My Journey to Commencement: Purav Patel

Purav Patel at a Penn State football game

Purav Patel, shown here at his first Penn State football game, will receive his master of science in information systems at Penn State Harrisburg’s fall 2023 commencement ceremony.

Credit: Purav Patel

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Purav Patel will receive his master of science in information systems at Penn State Harrisburg’s fall 2023 commencement ceremony. His journey to graduation has been “nothing short of a dream realized, marked by a series of hurdles, adjustments to a new culture, and significant personal growth," said Patel. Below, he details his journey.

"Coming to the United States from India for my master's degree was not just my own aspiration; it was a fulfillment of my parents' dream for me to pursue higher education in this new and distant land. This decision represented a big step for both me and my family, as it meant navigating unfamiliar territory — a place far from home, with different people, a new culture, and diverse ways of doing things. The initial days were nerve-wracking, requiring a considerable amount of courage to adapt to this entirely new chapter in my life.

"Upon arriving, I encountered a whirlwind of cultural differences and even experienced the shock of extreme snowfall during my first spring — something quite unfamiliar coming from a place with a notably different climate. However, amidst these challenges, the Global Lion Mentors program became my invaluable support system. My mentor, Prabin, played a pivotal role in helping me not only overcome the initial struggles but also in guiding me through the complexities of life at Penn State Harrisburg. Inspired by the immense support I received from this program, I decided to pay it forward by becoming a Global Lions Mentor myself in the coming semesters, assisting fellow international students in acclimating to the unique aspects of life at Penn State Harrisburg.

"Being a nervous person, the challenge of making friends hit me hard in my first semester. Small talk was a whole new concept, and despite numerous campus events, nervousness often kept me at home. One day, I realized I needed to step out of my comfort zone. So, I started attending these events, and that's when I began forming connections and making friends.

"The academic landscape in the United States posed a different challenge for me. Unlike India, where higher education leans towards theoretical learning, here in the U.S., it's all about practical approach, research, and global perspectives. This shift was a bit overwhelming initially. Additionally, the whole concept of writing research papers was completely alien to me. However, thanks to the writing center on campus, I've not only adapted to this system but have written multiple research papers over the semesters.

"Another hurdle was presenting in front of fellow students and professors. English, not being my first language, made it nerve-wracking. I stuttered a lot and often found myself at a loss for words. While I still stutter at times, I've worked on developing my speaking skills. It's been a journey, but I've come a long way.

"Penn State Harrisburg stands out as one of the most diverse university campuses. Throughout my two years here, I found myself fully immersed in a richly diverse community, connecting with individuals from various countries, cultures, and religions. This exposure significantly broadened my horizons, transforming me into a better person enriched with knowledge drawn from shared experiences.

"Beyond the academic environment, Penn State Harrisburg became my home away from home, offering not just quality education but a platform for active participation in various roles. I took on the role of a Peer Mentor for students with special needs, contributing as a Global Ambassador by organizing multicultural events. Each of these experiences added layers to my personal and professional growth. Working at the local cafeteria, Stacks, not only resulted in unexpected friendships but also imparted valuable lessons in teamwork.

"Serving as a teaching assistant for the computer science and math department was yet another rewarding experience. This role allowed me to collaborate with remarkable professors and contribute to the academic journeys of fellow students. Throughout the semesters, I also actively participated in New Student Orientation and International Student Orientation as a mentor. In this capacity, I shared my experiences at Penn State [Harrisburg], offering guidance and assistance to newcomers, addressing any queries they had and helping them navigate their initial days at the University. These mentorship opportunities added another dimension to my engagement with the Penn State community, reinforcing the sense of connection and support that defines this vibrant campus. 

"Transitioning into graduate student life at Penn State, and in the U.S. in general, brings its fair share of challenges. Unlike in India, where you often have family assistance, here, you're pretty much on your own — cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, shopping, paying bills, managing finances, the whole shebang. It's a lot to handle. And let's talk about homesickness. At some point, it hits. You start missing everything about home — the food, the people, the noise. What makes it tougher is the time zones. You're constantly double-checking which times work best for different zones and adjusting your routine to make calls early in the morning or late in the evenings.

"Then there's a bunch of other problems to tackle — cultural differences, communication gaps, navigating academics, figuring out public transportation, and the difficulty of fitting in and expressing yourself.

"But you know what? Over time, you don't just survive, you thrive. You become a version of yourself you didn't know existed. Enter the heroes of the story — the friends made and the incredible community at Penn State Harrisburg. Thanks to this supportive bunch, I can proudly say I've crafted a fantastic safety net for myself. To each one of you, if I could, I'd shout your names from the rooftops. Your support, love, and care have been my compass, guiding me through the beautiful, tough, and oh-so-memorable years at Penn State Harrisburg.

"As I approach graduation, my focus is on securing a full-time role as an analyst or developer. However, the job search journey has proven to be quite challenging. Despite the hurdles, I am determined to persist and find the right opportunity that aligns with my skills and aspirations. I am actively exploring different avenues, networking, and refining my approach to navigate the competitive job market. While the process has its ups and downs, I am optimistic about the possibilities that lie ahead and excited to embark on the next chapter of my professional journey with the solid foundation and support Penn State Harrisburg has provided."