Back to Episode # 9

Intro  00:00
Life After Now


Liz Bolsoni  00:03
Hello, and welcome to the Life After Now podcast. I'm your host, Liz Bolsoni. I'm a communication studies major at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. This podcast is a place for young people like you to gather information about education and think about what it means for your life, after now. You'll be able to connect with inspirational guests who have first hand experience and expertise surrounding education in Minnesota. So today, I want to introduce Nawang Palkit. She is a multicultural recruiter and counselor at University of Minnesota Duluth. She's also a first generation immigrant student, who is here to share her experience as an Indian immigrant in the higher education system in Minnesota. Welcome, and thank you so much for joining me today.


Nawang Palkit  00:13
Thank you, Liz, super grateful for this opportunity.


Liz Bolsoni  00:55
Awesome. So before we dive in, I want to ask you a little icebreaker to introduce you some more. If you have advice or words of affirmation for your high school self, words of wisdom, what would you say?


Nawang Palkit  01:08
Yeah, so when I saw that question, I was kind of like really thinking quite a bit about it. I think I would honestly tell myself to keep going and that you're doing great. You know, I think just kind of looking back at my high school, as you mentioned, kind of coming from our first can low income background. I had no support or anything, so I was really figuring everything out on my own. So just keep swimming. That would be my advice to myself 10 years ago. Yeah. Yeah. Let's talk a little bit about some of those, you know, challenges and that words of affirmation that you needed at the time. Can you share your story about coming to the U.S. and your education experience as a high schooler? And after that? Yeah, yep, absolutely. So as I've mentioned, I'm originally from India. So I am from north of India, from a very small community called Ladakh. My mom was a teenager when she had me. So you know, it was... my parents never graduated high school. So just growing up, I knew that I would have to kind of figure everything out on my own. And I knew that I would need to find a way to financially support my own education. So that was something I knew growing up at a very young age. So I was always looking for opportunities, such as educational scholarship opportunities to support my education. So I was accepted to a boarding school, it was an international high school. So I went to a pretty prestigious, I would say, high school in India. And I did two years, my 11th and 12th grade there. And that was a prep high school that prepares students to apply to colleges all over the country. So that's how I was able to learn more about the colleges in the U.S. That wasn't my plan. Honestly, I like I said, all I was thinking of was that my parents won't have to worry about money. And I was just kind of falling those paths. And I received a very generous offer from Luther College. And once again, without knowing where I was going, or without knowing what I was going to pursue or anything, I honestly just packed my bags and came to the U.S. One thing I will say is that, I really struggled academically at Luther, because I had no idea, you know, I had no idea what I wanted. I didn't know what choosing classes means, what major meant, and anything. So I started as a bio major, and that was because of my father because he wanted me to be a doctor. And I think, you know, even though that was 10 years ago, it's still very true to a lot of low income first gen student, is that pressure from their families or the community, you know, I talked to a lot of students where I want to do this, but my parents want me to be a nurse, you know. So there's a lot of expectation from the community. So I personally struggled with that as well where I had no interest in biology but because my family taught, you know, being a doctor and giving back to the community. So I had to talk to my family and make them understand that that's not what I wanted, so changing major, I changed my major to psychology. That's what I really found my passion, as well as it came easy to me and I really liked it, so had kind of that journey of changing majors and finally, finding something that I truly love. And then yeah, so graduated and then worked as a mental health assistant. And then I didn't know that I could build a career in college counseling. You know, I never knew about recruiters and stuff. But I really wanted to give back to the community and I decided I found a program at St. Cloud State. It's College Counseling and Student Development. So I was able to get my masters in that. And I think St. Cloud was so different from Luther. I would say Luther is a predominantly white institution, and St. Cloud State is pretty diverse, especially when it comes to international students, I think it's, like one of the largest. So at St. Cloud, I was really able to understand the meaning of being Asian American or a student of color. That's a little bit about myself.


