Pranit Garg ’19 is an International Political Economy major from Kathmandu, Nepal. On campus, Garg is heavily involved, serving as a co-chair of the Refugee Alliance, a co-chair of Students for Awareness of South Asia, and as a Ruth Barton Writing Center tutor. However, Garg is equally active off-campus as a world traveler—he has spent semesters in Greece and at Oxford, been to London and Italy for single blocks, and has done work in Ghana and the Netherlands.
The Catalyst: How has being away from Colorado College for so long changed the way you view the school since your freshman year?
Pranit Garg: When I came in freshman year, there were times where I was like, “I love CC,” but there were also times when I was just like, “Wow this is so much.” This was not a very diverse place in terms of obviously skin color and races that are prevalent on campus, but also in terms of opinion. And so I felt like when I came here, CC in terms of political views definitely aligned with how I feel as a person. But in terms of diversity, I felt like an outsider many times, and still do at some points. But all of that kind of made me feel like I wasn’t really growing in the best way for me; I was confining myself to a very stagnant group of views, just the same thing over and over and over. So I needed some type of exposure, some type of variance to find that type of growth. So at the end of my first year, I was just like, “OK I really need to leave.” Not leave CC—I mean I love CC, and I love it more now actually than I did back in the day. I think what really helped me form my bond with CC was being away from it because when you’re here, everything seems like you have a million things to complain about. But the second you leave it and see how things are done in other places—I was in Greece for a semester, which was paradise in terms of location, and then I was at Oxford for another semester, which is also a paradise; it’s almost like a playground for intellectuals and academics. But you know, both of those experiences were very valuable, but what really helped me was finding my appreciation for CC and realizing that from the outside, things look better in other places. But you really need to find what it is about where you are that you really appreciate, and I think being exposed to these other places that I had always dreamed of going to and just having that opportunity to go there made me realize that actually what we have here is really good and as close to paradise as it gets.
TC: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
PG: I don’t know where I’ll see myself tomorrow. You know, something that I really struggle with right now is, like a question that I go back and forth between is: do I want to return home, or do I want to stay in the U.S.? And if you asked me a short-term question for something, maybe five years, then I would’ve definitely said I want to be in the U.S. for the next five years. I think there’s a lot of experience to be had here in ways that I can’t get at this stage in my career in Nepal for which I want to be in the U.S. and see what that life is like. But 10 years from now, maybe I’ll go home, maybe I’ll be here. It’s a tough question. Ideally, I want to do something that helps empower communities, raise standards of living, and the way I see myself doing that is through a social enterprise. I could imagine myself founding a company to set up a sort of social enterprise model maybe back home, maybe here, maybe start it here and take it back home, or some type of combination of all those things. I thought about going into politics for a little bit, but if I were to go into politics back home, the system is just so corrupt. I think the bureaucracy would get in the way of actually making any sustainable change. But I think with the model of a social enterprise, you really get the opportunity to navigate that, so you don’t let bureaucracy hold you down to make the kind of social impact that you really are passionate about.
TC: What do you miss most about Nepal when you’re in Colorado?
PG: A lot of times when it comes to thinking about things back home, I sort of try to repress these memories because I haven’t been home in a while—the last time I was home was when I was a freshman. I don’t know. It feels weird, so I try not to think about it too much, but there are moments that trigger certain memories. The other day I made Nepali food with some of my friends, and it really brought back memories of what it feels like to be home. It sounds cliché, but like being with family, eating food, just the small things: just being able to be at home, lie down on a couch in the same position that I lie down all the time. You know, stuff like that. That’s what I’d say I really miss.
TC: Why do you think it is important for students to explore education beyond CC’s campus/spend time abroad?
