“What does it mean for my character to be filled with diversity at a school that sometimes seems as though it lacks it? That is a question I’ve asked myself plenty while I’ve been at Redeemer. What does it mean for me to be Indian, born and raised in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi, and now going to a predominantly white, Dutch, and Reformed school? I am surrounded by not only different cultures but also entirely new denominations that I had never even heard of.
“My home church had 67 nationalities. Everywhere I looked I saw a person with a different ethnicity and set of values, whereas now most people around me share the same lens. That’s what I mean by ‘the diversity in me.’ The challenge comes when I have to constantly explain the most basic, one-plus-one part of my identity to people who have no idea where Abu Dhabi is. This is a very real place for me, but I am surrounded by people who often could not find it on a map. There are basic assumptions we make about people, yet I find that I have to introduce every aspect of [my background] to people for the first time.
“I definitely notice a pressure to represent people of colour at Redeemer when race is brought up in conversation. It looks like me leading the conversation or bringing up points that otherwise wouldn’t be mentioned. Every single word that I’m going to say is important, because if I weren’t here no one else would say it. Everyone has a voice, but [in some settings] here my voice happens to be a unique one.
“[In terms of the lived, day-to-day experience,] there are different parts to it. First, I have had to learn to be willing to answer a lot of questions, as well as to be misunderstood. Although it can be unfortunate to have a script to summarize what feels like important information to my identity and who I am, I have learned that that is part of what interacting with people about my background has to be like.
“The second part is picking my battles. I do not need to be completely understood. People have different understandings of what it means for me to be both Indian and Middle Eastern and that’s okay. With that, I need to have a lot of grace, because so much of the world is not taught about in the educational systems here. If there is one more person that knows where Abu Dhabi is and what it looks like for a Christian to grow up in an Arab country, or if there is one more Western Christian who can hear about the church outside of the West, then that’s a win in my books.
“First year was my attempt to ground myself. Being in my second year now, it’s so nice to come back to Redeemer as a place of familiarity. Now I have people who know me and my story and I can wonder what it’s like to invite them into it more. Recently, my cooking partner Marie and I were both on the phone with my mom in the Market while she told us her recipe for making chicken curry, switching between English and Hindi. We went home and FaceTimed my brother while we cooked it, and he gave us help with it from his experience.
“I’ve passed the stage of having to explain myself, of being the new one—especially the ‘one’ international student in my dorm. Now I get the chance to get into the specifics of my culture, realizing that it is a safe space that I can share with the people I live with.
“Every time I work at ReFresh and meet someone again, or sing on the chapel team, or perform with our choir, I realize that I don’t feel like I’m on the outside. I’m part of an institution that I might not relate to completely but that I am a part of it, and it feels good to be known.”