When the whole world was celebrating New Year 2013 last week, Pritam Adhikari, a 21-year-old promising student from Georgia, Atlanta, was battling to survive in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Grady Hospital. In a Facebook post on January 1, his brother Alok extended New Year wishes, but in a complete different tone. “On behalf of Pritam and the family I would like to wish you a happy New Year 2013. At this moment, Pritam is in stable condition in ICU at Grady Hospital, Atlanta. He is very brave, strong and hopeful and in very good spirit. I would like to request you all to pray at least a minute today evening and share this post with your friends and family and tell them to pray for his quick recovery and good health.” Unfortunately, Pritam breathed his last, and dozens of resettled Bhutanese attended his funeral ceremony, Sunday.
On graduating from high school, Pritam was among the top 10% in his class; a member of the school’s International Club and The National Society of High School Scholars; Advanced Placement Honoree (three or more AP classes); and Work-Ready Certified, Gold Rank (to perform 90% jobs in the state). He was also awarded the Emory University Award for Academic Excellence, Georgia Certificate of Merit (top 5% of his junior class), and President’s Award for Educational Excellence (recognition from the U.S. President and Secretary of Education to students whose outstanding efforts have enabled them to meet challenging standards of excellence). Seven schools accepted Pritam, including Purdue University, in Indiana, and in Georgia, Mercer University and Oglethorpe University. In August, he plans to begin post-secondary coursework at Georgia Perimeter College, then transfer to Georgia Tech.
I was born in a small, rural village in Bhutan, a monarchy on the border between China and India. Everything was backward, lacking, or undeveloped — education, transportation, sewage, electricity, and medical facilities. In 1992, when I was two years old, the cruel monarch expelled me and my family (mother, father, brother, and five sisters) and our 100,000 Nepali-origin community from our homeland. We were sent to live in Beldangi-2, Jhapa district (one of seven Bhutanese refugee camps in neighboring Nepal). There, we lived in bamboo huts with mud floors and newspaper-covered walls to keep out the winter cold and rain. We cooked, washed, and used toilets in outdoor communal facilities.
Though refugee life in the camp was miserable, I spent 15 years studying hard, participating in our cultural festivals, playing sports (soccer, table tennis, and Badminton), and volunteering in two organizations helping young children and teens: “Save the Children Forum” and “Youth Friendly Center.” In the United-Nations-run English-language-school where I had a golden chance to study, I was known as a smart and likable student. Though my parents attended only grade school, they inspired me by their example to work hard and discipline myself for a bright future.
Since age six, I loved playing with small paper airplanes with my friends and family. Questions filled my imagination, and I have been curious to find the answers to them and to other questions ever since.
For example, I wondered —
- How does this paper plane fly?
- How can I make it fly higher?
- Is it like a real airplane?
- How can an airplane fly, but not a car?
In fourth grade, I learned a bit about engines, and I wondered, how can engines be made stronger so that airplanes can carry more weight? And, in seventh grade, I wondered, why don’t jet airplanes fall because of their huge mass?
I have always loved and excelled in science and math, and have planned on a career related to aviation since I was 14. In 2008, when I was almost 17, I was excited when my family and thousands more got a chance to leave the refugee camps and to resettle in the USA. Finally, I could continue my studies at higher levels and at more rigorous standards.
I am constantly adjusting to new people and different customs, foods, and habits; navigating busy roads and many buildings; and managing language and communication challenges! I am an active volunteer in two of my local community organizations, Bhutanese Community of Georgia and Sewa International and I accompany my family to health care and immigration offices where I translate for them and agency officials.
At Druid Hills High School, I learned a lot about computers, which I had never even seen in the refugee camp, and I discovered the aerospace field through my chemistry teacher and friends. My fellow students come from all over the world, and I love this diverse society. I am practicing to be a careful listener, to speak clearly, and to appreciate and respect differences among my peers and others. I’m steadily improving my English in composition and literature classes and in speaking with American-born friends while working hard to maintain good grades in all my classes, including advanced placement (AP) classes in physics, statistics, calculus, and economics. (The last two years, I earned straight A’s and have been on the Honor Roll.) I am a member of my high school International Club and The National Society of High School Scholars. After graduation, I seek to fulfill my dream to do research, to obtain valuable real-life practical experience, and to study through the doctorate level.
Life circumstances required me to follow a long, nontraditional route toward my goal, and though I am financially poor, mentally, I’m rich! I bring to academic community unique gifts of a refugee student from another hemisphere who can teach and inspire fellow students and others. I’m excited to share my experience, knowledge, culture, traditions, and positive attitudes, and to make an outstanding contribution to the community.
Editor’s notes: The write-up is posthumously adopted from a blog following some revisions by BNS. The original texts were compiled as a motivation letter that late Adhikari submitted to his college while applying for enrollment in last fall.