For elementary, middle school and high school, I went to the same predominantly white school district called Wayzata. Throughout school, it was really hard to be different. When I would bring food I would try to hide it, because I didn't want people asking me what type of food I was having. It was more like ‘I don't want to talk to this person 'cause she's different’, ‘her food smells weird so I'm not going to talk to her’ type of thing. My issues with Indian culture started then because I felt like my culture was different and I wasn’t like other people in my school. I never felt comfortable to talk about my story. My biggest insecurity, however, came with my name.
I always hated my name because every time I would say ‘Hi my name is Nandini’ I would get a lot of responses like ‘I'm not even going to try it’ or ‘I'm never gonna remember that’. I just defaulted to whatever was easiest for people. Throughout school, I would go by Nandy-ini which is very disrespectful to myself, but I went by it because I was embarrassed by the fact that my name was hard for other people to pronounce. My mom would always say ‘You’re disrespecting your name. We gave you this name for a reason. That's the whole point, it's to embrace your uniqueness.’ I didn’t fully understand her reasoning until I came to college.
When I came to the U, I decided I would try to make people say my name correctly. College was a new start and it was a way for me to embrace my name and my uniqueness. The first experience I had was with the MCAE kick-off. When I introduced myself, I realized that there are people that want to learn how to pronounce my name, understand my culture, and embrace my differences. Throughout MCAE kick-off I felt like I was in a more accepting environment and I could be fully myself. I genuinely didn't know that my differences could be accepted until I got to college. It's really sad to think about that now because for 16 years of my life I felt like I was less than everyone else just because of my skin color. That’s not true. I may be different, but that doesn't mean I'm not important.