When most kids go off to college, they move away from their childhood homes for the first time; however, for sophomore Shikha Gautam, her journey to Geneseo was simply another stop in a long list of cultural travels. “People always ask me where I'm from, and I never have one answer,” Gautam said. “I identify first and foremost as Indian, but then I have language from Sweden and my experience from Japan - all mixed together.”
Gautam is only in her second year at Geneseo, but already she's seen and experienced more culture than many people will in their entire lifetime.
Originally, Gautam said she was born in India, where she and her family lived until she was five, when they moved to Stockholm, Sweden. They stayed there until she was about 11, before moving again due to her father's engineering job - this time to Tokyo, Japan.
Despite the drastic moves, Gautam said she had a relatively stable education, studying at English-speaking schools in both countries and growing up with a supportive family.
“I went to an international school in both Sweden and Japan, and they were pretty similar, although my school in Japan had a more rigorous curriculum,” Gautam said. “It was the American curriculum also, so we eventually did [Advanced Placement] course work and everything.”
Gautam said that the student body she was involved with was in constant influx, which made it difficult to keep in touch with old friends.
“I got to meet a lot of people from different cultures,” Gautam said. “But they were constantly in and out; every year people left, and every year there was someone new.”
Of course, the schooling was only one of the differences between the cities. Gautam said she remembers the toughest cultural transition was from Stockholm to Tokyo.
“The cultures are very different,” Gautam said. “Sweden is a very open country - they have a very laid-back culture, but Japanese culture is unlike any I've ever seen.
“It's very conservative, very polite,” she added. “Everyone is very hardworking and keeps to themselves.”
Surprisingly, although Gautam is well versed in four languages and she and her family have been based in Japan for the last eight years, none of them speak any Japanese.
“In Tokyo, we lived in the French area of the city, so we knew a lot of French-Japanese mixed families,” she said. “Plus, I had studied French in Sweden, so when I got to the school, I decided to continue studying it instead [of Japanese].”
Despite her language abilities and cultural prowess, however, Gautam consistently shrugs off her extraordinary background.
“I guess I'm just used to it,” she said. “[The moves are] just another step, another change. I always take it as a new experience, a new beginning.”
A sense of new beginning is one of the reasons Gautam said she came to Geneseo and why so many international students come to the United States in general.
“In Japan there weren't really a lot of science-focused undergraduate options for me in English,” Gautam said. “So I decided to focus on the U.S. - and Geneseo was just the right fit for me.”
In the coming years, as she begins to look for graduate schools, Gautam knows that she most likely won't stay around Western New York and said she expects to keep traveling in the future.
“Geneseo is my home right now though,” Gautam said. “This is where I'll be for a while.”