Meet Megha Gupta
Megha Gupta came to the United States from her native Janakpur, Nepal, when she was 7 years old, and her family moved to Johnson City from Atlanta when she was in the seventh grade. In the years since her family’s arrival in the U.S., Gupta has overcome communication barriers, shyness and negative feelings about her differences, and today, the senior pre-medicine student is majoring in health sciences with a concentration in microbiology. She is also serving as the 2018-19 president of ETSU’s Student Government Association. During the coming year, she says, the SGA will focus on expanding the number of student groups that participate in major campus events and on continuing to support the growth of the Open Educational Resources (OER) initiative that provides low-cost or free textbooks for student and faculty use.
Gupta enjoys participating in undergraduate research, and loves interacting with patients and their families and observing the work of physicians as a volunteer at the James H. Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She has also volunteered with a number of RAM (Remote Area Medical) clinics, which provide free medical and dental care for underserved populations.
Describe your childhood in Nepal, and share your story of how you came to the United States.
Growing up in Nepal was very empowering. I went to a small school and was constantly surrounded by my family and friends, which was a very different cultural experience. School was very different. We had to wear uniforms, and they were very strict about things like nail polish and earrings. It was an English-Nepali school, so we did learn how to speak English, but Nepali was the main language. The culture of Nepal is a mixture of Indian and Tibetan, so I grew up watching Indian movies and learning Hindi, but also enjoying Tibetan food. It was definitely a “melting pot” where I grew up in a mixture of two cultures, and when I came to the United States, that was an additional opportunity for me to grow culturally and learn about different backgrounds, race and diversity.
Even though I knew English, it was very difficult at first to communicate with students and teachers because I wasn’t fluent in it. I was constantly frustrated that I didn’t understand people. So I read a lot, and that was a way for me to learn a lot of the vocabulary and how to form sentences. I also watched a lot of English movies so I could learn to pronounce words, and I didn’t even realize when I became fluent and was speaking pretty well.
I realized I was different when I was younger. I saw that as a bad thing – “I’m not going to fit in,” “I’m getting judged,” “There’s a bad connotation in how I’m perceived.” But as I got to college and grew as a person, I realized being different is a beautiful aspect of every human being. My parents raised me with Nepali and Indian culture, and they encouraged me to preserve that aspect of myself. That gave me the courage to reach out to students who are from different areas and ask them what they are struggling with, and I also get to interact with them and see a different aspect of the world without having to travel.
What drew you to ETSU, and what do you like most about the university?
One of the things that drew me here was how genuine the students and faculty are here. That interaction with the students and faculty, with them always offering me help – my friends saying, “Let’s hang out and get something to eat, and we can talk about classes” – meant I had a community here, whether it was in pre-med or the Indian cultural or international student community. And I was part of Greek life for a while, as well. It’s always amazing to see that if there’s something you’re passionate about, you can find that in a community here, whether it’s Greek life, international student organizations or religious organizations, or it could be sports or academic groups.
How did you choose health sciences as your major?
I’ve always liked science more than any other subjects. I do love English, but only the reading aspect – not the writing. I grew up reading constantly. I would lock myself in my room and read fictional stories, and it was like watching a movie in my head, but it was science that I was more passionate about. I like learning how the human body functions. I like how in medicine, there are different routes to how medicine can help us live a better life, and I like learning about how even the tiniest part of our body can have a complicated system that it runs through. . . . It’s really amazing to see how I’m talking, interacting, and I don’t even have to think about it, because it’s happening so fast.
I realize that you should always do something that keeps your curiosity alive versus something that you love, which can sometimes be monotonous and turn negative. For instance, if I like reading and want to become a book critic, but am overcome with deadlines, I don’t think I would love reading anymore. So I would definitely say to pursue your career in something that keeps your curiosity alive, where you’re always wanting to learn more.
How has your involvement in SGA helped you?
I saw myself grow as a student leader and as a person, and saw the opportunities and doors it opened for me. I definitely never thought of myself as being a leader. I remember being a senator and I would never, ever raise my hand to argue anything. I was terrified of speaking up and sharing my opinion because I didn’t think it would be valued, and it was after that when I became more involved in SGA, whether it was through committees or helping out with concerts, homecoming or the Civility Series. I realized I do have people who will listen to me and who respect my ideas, so that gave me courage to run for vice president of finance and administration last year, and gave me the courage to run for president.
You’ve already shared some great advice about choosing a career, but do you have any additional advice you’d like to pass on to younger students?
Be involved on campus, so you will have a community you can go to for support when you’re stressed and trying to figure out how to navigate life at the university. It helps you grow as a person and branch out, and you get to experience a lot of new things. But don’t do it just for the résumé, because it won’t be the same if you’re not giving it your best . . . and do not get involved in too many things, but a few that you can put a lot of your effort into, where you can impact the organization and it, in turn, can impact you as a student and help you grow. Also, don’t be afraid to be silly and goofy, because you’re still a teenager . . . but have that balance of knowing when to be an adult and be responsible and a good student.
To students who have jobs and are worried about school and being involved, I would
say to find more opportunities on campus where you can work and still be involved.
I understand where they’re coming from – I am a financial aid-dependent student, so
I have to work, and I understand the struggle. When you’re working, you can’t focus
full time on studying and doing well, so I really want to tell those students to hang
in there, keep going, and keep trying to improve yourselves in academics and in your
job. When you’re done with it all, you can look back and say, “Wow, I’ve accomplished