New Delhi: When she was growing up in the village of Pakri Godam in eastern UP’s Jaunpur district, Anshika Patel sometimes struggled to make sense of the world map. Countries like the UK and the US were so far away from her own small world that picking them out was a task.
But, today, 18-year-old Patel has a plane ticket and a full scholarship in hand, ready to achieve a coveted goal. “I am going to live and study in the US… this is nothing less than a dream come true for me,” she told ThePrint over the phone.
This Thursday, Patel is jetting off to Lexington, Virginia, to start an undergraduate course in economics at Washington and Lee University, a prestigious liberal arts college.
Patel’s mother works as a tailor and her father at a medical store, but the family had bigger dreams for their children.
“There have been so many financial ups and downs for my family, but my parents always made sure that my siblings and I got the best of education,” she said.
Patel studied at a government school in Pakri Godam until Class 5, but the turning point for her came when she cleared the entrance test for UP’s VidyaGyan Rural Leadership Academy, a fully funded residential school that aims to nurture the talent of underprivileged students.
Established in 2009 by the Shiv Nadar Foundation, today it houses over 1,000 students across two campuses, in Bulandshahr (where Patel went) and Sitapur.
Getting admission, Patel said, was a twist of fate. “I was preparing for Navodaya Vidyalaya entrance after Class 5 and happened to sit for the VidyaGyan entrance exam as well. Fortunately, I cleared both the exams and chose to join VidyaGyan. Things have completely changed for me ever since.”
Her path to the US college was unexpected too — rather than on the basis of a typical application, she was selected due to the “profile” she’d built up at the academy.
‘Thought the letter was fake’
Surrounded by her excited siblings, Patel is celebrating her achievement now, but when she first got wind of her college acceptance, she was in disbelief.
“I could not believe it when I was told that I had been selected. I asked my teacher to check the mail and make sure it wasn’t fake,” she said.
Since Patel had not appeared for the SAT, which is a standardised test for undergraduate admissions across US universities, a letter from a US university is the last thing she was expecting.
“I have been selected on the basis of the profile I have developed in the last few years. Since enrolling at VidyaGyan, I have been very actively involved with social work-related projects,” Patel said.
“I was selected for the US State Department’s student exchange programme in 2019 and went to Washington when I was in Class 10. I have organised donation drives in the last two years for people who lost their jobs during Covid and also started taking tuition classes for children in my village after Class 10,” she added.
Even as her horizons expand, Patel’s inspiration for her own future is her mother, a tailor who teaches embroidery and stitching to local women to make them financially independent.
“If my mother can bring about a transformation in society without having studied economics, I can do a lot more after gaining a deep knowledge of the subject,” she said.
Her ambition, she added, is to become an economist who works in the social development sector so she can help devise solutions to socioeconomic inequities in the world.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)