Liz Bolsoni  05:38
Oh, my goodness. great segue. So you talked a little bit about finding your career and your passion in college. But if you want to talk a little bit more about finding yourself, finding your identity, I mean, I've been to Luther, and it's not too far, I mean, it's like four hours from the cities, maybe. But it is pretty remote and Decorah is a really cute town. But like you said, it's very, it's a very white town. And it's not surrounded by a lot of other towns or cities. So I just want to know, you know, how did you navigate finding your identity at Luther? And then also, at St. Cloud? How is that different for you? And share a little bit about that?


Nawang Palkit  06:20
Yes, absolutely. When I attended the high school, it was students from 70 different countries. So moving to the U.S., I would say I didn't have a cultural shock, because I already had experienced that in my high school of having people from so many different countries and cultures coming together. I think in the U.S. moving here was also food, you know, getting used to fast food, I would say, you know. Growing up pizza was -- I never, I mean, those are like luxury meals for me, and also having pizza and burgers in the cafeteria every day. The other shock was also trying to assimilate with the white culture, you know, so I would say, I really struggled with my identities. When I started at Luther, I was in denial of my International -- like, such as, like, my accent, you know, I would really try to have these fake accent, you know, so that people wouldn't think that I -- English is my third language, you know, so I would really try to talk fancy. The other thing I did was, you know, an example of trying to assimilate with a dominant culture was I colored my hair. So Luther, I really was kind of navigating, kind of through that process of-- went into a denial of my own culture, and then try to assimilate and then I came to a point where I was kind of having, like, I'm International, but I'm also American, so to say, so I was, you know, going back and forth. And also, like you mentioned, you know, I was surrounded by people who didn't look like me. I think St. Cloud State as I mentioned, you know, just living in Minneapolis, I felt like I left that bubble in that small town, and I was able to start appreciating my own culture, you know, be proud of speaking English, maybe not perfectly, but still being proud that, "Hey, I know three different languages." And English, my English might not be perfect, but try learning, you know, try learning a different language. I think a lot of folks say like, "Oh, your English is very good, how can you" -- and I used to take that as a compliment for a longest time, but then, you know, I'm like, India was colonized by the British for the longest time, you know. So, I grew up speaking, not messy speaking English, but I did go to an English medium school. So you know, the stereotypes. So to say those things, I used to take those as a compliment. And then I started questioning them. And Minneapolis, I was able to kind of accept myself. And then when I moved to St. Cloud, also, I was able to kind of learn about all these different opportunities, and also having friends from diverse communities and understanding and actually being happy. I wasn't faking that much, you know, I was being myself and realized that, you know, it was, that really helped me just on my own mental health, where, you know, I was not constantly under the pressure of performing or like being the best, you know. So, yeah, so I would say like, really struggled with my identity. And then I think right now I'm at a at a place where I'm able to accept all my different identities, because I did some part of me that is still International, but because I've been in the U.S. for 11 years, I do consider myself as, like as an immigrant, but also as a person of color. You know, I'm a woman and so many other things. So I'm able to be okay with all these different identities and I think they all come into role in the in different scenarios as well. And there are so many colleges within the Minnesota area and a lot of them are in remote or rural, predominantly white areas. And for some people, that is just not an option for them. For some people, it is the right option. And so I want to know if there were activities or groups on campus that made you feel part of the community to share with our high school listeners who might choose a school that does not represent the broader community of Minnesota. So I do want to say that even though I had all of these experiences that Luther, I also had a very good student life experience at Luther. I had a very, very supportive international community, as I've mentioned. I think the name of the offices have changed, but when we were there, it was called the Diversity Office. I feel like they should have come up with a better name, you know. We've been like, "Let's go to the Diversity Center, or it was a diversity center." And you know, that time, I never thought about it. And now I'm like, "Oh, my goodness." So anyways, we would always hang out in the Diversity Center, you know. I love dancing, so and still I love dancing, so I would participate in every single cultural performance. And we would do these different cultural performances. We had our own International Club. We had a fair where we would like kind of show our different cultures. At Luther, I was also able to find a host family. That's something Luthor does, amazingly, where they connect a community family, like a poor family, in the community, with the students where they're able to learn each other's culture, but also, they can go there during Thanksgiving, for example, or holidays, instead of living by yourself in the room, you know, they are able to do that. So I was able to participate with the, you know, with my host family and different activities as well. I joined a sorority in college as well, because I wanted to find more friends. Everything I did, I think a lot of things was to find a community like, okay. The sorority was also focused a lot on community work, so I was able to like do highway cleaning, we participated in different non organized -- we did a 5k. So I really kept myself busy. And I also was working on campus as a student worker in the library. And