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Posted: November 6, 2012 10:50 p.m.

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Experiencing the Southern life

For Oxford College sophomore Yugenderan, or "Yugen" Balamohan, his arrival to Oxford, last year was a complete culture shock. Before leaving his home in Malaysia, he was expecting to attend college in a big Manhattan-type city; what he got was the complete opposite.

When he stepped off the plane, Yugen expected skyscrapers and crowded cities. When he arrived at Oxford however, all he saw were trees and farms.

Since he applied for college while in Malaysia, he did not get a tour of Oxford College. His only knowledge about Oxford came from the website and Common App.

"I thought Oxford was in Atlanta because I didn't have a campus tour, right? So I come here and I am like oh, what? It's 45 minutes from the airport. I didn't see any buildings, all I saw were trees all around. Oh boy, I thought, the website was a bit deceiving."

In August 2011, Yugen came to the United States to attend college. He assumed the entirety of America consisted of cities like Chicago and Manhattan thanks to Hollywood.

"It's ingrained in you that America is all cities. You assume the South is cities too. The only Southern movie I've ever watched was Sweet Home Alabama, but I thought it was a set. I had no idea about the Southern culture and how things worked. Like grits, I had no idea what grits were. It was a huge culture shock."

Before he left home, Yugen's parents warned him of the wild, American parties. It would be a big change from the conservative Hindu culture Yugen was raised by.

Yugen would be the first one in his family to come to the U.S. Although his parents were worried about sending off their youngest child, they were very proud of him.

While attending college was a standard in Yugen's family, studying abroad for college was not. Studying abroad was normally a luxury for upper class families, but thanks to Yugen's government scholarship, he got the opportunity to attend college in the U.S.

At the end of his high school career, he and thousands of other Malaysian students took an exam that placed students in two categories. For those who scored higher, they were sent off to college that was paid for by the government and for the other, they would join the work force right away in blue-collar type jobs.

Yugen was one of the 152 students out of 10,000 people to receive the government scholarship to study abroad.

This scholarship, which covers all college expenses, binds the recipients to study a field that would serve Malaysia in the future. The goal is to send their best scholars to study abroad and come back after college to share what they have learned and work for the government. Only, many students do not return to Malaysia.

"Some of them don't come back because they feel that they have a better opportunity here. For me, I take it quite personally because it is all tax payers money and let's not forget that it's just not rich people paying taxes, its also poor farmers. If I don't come back, it's a betrayal in one sense. So for me, going back is a huge thing. I need to go back; people paid for my education."

Yugen, a double major in business and sociology, will work for his country's oil and gas company for at least six years after he graduates from Emory University.

He noted the importance of being in a position that was not only financial stable, but one that was also socially influential.

"It's not money that motivates me, but the ability to make changes. If I am in the position to make change, small and big, I think I would stick with that. I think Malaysia and the company would be a perfect place to do that."

Until then, Yugen is enjoying his college career at Oxford College. Aside from his rigorous academic schedule, he serves as the president of the college's Hindu Student Association and as a resident advisor.

Although he is learning to love the American culture, he always has Malaysia in his heart and mind.


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