A Leap of Faith


An international student describes coming to Auburn to pursue her faith and her education

Pooja Patel grew up in India and Zambia before coming to Auburn University last spring to study geology. She credits her unique perspective in coming to the United States to her diverse education experiences. She says that “it made me feel better because I know I stayed in Zambia, and I stayed in India so now I can adjust to what America is like.” She moved to Zambia from India at the age of six because of her dad’s job. About four years ago, she and her mom moved back to India without her dad so that she could further her education. Adjusting to life at Auburn was made easier because of her experiences moving between schools in other countries.

Growing up in India, Pooja’s family was Hindu, and she was raised Hindu. This changed after she moved to Zambia, however, when a woman at her dad’s work was giving out Bibles in English. Her dad told her to read it so that her English would improve. It intrigued her - she wanted to learn more about this unfamiliar faith. After going to talk with the woman that was handing out the books, she became a Christian. Living in Zambia this was not out of the ordinary but moving back to India as a Christian and going to school there was difficult. She cites her newfound faith as one reason she wanted to come to America, where she knew she could be around people who would encourage her. She also felt that coming to a place where she didn’t know anyone would allow her to develop more as a person. As a result of coming to Auburn, she has learned so much about herself that she would not have otherwise learned. She says that she has learned “how to be alone” and that sometimes a random person you start talking to may become one of your closest friends. 

One difference Pooja has noticed about America is that everyone seems to know each other already and have close friends in Auburn. She found that people tended to not venture far outside of their existing closely-knit groups of friends, which was difficult as the person who did not know anyone yet. Her experience in India was that people tended to be much more willing to step out of their groups, making friends even in places like the bus. She says that in India “you’re never alone”, whereas in America, people tend to be on their phones a bit more, and one has to be more intentional about trying to meet new people. Pooja said that this was one of the most difficult adjustments coming to America: “at first I was having these all negative feelings that I won't get friends and everything like that but when I started opening up,people started opening up. So that was one thing that struck me, that ok if I open up then other people will open up, but if I don’t then they’re not gonna do it. So, I have to take the first step whereas in India people come in front of you.” She went on to say that a positive difference in America is that “people really care; they do everywhere, but this is different. I don’t know how to explain it, but they are very much caring.” Although America and Zambia were the most similar as far as cultures and the way people approach each other, it was still an adjustment, one that seems to have gone well.

Pooja chose to study geology because she loves learning about the earth. She wants to learn more about the planet, and why things are the way that they are because through it she also learns more about her Creator. America offered the best opportunity to study geology because the education in India and Zambia is still developing and does not have the same technology and records as many schools in America do. As a result, she felt that she would be able to grow in her skills more if she were here. 

When asked how much she knew about Auburn before she came, Pooja said she “didn’t visit Auburn... I just looked at it in pictures and read about it on Google”. She described Auburn as “a whole new place, I don’t know anyone, I don’t know what’s going to happen.” Coming to school in a place she had never visited and where she knew no one was difficult, but she says that there were a few things that helped her adjust in Auburn, such as Global Guides and the International Buddy Program. Both programs helped her meet more people and become plugged in. Pooja joined the International Buddy Program, where she met two of her really good friends. She says that she has enjoyed her experience so far in becoming part of the Auburn family and looks forward to her second year.