I was also a research assistant. So I think, as I mentioned before, I really lived in that bubble, you know, Decorah, such a small town, so I would, and I didn't have a car. So I spent a lot of time on campus just... and then, like I said, going to Minneapolis, I was like, "Oh my god, there are all these new, you know, beautiful black and brown people here." And I was living in such a bubble where I thought this is it. Because I came directly from India to Luther. That's it. So, you know, I didn't have much exposure before. So you know, reflecting on some of your high school and college experiences, how have you seen, I guess, societal attitudes and spaces change surrounding BIPOC, and specifically AAPI students? Especially in the work that you're doing now as a multicultural counselor, how do you see those changes manifesting in the experiences of students that you work with? A lot of changes happen in the past two years, I would say. I just remember people not being open to uncomfortable conversation. Now, for example, people are willing to have the hard conversation. Still there are people who are not but I think a lot more people are being more accepting, I would say, being okay with that uncomfortable conversation or moment, you know, I think. And a lot of people are able to acknowledge their privilege. Before it was more like, "oh, if you work hard, for example, you should be able to get everything," you know. Whereas of course, if you work hard, and you have a family that makes so much and you have a private tutor, and you have all these, of course you're going to succeed, you know, as compared to someone who is working, studying, taking care of their siblings. Those lives are different, you know. I think there is more awareness in the general public right now. You know, with everything that's been happening. There's more representation, not just in the media, but everywhere. I think people are acknowledging the importance of having diverse people in the community or in any offices as well. But I also think there's a lot of work to be done, right. I think accountability is there, but not really there right now. People are being more mindful of what they're saying, but that doesn't make them less racist. So in your work recruiting high school students, what advice do you have for specifically underrepresented students who are either first generation or BIPOC? What advice do you have for the application process, what kind of questions they should be asking, or what they should look for in a space that they're going to go to college in? I think for a lot of rising seniors, especially our BIPOC students, I don't want them to limit their options, first of all. I know that, you know, a lot of -- personally working with students, I think they really underestimate themselves. Let's say they don't meet the GPA or the criteria, they just kind of rule the colleges out. And I want them to think about all the experiences that they are bringing to the plate, right. As students, you know, as students are kind of starting to make that list of colleges, most of these colleges might be like, maybe their older friend went there, or maybe their siblings are attending and they have heard good things. And they might have a dream college, right. I would encourage students to start making a list. With making the list, there are questions that they can start asking themselves. In the past, I would say before pandemic, a lot of students were open to traveling outside. I think with the pandemic and everything that has happened, students are thinking of staying closer to home, right? For Minnesota students, start looking at what is a good size for you, right? It depends on where you're at, what high school you're attending, maybe you want to go to a big college, small, mid size. Minnesota itself has so many colleges and universities and community college, tribal college, private, so many options. As I mentioned, at the beginning of my, you know, our conversation is that challenge and that pressure of choosing a major or having your four year plan, like planned right now, you know, before you go, and for some students, it does work. But if you don't know exactly what you want to major in, it's okay. Like I think there's a lot of pressure like, "Oh, I have to be a doctor, nurse," and awesome, but it's okay to take a step back. And if you have a plan, then absolutely apply for that college that offers it, but if you don't, I think it's also okay to explore different majors. I would say something positive, from the pandemic that happened is a lot of colleges have invested so much into virtual options, virtual opportunities. Maybe there's a college that you might not be able to travel to, you can explore it virtually right now. Like there's so many options like meeting with faculties, tools, and everything that happens once again, don't limit your options, and you know, explore all of those different opportunities. In the end, for a lot of low income, first gen, I do acknowledge that money is the biggest factor. But then again, some colleges put -- the sticker price is not the money that you have to pay, right. Try to connect with the school officials, like start with the admissions counselor, right? Every school has admissions counselor, and our job is to help you, to help you find your fit. Personally, I -- as the student attends UMD, that's great, But even if I'm able to help the students, that's all that matters, you know, even if they decide to attend another college, that's okay. But as long as I'm able to help them out, or kind of provide... meet them where they're at, that's all -- I like it. I think right now students they ask a lot of questions, which is great. So like asking questions such as, "Okay, what is important for me? What kind of resources do I want? And what is going to help me to succeed?" Ask those questions, right? Like, "Do you have these resources? Do you have this? What kind of things do people do in the community?" Because where I went, there was nothing. There was nothing to do in the community, you know. So if it's important for you to find that community, I think those are some things they can start exploring right now. It's a long list, but I think right now is a good time to start somewhere, especially for rising seniors.


