.

Q: If you were an Ashokan student, where would you go for a summer abroad and why?

A: I think I would go to Berkeley especially because I know how affordable the prices are compared to other colleges. Moreover, I have always been fascinated with that side of the United States. So from an exploratory point of view, Berkeley is the place! Academically, there is no need reiterate the great courses that Berkeley offers.

Q: Did you face any challenges as a woman working at Ashoka that your male counterparts would not have faced? How did you overcome that?

A: When I worked at the French Embassy, we had only one man in an all women team; moreover, even my boss was a woman! At Ashoka as well, we are an all women team except Mr. Sunil Kumar Dahiya in Sports and we are also headed by a woman Dean, Dr. Vanita Shastri.  My experience has been about people and not about gender. Never have I given an opinion which hasn’t been valued because of my gender. I have not faced a gender bias in the workspace here. Maybe, someday in some other workspace, I’ll have a male boss and will be better equipped to answer this question.

Q: Is there any change that Ashoka University can bring to its environment to make it a better workspace?

A: Ashoka has a small campus and we are all put together in a small place. When there are many people in a small space, there are negative outcomes; we all know about office politics. It is not something we can change but could maybe acknowledge that it exists.

Q: What do you think about the students here?

A: Instead of answering that, I think I would like to know what the students think about the Office of International Programmes at Ashoka. What excites me is to find a suitable fit for them. It is not always easy to find a suitable fit for them because it means letting go of other options where they might have wanted to go. It undoubtedly involves regrets but I am happy to be a part of the process of decision-making.

 Q: What do you think makes Ashoka students stand out of other college students in applications?

A: A few weeks ago, I attended a conference in Spain and the representatives were speaking about students at Ashoka doing exceptionally well in summer/semester abroad colleges. It is great to be receiving such feedback about them from Ivy League universities!

Q: What would you want Ashoka students to know before they come seeking your advice?

A: While a study abroad experience is very valuable, you do not have to worry about it happening in the very first year. We did not even have a summer/semester abroad when we were at college. My first programme was an exchange programme for 3 weeks and my study abroad experience was my Masters in Netherlands after I graduated from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). I would like them to know that if they are not going the first year, they can always go in the second. It is not about everyone else around you going abroad; it is about when the time is right for you to go. Going abroad straight for your Masters is okay too!

Q: If you were not working at Ashoka University, what else would you be doing?

A: I would try to be a translator at the United Nations. The exam for that is very tough and only 1% of students get in and I would probably be at home working hard to crack it.

Q: Which is your favorite country to travel to?

A: Spain. I absolutely love Barcelona. I got a scholarship from the Government to do Spanish courses in summer. I did grammar in the mornings and explored Barcelona in the evenings. My favorite food is paella.

Q: Which is your favorite food outlet on campus?

A: I love the Thaali at the Dhaba. After a long day, I do not have the energy to go back and cook, so you’ll find me eating there. Otherwise, I generally like to cook a Marathi style Baingan (Brinjal) with peanuts.

Q: You have started teaching French here. How has that experience been so far?

A: Stressful. I did not expect to have 35 students staring at my face expecting me to know every word. I did not even expect it to be such a challenge. I am taking it slowly.

Q: Which is your favourite spot on campus?

A: The library. I don’t get a chance to be there as often as I would like to, but I like quiet places. Books give me comfort.

Q: One fun memory you have of when you were traveling abroad? Something you got to learn through the experience?

A: In 2008, when I went to Barcelona, I would call my parents from Barcelona every two days from a phone booth to tell them that I was fine and having fun. There was a cafe near it and the cafe owner would sit outside every day and watch me going to the phone booth. He would try to name a country every day to try to guess where I’m from. “Eres de Puerta Rico?”,(Are you from Puerto Rico) and I’d say “No”. He never guessed I was Indian. These encounters make us re-imagine our ideas of identity and nationality

Q: As a student traveling abroad, do you think it’s very important for students to know the language of the country they are traveling to?

A: I think learning a language is a long process and it takes you around two years to be proficient. In Spain, I was able to have a conversation with everyone. However, when I went to the Czech Republic, I couldn’t even differentiate between different cartons of milk! When you don’t know the language, it is adventurous to buy buttermilk instead of milk and watch it explode in the microwave. You can do a few crash courses on the internet and if you can ask for help in the language, you’re good to go!

It was lovely getting to know Anuja a bit more personally outside the Office of International Programmes. She definitely has many interesting stories to share about her foreign travels and has given me some serious travel goals.

For everyone who has a liking to new conversations, spot her on campus! She loves people and she loves conversations.

All images belong to our adventurous person in-profile, Anuja Kelkar.