Life lessons from my own big, fat international crisis

Long, strange trip: A long-planned wedding in India became an international survival odyssey -- and lightbulb moment -- for Stony Brook University's Shruti Sharma.

Following my passion for science to the United States has been a life-defining moment for me. Leaving my parents and everything familiar behind – it’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

Coming to a new country is exciting. You are experiencing new culture, visiting beautiful places and growing personally and professionally. However, some of these very things can make being “international” difficult at any given time.

You are in an unfamiliar culture, trying to understand the colloquial humor, constantly learning to navigate new social and professional norms, all while building your career.

In the best of times, even with an exciting job and awesome colleagues, we “international” folks are faced with a variety of stresses, often putting major life decisions on hold and facing constant uncertainties about long-term planning due to the ever-changing U.S. immigration system.

Add a global pandemic to the mix, and you have a recipe for a “TV novella,” in the words of a dear friend.

Building up to March, there was lots of excitement in the air for me. I had friends and coworkers constantly asking me when was I leaving for a much-awaited trip home, where I was planning to tie the knot in a big, fat Indian wedding.

But the pandemic had other plans for me and the rest of the world. I traveled to India, all right, amidst a situation evolving by the hour, with country after country going into lockdown and closing their borders.

Shruti Sharma: International intrigue.

For a while, it all seemed to be happening directly to me. The wedding was delayed. I was stranded in India, with a flood of executive orders giving me no return options. And then, when I finally made it back to the States – after months of intercontinental remote work, its own time zone and logistical roller-coaster – I finally contracted COVID-19 myself.

During a tropical storm, which knocked out power for days.

Now that I’m at full power and feeling healthy again, I’m back to facing the everyday personal and professional challenges of life as an “international” person. I am actually grateful for getting to spend the lockdown with family (in person) and with considerate coworkers and friends (virtually).

And as I look back, I realize those tough months taught me some very important life lessons.

We must be mindful. There is a lot of chaos in the world. We can all use more kindness and mindfulness around us. Give people the benefit of doubt; you don’t know what the other person is going through. Our communities are suffering a great sense of loss – of people, of the sense of normalcy, of hope – and the least we can do is be empathetic.

We must be thankful. While these times are challenging, to say the least, one can find lots to be thankful for – health, food on the table, shelter, family, the ability to work remotely. Practice finding the positives in life to help you through the tough times.

Rhythm of control vs. letting go: All you can do is plan and give it your best shot. Life has its own will and there are myriad situations much bigger than you, beyond anyone’s control. While we should do our best, we should also be accepting of things and situations beyond our control.

And don’t ever waste a crisis. For a lot of us, the lockdown has been a unique pause in our ever-buzzing lives. That’s the time for reflection, planning and strategizing for the personal and professional goals you never had time for in the past. Once you find what works for you, go full steam. The best and the worst come out in people during hard times; have hope and appreciate the best.

Remember, in the immortal words of Dumbledore: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Shruti Sharma is program manager for Stony Brook University’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program and the university’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, a New York State Center of Excellence.



1 Comment on "Life lessons from my own big, fat international crisis"

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