At Home Abroad
Indian student organizations at U.S. universities provide support to students and help them stay in touch with their roots.
Indian students planning to attend college in the United States are in luck. Organizations and associations like Indian Students Organization (ISO), Indian Students Association (ISA), Students of India Association (SIA) and Hindu Students Organization (HSO) have a vibrant presence across the United States, ranging from the University of South Florida (USF) and The University of Texas at Austin in the south; to Michigan State University in the north; the University of California, Berkeley, in the west; and Columbia University in the east. In fact, if you randomly pick a university you wish to study at, chances are, it will have an Indian students organization.
Each of these organizations strives to serve the Indian population at a given university by providing them a welcoming environment in terms of religious, cultural and social life. And in some cases, in practical matters like picking students up from the airport and providing them temporary lodging.
Mohit Kaura, president of Students of India Association at the University of South Florida explains, “SIA at USF is a thriving organization aimed to showcase India’s culture, history, traditions and its emerging role in the world to the USF community. We have been around for 31 years now, founded in 1985 by A. Vijay Rao, an amazing leader and figure in the Indian community in Tampa. We currently have 1,300 members, out of which 1,000 are current students and the rest are active alumni.”
Most Indian student associations in the United States have been in existence for at least three decades. The Indian Students Association at The University of Texas at Austin is one of the oldest, founded in 1954. Columbia’s Hindu Students Organization is one of the younger ones, founded in 1992.
Mukund Subramanian, co-president of the organization at Columbia University, says, “HSO serves as an outlet for students to reconnect with their faith and culture, while also providing a social atmosphere through which students can interact with fellow Hindus as part of the larger family on campus.”
Indian student organizations hold a variety of events that give students a platform to connect, socialize and partake in cultural activities. Although each organization chooses which holidays to celebrate, Diwali and Holi are staple events. Additionally, some organizations offer a final event of the year. The association at The University of Texas at Austin organizes Taal, a talent show featuring South Asian talent, while Indian Students Organization at Michigan State University showcases an annual play, Sargam. Both Taal and Sargam have become major events in their respective communities.
“SIA aims to make a strong community among fellow Indians—one that represents our country’s values, culture and traditions with pride,” says Kaura. “We celebrate every major festival, be it Holi, Diwali, Eid, Independence Day or Republic Day. These events are attended by both Indian and non-Indian students. 2015-16 has been an extremely fruitful year for SIA. Diwali 2015 was our most successful event. We had over 900 attendees—a number we’ve never achieved before.”
Hindu Students Organization at Columbia University also has rich offerings. “HSO typically organizes five major events throughout the school year, including Mahatma Gandhi Day (a day of community service around New York City), Navratri, Diwali, Classical Night (a showcase of students skilled in Indian classical arts) and Holi,” says Subramanian. “We have recorded attendance of over 500 individuals at some of these events. We also hold a weekly prayer service, which has been a staple of the club since its inception, giving us another chance to practice our faith on campus.”
Indian student organizations at U.S. universities plan to continue to strive to reach out to more students, to incorporate more events into their calendar and to develop stronger ties with other student organizations and groups on campus.
“For the next year, we plan to continue to execute these events as per tradition, and to cooperate more across Columbia’s religious communities in an effort to organize more interfaith events, with the Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Jewish communities on campus, among others,” says Subramanian.
Given the rich Indian cultural life at U.S. universities, prospective students can rest assured they will get to stay in touch with their roots and meet more Indian students with whom they can socialize.
Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.