I spent most of my childhood in India. I had an ardent interest in global politics growing up, especially American politics.
Growing up in a country so far from the United States, U.S. media played an important role in my life. I consumed most of my news from outlets like CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times because my parents and I knew that these were reliable sources of information.
As a result of this continuous exposure to U.S. news outlets, I began to follow American politics closely. I followed the headlines closer as the 2016 presidential election unfolded, and any positive opinions I had about the United States slowly vanished.
I had thought of the United States as liberal and diverse, but as vote tallies rolled in on Election Day and I saw the country choose a racist and sexist president, many of those opinions changed. As I watched President Donald Trump take over while deciding to attend college in the United States, I feared that everyone I would soon meet would have the same bigoted views. Luckily, that hasn’t been the case.
My parents and my grandparents both studied in the United States and raised me to think following their path would lead to success. But when Trump was elected, they no longer recognized the place they had called home for more than 15 years and were hesitant about sending me here to study.
As my family grappled about whether to send me to study abroad, they feared for my life because they had read hundreds of stories of Indians falling victim to hate crimes. They worried that my roommate would be racist and that I would have a hard time making friends because of the color of my skin.
I expected people here to be homophobic, Islamophobic and vehemently against diversity because of what I saw on the news. The Muslim ban was the first of a series of events that led me to develop an extremely cynical view of the United States. It opened my eyes to how the country of immigrants was no longer what it had been. Even though I was excited to be moving to the United States soon, I was fully prepared for the worst.
But I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived. On my first day in D.C., my roommate, a fellow freshman from Baltimore, asked me to go out for lunch. He showed me around campus and did all he could to make me feel comfortable because he had been here for a semester before me.
In the two and a half months I have been here, every single one of my misconceptions has been broken down. I started working for March For Our Lives, and through the organization, I met a group of individuals who celebrate diversity and are fighting to bring about a positive change in their community.
I also started working for the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit that celebrates diversity and encourages businesses to be inclusive. Through that organization, I have met people who have made me feel comfortable and have torn away the negative perceptions I had of the United States.
While the president who sits in the White House is someone I believe to be racist, sexist and homophobic, I believe in this country’s people. I have met amazing students who are extremely passionate about the causes they are fighting for. I have attended multiple hearings at the House of Representatives, and my once jaded views on the future of U.S. politics have eroded.
From an international perspective, life in the United States had always seemed uncomfortable at best because from afar, it didn’t seem like I would ever be welcomed or feel at home here. But now that I am here, I am excited to see what the next few years hold for me. Not everything is perfect, and there is a lot of work to be done to be more inclusive, but from my point of view, the work has already started.
Ashwath Narayanan, a freshman majoring in political science and journalism, is a Hatchet writer.
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