Ramesh Kumar studied information technology at Highline College during the CCI Program’s 2011-2012 program year. In Des Moines, Washington, Ramesh embraced his exchange experience and went above and beyond to make the most of his experience. Not only did Ramesh contribute 1,000 hours of volunteer service to his host community, but he also completed 60 hours of internship, maintained a 3.9 GPA, and made lasting connections with U.S. community members. As a CCI alumnus, Ramesh has continued to put every effort behind his pursuits and has completed a bachelor’s degree in computer applications, founded an NGO to provide education opportunities to youth in India, and was nominated for Highline College’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
In India, Ramesh Kumar grew up in the slums of Delhi where the struggle of daily life was inescapable. Many people in his home community suffered from hunger and homelessness, and as a child Ramesh faced adversity in the form of poverty and a difficult home life. Fortunately for Ramesh, he had a strong support system at school and he excelled in academics. When he was in the 7th grade, Ramesh began tutoring children younger than himself as a way to give back. An instructor at Ramesh’s school saw Ramesh’s potential and encouraged him to apply to the Community College Initiative (CCI) Program.
Maximizing the CCI Experience
When Ramesh was accepted to study at Highline Community College (now known as Highline College) for the CCI’s 2011-2012 program year, he was thrilled and excited to see the United States, but his transition to American life wasn’t easy.
Ramesh, like many international exchange students, experienced culture shock the first few weeks of his exchange year. As a vegetarian, he found it difficult to find foods he enjoyed, and in the first few days school he was discouraged to realize that even though he knew English, he had a difficult time understanding his professors—different accents and the speed of communication left Ramesh feeling behind on some of his course materials. But instead of letting these setbacks inhibit him, Ramesh decided to turn every obstacle into an opportunity to grow. When it came to academic life, Ramesh said “I took notes on everything—even things I didn’t understand. Then I would go to my teachers at the end of class and tell them what I didn’t understand … They were always so willing to help, to spend an extra 15 minutes at the end of class to explain what I didn’t know.” This proactive approach to learning is the exact mentality that led Ramesh to earn a 3.9 GPA during his exchange year.
Ramesh’s dedication to do better and be better also translated to his volunteer experience in the CCI Program. Ramesh contributed an unprecedented number of 1,000 hours of volunteer service to his local U.S. host community, primarily at the Northwest Harvest Food Bank, earning him the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
Ramesh said that volunteering during the CCI Program was a priority for him for two reasons. First, after seeing firsthand the negative effects of food insecurity in his home country, he saw his time in the United States as an opportunity to help those in need. Second, Ramesh was determined to improve his English language proficiency and he knew that the best way to do that was by getting out into the community and talking to people. His genuine desire to get to know his host city helped him establish a strong network of support within the local community, a network that he would eventually revisit.
Going Home, Giving Back
Although he studied information technology during his CCI year, Ramesh says his time in the United States made him realize that his true priority and interest was in helping others through social work. Since returning to India, Ramesh completed his bachelor’s degree in computer application refocused his field of study and is now looking to pursue a master’s or PhD in social work.
While working towards his bachelors, Ramesh also founded PRITHAK, a non-profit NGO that helps to enable marginalized sections of society to become self-reliant so they can contribute to their nation’s development. The organization’s primary mission is to provide affordable and quality education and skills training to low-income children and youth under the guiding belief that education is the most powerful tool to break the cycle of poverty.
PRITHAK, which is designed to provide underserved communities with access to quality education programs and resources to help community members achieve their true potential, is run primarily by teachers and volunteers and offers four fields of study: Computer Education, English for Employment, “SSA” which is an opportunity for scholars to learn about the arts from their peers, and “Learning for Life” which focuses on learning basics like math, science, and English. The organization currently serves 105 students and to-date has 305 alumni, and Ramesh uses his background in information technology to lead Computer Education classes.
The transformative power of education on Ramesh’s life has clearly rippled into his home community. By providing an educational platform, he is enabling others to better themselves and their communities.
The Exchange Experience Legacy
Ramesh’s progress in India, however, did not mean that his dedication to his host community and the bonds he formed with community members in De Moines was not forgotten. Recently, Ramesh was nominated for Highline College’s Distinguished Alumni Award and although it had been since 5 years since Ramesh left Washington State, Ramesh’s social hosts from his exchange year were so thrilled with Ramesh’s nomination that they wanted him to be in the United States to receive the award if he won. So Ramesh got to come back to his host city for a quick visit and ended up getting the chance to speak about his exchange experience on both the west and east coast.
After meeting Highline College’s president and speaking with community leaders in Des Moines, Ramesh traveled across the United States with his host “grandfather” to meet with program officers in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and share his story and progress. He also stopped by Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) to speak to current year CCI participants about his experience and serve as an example for how to maximize an exchange year.
When CCI participants at NOVA asked him how he was able to accomplish so much in so little time, Ramesh told them what is clearly the secret to his success: “Whether you’re rich or poor, we all have 24 hours in day—it’s how you choose to spend those 24 hours.”
Ramesh is an incredibly positive person who believes in working hard and making the most of your time, and while he acknowledges his difficult upbringing it is clear he has not let that inhibit his future. Ramesh continues to be an excellent example of how international exchange opportunities can change the world of one person, and the world at large.