Fighting Academic Demons While Living In A South Asian Community

By Bhavna Singh on January 28, 2021

By Bhavna Singh

On January 28, 2021

Despite all the South Asian stereotypes, school was never my strong suit. I always felt small and dumb between elementary and middle school. It always felt like me against the next unpassable assignment or exam in high school. And it took eight years to complete my undergraduate degree in college. School was the biggest demon that I kept fighting.

The last two years of my high school career made me realize that I am different from my South Asian peers, and that the rest of my life was going to be unconventional. At the time I was experiencing undiagnosed depression, but the activities that I was involved in outside of school kept me going. I was in dance groups and volunteer committees, and actively advising friends through their high school problems on the side. When I was eight, I lost my father to cancer and my mother signed up for the role of father as well. At 16, I shouldered some of that responsibility and started a wedding planning business with my mother so that we could have a steady income at home. That income source turned into something that I loved doing every weekend for ten years. 

The downside of wedding planning in a South Asian community where everyone knew me, were the questions. “Bhavna, what is your plan after school?” “Are you dating anyone?” Or the most nerve-wracking one for me to respond to: “Oh, are you still in college?” Through all those years as a wedding planner, I realized that our community cannot get past conversations that revolve around ideal career paths, income, and who is getting married next. I launched a business with my mother at 16, and was managing a team, financials, and contracts. Not to mention, coordinating 300+ wedding guests every weekend. But what people saw was a daughter who was “just” helping her struggling, widowed mother, and thereby a girl who was not focused on academics. For some, it may have been intimidating to see a young female at the head of a full-fledged business. For others, they just never took me nor my business seriously. Those people gave weight to values and material things that my path simply did not match up to.

This all stems from an obsession with academics and stability, and it’s easy to see why those exist in our diaspora. One reason is that many of our parents uprooted their lives back home to establish a new life in the US and provide a “better” life for their kids. Some of them started with nothing when they came here, except dreams of furthering their education or finding the American Dream, so reaching stability was important. Another reason was highlighted in my undergrad research, “Academic & Mental Health Challenges in South Asian Communities.” Through surveys, and years of my own experience as the “not so good” student, I found that norms from South Asian countries have carried over to our culture in the US. In India, the moment that a child does not excel in everything that is expected of them by the parents and society, we dump them and consider them as not good enough. We have expectations for our kids at such a young age of what scores they should get in school or what job they should pursue, and estimate intelligence or how well someone is doing based on these two factors. 

As I mentioned earlier, I knew my life was going to be unconventional. During years three and four of my undergrad in community college there were many times that my mom, a teacher, said, “You do not have to keep going if you do not want to.” While I had an easy out of my life’s greatest struggle, I kept pushing through for another four years. In 2016, I discovered academic therapy. My therapist suggested that I treat classes and academia like a wedding. He helped me see my professors as clients, syllabus as a schedule, and exams like the last event of the evening. This change in perception and mindset truly helped me reach the goal of attaining a degree I wanted. It sounds silly, but changing your mindset really shapes how you see life and how you conquer your biggest fears. 

In the last year and half, I finally found my academic calling and graduated with a degree in International and Globalization Studies. It took eight years to obtain my undergraduate degree, and it took all eight years not to feel ashamed by this. But, that feeling went away when I recognized how happy I am with where I am now versus where I was eight years ago. Within the last ten years, I’ve taken on roles as a Wedding Planner, Film Critic and Filmmaker, Digital Media Strategist, and UX/UI Designer. To most, this list may look jumbled, but each position has led me to the next. Each experience has enhanced my communication skills along with my organization skills and keen eye to detail and creativity.  Each accomplishment has taught me that we as human beings are not necessarily set out to one career, skill, or passion. 

I would not trade this unconventional journey for anything different or “normal.” Normal is not wrong, but it has never been the best fit for me and I want to normalize that.

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The Bhavna Singh, a hustler who believes in doing a bit of everything with a constant drive to learn and unlearn. Her self brand mission is to encourage people to simply be you and not disguise yourself in the crowd of normalcy. 

Currently, Bhavna is associated with three brands and organizations. She continues her interests in the tech space at Ziplyne as their Marketing, Ops and UX/UI Lead; a Digital Marketing Strategist at SSM and will be tapping into her new fondness as a Research Assistant at the department of International Studies at UNCW. In Bhavna’s free time, she indulges in coffee and craft cocktails at Coffee and Booze Connection.

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