By Charleen Wilcox
“Coming to the United States was like taking a new turn in life. Everything was so new to me, and I had to learn and unlearn so many things.”
Zaiba Bhaidani shared these reflections after fulfilling her dream of completing her undergraduate education in the United States. She graduated from Georgia State's Robinson College of Business in May. As an international student from Hyderabad, India, Zaiba made many sacrifices to realize her dream. She devoted herself to her studies during her final years of high school and bravely took a leap of faith by traveling to a new country to begin the next chapter in her journey.
This was only the beginning of the challenges she would have to to overcome. Zaiba still remembers struggling to understand her professors’ lectures during her first semester at Georgia State. She often felt homesick, too, and worried about having enough money to cover her day-to-day living expenses.
“My first year in the U.S. I lacked so many things. I was at a point in my life where I almost wanted to give up. But the constant support from my friends and family helped me persevere and keep going. It is essential to have that kind of support in life,” she said.
These challenges helped Zaiba realize she needed to have a plan in place as she began her second year at the university. She worked on setting up a manageable schedule for herself, took advantage of campus tutoring services, and asked for help from other international students as well as her professors. She also re-focused on her reason for being at Georgia State—namely, that this experience was about fulfilling her dream, and reconsidered the importance of self-care and prioritizing her mental health as she pursued this dream.
“The most important advice I want to give to all international students is to take care of their mental health. Sometimes we come from countries where talking about mental health is not considered necessary,” she said. “But being an international student living far away from loved ones, facing many challenges, being independent, and going through new experiences means that it’s crucial to take steps to protect your mental health.”
With a helpful routine and new habits in place as well as a renewed focus on her larger goal, Zaiba moved forward and looked for opportunities to continue her growth. This included enrolling in Dr. Pam Ellen’s section of WomenLead in Business this past spring, which she credits with helping her gain confidence.
“WomenLead provided me with a platform to come out of my shell and be able to share my story with others. Dr. Ellen really helped me bloom through her kindness and enthusiasm for my potential. I still remember telling her how I get anxious talking in front of people and how I was so nervous to present my final poster. She listened to me and said, ‘I know you will be fine,’ and gave me some helpful tips. Her confidence in me made a big difference to me,” Zaiba shared.
The opportunity to interact with women leaders and mentors through the course also impressed Zaiba and has inspired her to dream bigger.
“I will forever cherish meeting Kathy Waller, the retired CFO of The Coca-Cola Company. Listening to her journey rising up through the ranks of this global company and how she believed in her own abilities has left a big impression on me,” she shared.
Reading Melinda Gates’ book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes The World also had a big impact on Zaiba. The WomenLead program adopted Melinda’s book as a core text in its curriculum last fall.
“This book made me realize how so many women around the world still struggle for their rights. At the same time, reading Moment of Lift helped me realize how educating women changes society in so many good ways,” Zaiba said.
“This idea—empowering women through education—was at the core of my experience in WomenLead," she added. "WomenLead is a class that every school or university should have. The activities I did through this class always inspired new thoughts and helped me realize the skills and talents that I have within."