PG: I kind of talked about it, but let me answer this question a little more explicitly. So I am an IPE major, but for a lot of PoliSci classes that I have, they’re focused on a lot of group discussion, and I find myself in positions where I’m always around people who have the same views. And there’s nothing wrong with those views to a large extent. I feel like I’ve fallen under that category and agree with most people’s views, but I think the issue is that we need exposure to a broader set of views. If we’re just around people that agree with us all the time, we’re not really going to find that space for growth. At least in my experience, I’ve found the most growth when I put myself out of my comfort zone. CC is way too easy to get comfortable in. It’s very easy to find your own set of friends, your own set of classes, your professors, everything is great here—it’s very easy to get complacent at CC. But just putting yourself in a position where you’re uncomfortable, that’s really valuable for growth, and it’s really valuable to see how other people live their lives because it shows you that there’s not just one right way to live. There’s a lot of different ways that you can go about finding happiness and living life, whatever you want to call it.
TC: How would you compare your experience at Oxford to your experience at CC?
PG: I had some friends visit me at Oxford when I was there, and they joked with me: they were like,”Pranit, you have no friends at Oxford,” and it is kind of a joke because a) I had friends; just putting it out there guys, I’m not a loner. But I do see where they’re coming from because the system at Oxford is incredibly independent. For those of you that don’t know, the way classes are set up is: you’re taking two classes; one is a primary tutorial, one is a secondary tutorial. Your primary tutorial, you’re meeting once a week with a professor for one hour. Your secondary tutorial, you’re meeting every two weeks for an hour. For each tutorial you’re writing an essay; for me it was generally 12 to 15 pages. So one week I would write 12 pages, the second week I would write 25 pages, and alternate that for eight weeks, and that’s an Oxford semester for you. So that’s how the Oxford system is set up. But you’re only meeting your professors one-on-one every week. So there’s a lot of pressure because you’re meeting a professor who is an expert in the topic that you’re going to discuss, and everything that you know about this topic you’ve learned on your own. Then you present an argument about it, and your professor will question everything you’ve said and basically destroy every single weakness in your paper. In a way, that’s very good; at CC we like to think that the CC system makes us very independent thinkers, and I thought so too until I saw the Oxford system. But once you look at that then you realize, “Whoa, every single conclusion that I’ve made about this topic has really come from my own research.” So in terms of being an independent academic, I think the Oxford system is really good, but it’s also extremely tough, and you don’t get the full expertise of the professor in all the topics that the professor is passionate about, which I think is a plus at CC because you get a lot of scholarly knowledge from a source that has analyzed this before you. They are just two very different types of learning. So, I mean, that’s how I would compare them. I don’t know if I’d say one is better than the other. I think it really varies on a case-by-case basis. But I think if you have one topic that you’re extremely passionate about and would like to learn in great depth, then I would say the Oxford system is superior. But if you’re trying to get a broader understanding of a vast array of topics, I think the CC system is better
TC: Who is someone at CC that you admire and why?
PG: Honestly, pinpointing just one person at CC is kind of difficult. CC is, I think, such a great place for me because every day I walk around and I go to random events, and every single day without fail I will see someone and just think to myself, “Wow, what that person is doing right now, I could never do that. No matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to do what this person is doing.” So for me, being at CC is incredible because I’m always so inspired. Every time I go to some event, take SpeakEasy for example: every time I go to SpeakEasy I am like, “Wow, what the hell!” What people can do with words in that fashion, I don’t know. But if I had to pinpoint individuals that I look up to, there’s so many professors that have been mentors to me from day one. I have to say my FYE professor, Tom Cronin—just an absolute homie. But I don’t want to just limit it to one professor or whoever because there are so many people that go out of their way to be mentors for you, to be sources of inspiration. There’s so many people.
TC: After doing a lot of work in the field, what is one of the major misconceptions that you’ve noticed surrounding refugees?
PG: Well, first let me put it out there: obviously, there are a million misconceptions. If we’re talking economics for a second, people think refugees come to a country and drain the country’s resources. But for the economy of a country, refugees are a blessing. They’re great for countries; they give you GDP growth. I’m baffled sometimes; there are so many frustrating things about this. People talk about refugees like they know what they’re talking about, and I don’t want to talk like I’m some sort of expert in refugees either because there are, I think, like 22.5—I think is the most recent figure I saw—22.5 million refugees in the world. These refugees are coming from all over the world, like everywhere. And I think another figure I saw is 86 percent of the refugees are in the developing world, not in developed countries. So people feel like all these refugees come to the developed world, but it’s really the developing world that’s taking the greater hit when it comes to refugees. And also the developed world has the resources, whereas the developing world doesn’t. If you look at a country like America, it’s a country that’s made from refugees, made from immigrants. So especially for Americans to have anti-refugee sentiment, I just don’t even get it. Like why? Weren’t you a refugee or an immigrant at some point? Where is this hate coming from? I don’t get it. I’ve written some papers on it; if anyone’s interested, I’m willing to share.
