“Just wanted to inform you that your admission package will be leaving our office tomorrow. I held your package back because I was hoping to include an additional letter. Please see the attachment.”
This was the email that I received from Ed Bustos, director of international admission at Rollins College, while I was waiting to hear back about my early decision application. To my surprise, the attachment was an invitation to participate in the school’s Alfond Scholarship competition, which awards up to 10 admitted students full tuition plus room and board. The competition takes place each year on the Rollins campus in Florida on the last weekend of February, and is based on interviews, class discussions and essay writing.
I had never been outside the borders of my country in my whole life. Even worse – I’ve barely been outside the tiny Kathmandu valley where I live, except for a few times to visit relatives during festivals. Now in a month I was going to go to Florida – all alone – with complete strangers – all alone – to compete for scholarship money that could make or break my college career – all alone.
It was one a.m. when I got the email, and I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night.
After a few days, I got another email with the schedule of the competition, travel arrangements, and some articles that I had to read prior to my arrival. I wasn’t entirely sure at this point what I was meant to do with the reading materials – I thought maybe they were preparation for the class discussions or the essay writing – so I started researching the articles and their authors and made some brief notes for myself.
A month later, after getting my visa from the U.S. embassy, I arrived in Orlando, Florida. K.C., an Alfond student (that’s what Rollins calls someone who has won the scholarship) who is also from Nepal, and who would serve as my mentor, host and interviewer for the competition, picked me up at the airport. In the 15 minutes it took to reach the college, it felt as if I was in a movie. I had never witnessed such clean streets, or roads with no motorbikes on them.