Oxford Stories: India Native Finds Home Away from Home in Oxford

Rohan Agrawal is a freshman international student from Indore, a city in central India. Photo by Matthew Hendley.

Imagine being over 8,000 miles from home in an entirely new country where there are no familiar faces except the one you see in the mirror. That was reality for Rohan Agrawal when he arrived in Mississippi for the first time in August 2017.

Agrawal is a student at the University of Mississippi — young, full of energy, pursuit, intelligence and well accepted by his peers. Hailing from Indore, a city in central India, Agrawal is a freshman and one of more than 1,600 international students who attend the university.

Many seem mystified by students who come from other countries. Some are curious, but not interested enough to learn more and begin to understand who they are.

Agrawal begins his day at 5:45 a.m., a routine he began years ago while attending the prestigious Emerald Heights International School in central India. Hours before most students awake from slumber, Agrawal leaves home.

“I either go for a run or cycle,” he said. “Exercise is necessary.” He laughed and patted his stomach, indicating he has put on a few pounds since coming to Ole Miss.

Though Agrawal may experience the inevitable “freshman 15” like many of us, his eating habits are unique. As midday approaches, he takes a lunch break at the Rebel Market, filling his a plate with vegetables, noodles and his go-to meal – stuffing cheese between two slices of bread. He proudly announces he is a vegetarian.

“No one in my family eats meat,” he said. “For them, it’s due to religion. For me, I just don’t like it.”

Agrawal said he’s never tried meat. Between bites of his cheese sandwich, he said he’s always wondered why Americans are so obsessed with it.

As lunch ends, he treks across campus toward his residency. Arriving at his dorm in Stewart Hall, it is clear he doesn’t just wear his passion and motivation on his sleeve – it also hangs on his wall. In between motivational quotes, poems and posters are several paper flags of countries from all over the world.

Agrawal has been involved with model United Nations clubs for years now, representing countries from multiple continents. As he takes his time explaining how he represented each country, he said doing so is his passion.

“In high school, I dreamed of representing India in the United Nations,” he said. “And while it would be a great honor, I decided that I enjoy the experience more just as a hobby.”

One of the many areas of the world that Agrawal has represented as a member of Model UN. Photo by Matthew Hendley.

A computer science major, Agrawal is fascinated with science and mathematics.

“I am always motivated,” he said, gathering his things to move on to the next stage of his day. “That is how I was raised. That is how we (Indians) are as a people. I rarely rest. I am always occupied.”

Despite his successes as a student, Agrawal helps his peers. After a purposeful walk toward the center of campus, he arrived at the J.D. Williams Library to work as a tutor.

“I love to help people,” he said. “Tutoring is a great way to share your knowledge and meet new people. Plus, it pays well.”

Other students who have met Agrawal are impressed by his ambition and generosity.

“Since I first met Rohan, he has always offered to help anyway,” said fellow student Nikki Paris, one of the first people Agrawal became acquainted with when he arrived at Ole Miss. “He’s the kid in class that sits in the front row and answers all the questions. But people like him because he doesn’t hesitate to help those who don’t have all the answers.”

One of Rohan’s daily motivational quotes outside of Room 507 in Stewart Hall. Photo by Matthew Hendley.

An ordinary day for Agrawal seems exhausting. As a member of the international student council, Model UN club, a tutor, and a full-time student, his day is busy. But he also works. Agrawal begins his Friday night shift as a cashier at the POD in Minor Hall, a small convenience store within the residence hall.

“I had to make some more money in order to purchase a bike,” he said, refusing to ask his parents for extra money.

As he checks out each customer, he smiles and happily works to the beat of a portable speaker he brought.

“I really do enjoy meeting new people,” he said. “This job is a great experience – you run into a lot of, let’s just say, ‘interesting’ people working the late shift.”

Agrawal works the cash register until 2 a.m. He rubs his eyes and gathers his things, ending his day that has extended into the early morning hours.

Becoming involved in the community and staying motivated are two things Agrawal said he must do to keep going.

“Being a student from a foreign country is hard,” he said, “but it really is so cool. I believe that becoming involved is the most important for me, and it should be for everyone. It leads to so many opportunities.”

By Matthew Hendley

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