TC: As one of the co-chairs of SASA, what do you wish more people understood about South Asia?
ML: When I was a freshman, I was in a class on Islam. And I think there were 12 people in my class—I might be wrong, but I remember there were six people with the Ohm tattoo. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the Ohm tattoo, but it’s a very prevalent Hindu symbol. People go around with Tibetan prayer flags, or the Ohm symbol; people talk about all these things, and, like, great, you know, like I have no issues with that. The idea of cultural appropriation, for example, isn’t really as big—I don’t want to speak for everyone, obviously, but in my experience growing up, [appropriation] is not as big a deal. We’ve always had white people back home wearing traditional Indian clothes, Nepali clothes, whatever, what have you. So we like when people share our culture, but there’s also people being arrogant and acting like they understand everything. I remember someone came up to me like, “You’re from Nepal, right?” And I was like, “Yeah, yeah I am.” And they were like, “Yeah I spent a month in Nepal. It’s such a beautiful country. You’re going to teach me the language.” And I’m like what? Once I was talking to a friend of mine—I won’t give names—but someone came up to them, and they were like, “Oh you’re from Nepal right?” And they were like, “Yeah.” And the follow up question to that was, “Oh, so are your parents civilized?” So these are some of the questions that people from South Asia—and I don’t want to just say South Asia but like I think international students in general— face. And this is just, it’s straight up racism. I mean come on, guys, just don’t be f****** a**holes.
TC: As someone who lives with musicians but is not musically talented, who is your favorite musical artist and why?
PG: A lot of my friends are just creative people, and three of my roommates—two of them are music majors, one of them is a film major—and then you have me in IPE, you know boring old me. I love the creative space and just being around it; it’s inspiring to me. If I talk about my favorite artist, oh my god, it has to be Kanye. When I was a senior in high school, the last month of our schooling was kind of like: you’re done with class; you study for APs if you’re taking your APs, and also you work on one project, an independent project, whatever you want to be. It culminates in one big presentation and one big essay about whatever you wanted it to be. So my friends were writing about topics such as, I don’t know, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the implications of learning multiple languages, I don’t even know, random stuff. But anyway, my teachers were like, “Pranit, you have your passion about refugees; you’re passionate about this; you’re passionate about that; you can write so much about any of these topics,” and I was like, “F*** that, I’m going to write about Kanye.” So I spent the last month of my high school career writing an essay about why I thought Kanye was a genius. I did pretty well on it, actually. I’m not going to get into that, but I did pretty well on it.
TC: How do you cope with the overwhelming feeling that accompanies being so involved while on the Block Plan?
PG: I think what’s really helped me in coping with things is prioritizing. There’s so many things to balance on the Block Plan and in general, in college and life, however you want to phrase that. What’s really helped me, and I think I’ve been better about it in recent years than when I was a freshman, is just prioritizing. For me, my priorities were always clear. When I was a sophomore it was, OK, my first priority is my academics, obviously as a student. Second priority is the leadership positions that I’m in, or my job at the writing center, or whatever it might be. My third priority is my physical and mental health, and then my social life. But as a junior, what I’ve realized is the joy that I get out of life—my sense of accomplishment or the things that keep me sane—more than anything is my relationship with people. So I’ve tried to prioritize my relationships with people over everything else. I try and keep that up over my academics even because I think that’s what keeps me sane; that’s what keeps me happy. And if you’re doing your academics, and if you find success however you wanted to find that in life, and you don’t have people in your life to share that with, then that’s kind of hollow. I think it’s not really worth pursuing if you don’t have those people in your life that really matter. And so I think having those priorities in my head has made these things much easier to manage.