Though LS sophomore Sagar Shah left his hometown of Kathmandu, Nepal to pursue academic freedom in the United States, he started his NYU journey in Paris. Shah misunderstood a question on the application, and when his acceptance letter from the university came, he was surprised to see that the LS program would be sending him to Paris for his freshman year.
“I talked to my parents because I never planned to go to Europe,” Shah said. “I never had that in my mind.”
Shah returned to Nepal after his year abroad and this semester is his first in New York, though he has known he wanted to study in the U.S. for years. For Shah, the choice was simple: he wanted to study something other than the two things he felt was culturally prescribed in Nepal.
“It just seems like when you’re [in Nepal], there’s just a societal pressure to become a doctor or engineer,” Shah said. “And that’s what I wanted to escape, and that’s why I decided to come to the United States.”
In high school, Shah was on track to study engineering (one of two tracks available to him — the other was medicine), but realized in his second year that he didn’t actually want to become an engineer.
Instead, he wanted to be able to get a liberal arts education and then study something he really wanted, like chemistry and biology. He wanted to learn about philosophy, literature and history. He wanted to be able to pursue his interests in music, something he said people wouldn’t have supported in Nepal.
“I first picked up a guitar when I was 11 years old and then I just started learning from YouTube,” Shah said.
Now, he’s planning on becoming a neuroscience major and is taking guitar lessons at NYU to learn jazz. Shah said he wants to continue his musical studies throughout his undergraduate years.
For Shah, this sort of freedom is priceless he doesn’t think he’ll stay in the U.S. post-graduation. Instead, Shah plans on returning home to apply what he learned in school to try to help with the struggles that some people in Nepal are going through.
On April 25, 2015, Nepal was struck by an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8. Over 8,000 people died and 22,000 people were injured. Shah saw his hometown of Kathmandu shaken and his own plans affected. His exams were postponed several months, and it forced Shah to take a gap year before he applied to university. Instead of taking a break, Shah used the time to take action.
In the time between April and his rescheduled exams in October, Shah joined the Rural Water Sanitation Supply Project to collect data regarding sanitation and hygiene in western Nepal. Through his travels, Shah expanded his horizons past the capital city of Kathmandu. After his exams, Shah applied to NYU. After he got into NYU the following April, he again took a few months to work in the community, this time joining an organization called Medication for Nepal, which works to supply medicine for those who don’t have access to it.
“I learned a lot about Nepal and a lot of struggles it’s going through,” Shah said. “So I feel like whatever I do, whatever education or degree or experience [I get], whatever I learn from this place, I think I want to go back and pour it all out there.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 10 print edition. Email Kaitlyn Wang at [email protected]