Liz Bolsoni 19:03

It sounds like there's a lot to be excited about and work towards. And as you know, we acknowledge on this podcast that for this -- for so many students, especially in the state, it's been a really challenging year. You know, there have been challenges including like distance learning, a global pandemic, racial injustice, violence against the black community, against the AAPI community, over to violent legislation against transgender students, and that's just to name a few in the past year. So considering all of this, what do you hope life after now could look like for students in Minnesota?


Nawang Palkit 19:44
I mean, this past one and a half years has been difficult for everyone, but as you mentioned, especially for students and especially for marginalized students. So I just want to say to the students that I am so proud out of all of them, you know, They are super duper resilient. I am slightly worried, but also very hopeful. The reason I'm slightly worried is that before the pandemic, Minnesota had one of the worst education gap, even before. And I'm worried that that gap has become bigger. School administrator has a lot of work to do. they have to provide more support services. And a lot of these students who have lost, I will say, a lot of learning opportunities, marginalized students have been impacted much more. So that means instead of, I think focusing on like, how can we get back, everyone? I think they should also, hopefully, they'll focus on how can we close the gap between these educational gaps. Now in the case of our students, I would say, first of all, our students wanting that, you know, in general, everyone had a lot of time to self-reflect, but high school students now just weren't talking to them, they had a lot of time to self-reflect. And the other thing is that, you know, because they have these busy schedule back-to-back-to-back, and now with the pandemic, they were able to kind of think about things like, "Okay, what do I want in life," you know. With everything happening, I think they are very independent. So you know, they have to learn how to manage their time. Before they were dependent on teachers and activities. And they had to learn how to manage your own schedule. That is something that is taught to students in college, but now students already know that. I am definitely thinking that there will be a lot of changes in majors. You know, a student might have decided to major in certain things, and now they're going to go a completely different pathway. And I think healthcare major is going to be much more popular. Social Justice, Women and Gender Studies, I think those are some majors that I definitely see gaining more attention in the future. I am very hopeful for our students, like I said, they're going to be very resilient young adults, and really better equipped to deal with different life twists and turns. They've gone through so much, I think the other challenges, they'll be able to handle it. Everyone is excited to some sort of normalcy now, like going back to school, meeting friends, participating in activities. So I think it's gonna look different for our students in Minnesota, but I think they're going to be so much more stronger and resilient. And I'm really excited for the class of fall 2022, and also the class of fall 2021. I think, Higher Ed, we have to be prepared for them to be honest. Yeah.


Liz Bolsoni  22:49
That's awesome. Thank you for your reflections. And I really appreciate you sharing your story with our listeners. So thanks for joining us.


Nawang Palkit 23:01

Thank you so much Liz. This was a great opportunity, and I wish every student good luck. And yeah, thank you so much.


Liz Bolsoni 23:10

Thank you. Yeah, thank you again. All right. Before we end here, I want to give a quick shout out to our listeners. Thanks so much for joining us today. This podcast is brought to you by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. I encourage you to dig into the resources mentioned in this episode, which you can find in the show notes on our website at Don't forget to follow this podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google Play or wherever you listen to your podcasts so that you don't miss any future episodes. Until next time, I Liz Bolsoni, stay well, stay hopeful, and stay ready because you all are the future.

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