Isabella: So to start off with, why don't you talk about where you're from, your background, and how you ended up here at Yale?
Niyati: So I was born in another country. I came from Nepal. I immigrated here—emigrated—to America when I was five with my little sister, who was two, and my mom and my dad. We went straight to New York City, because we had relatives there. And then we stayed with them for a while in their living room—it was very awkward—until we got our own apartment in this neighborhood called Jackson Heights. I went to elementary school in my neighborhood, and then I went to middle school in another neighborhood, and then I went to Townsend Harris High School, which is this, like, small school in Flushing, which is a very Asian. Um, I don't know how I ended up here. What do I say to that?
I: Just like, what sorts of things were you interested in in high school, what are you hoping to study here?
N: I don't know. Um, in high school, I was interested in Science Olympiad, and then I did a little bit of writing for the newspaper. And then I was part of the Student Union. Yeah, that's basically what I did. Probably the biggest component was Science Olympiad. I just really liked the, I guess the atmosphere. Like, everyone was super competitive too, but they're also really helpful. Like, so, you know how we had the three team thingy? The teams always helped each other even though we're kind of competing against each other.
I: What's the three team thing?
N: So basically, a team consists of 15 people, right? So since we had more than that, we had three teams, right? And so we would, like, compete against each other in in-house competitions and then we would go to regions and stuff. But we weren't together, ever, but we just helped each other. And then stuff like that. It was fun. I've never met a more competitive group of people, ever, probably.
I: Competitive in a toxic way?
N: No, it's really good. Like, yeah, definitely after I joined, I think I also became more competitive, which doesn't seem like a good thing. But I think it helped me in some ways. [laughs] Oh, what can I say? I like the people, they're really great. I met some of my good friends there. And they're really smart, like almost all of them got into amazing schools, too.
I: What drew you to Science Olympiad in the first place?
N: I'm trying to think. I don't know. I was walking around in this club fair. Our school is mostly, like, humanities-based, so the only two science things we had is Robotics and Science Olympiad. And Robotics is kind of loser-ish. [laughs] So I decided to do the other one. I was like, "This is not that bad." But I didn't know it was, like, so intense. I really did not, until I got into it, and I was like, "Oh my goodness." The thing is it's like, you know, there's three teams, right, so it's A team, B team, C team, and they say that it's not like one team is better than the other, but it really is. A team is the one who wins everything. So yeah, so freshman year, I did not make the teams. So that was heartbreaking. But that was my own damn fault because I didn't study for them, and I thought that I would get it anyway, because I didn't realize how much everyone else studied. And so for the next year I got really into it, and I studied like months before, and then I got in. Yeah. Don't quote me on the Robotics part though.
I: Definitely keeping that in. So I guess my question from that is, I know a lot of like Asian kids—your school was mostly Asian, right? I know a lot of Asian kids would have their parents who are pushing them towards STEM. Was it your parents who told you that you should do STEM, even though you're at this humanities school, or was it you thinking, like, I just like science and I want to do these things?
N: Yeah. My dad really does push more towards STEM, especially math and whatever. So he thinks that, like, you can't get a job if you do anything humanities-based. Like, I don't know. So yeah, he's always pushing towards STEM. But the thing is in our school, even though it's humanities-based, most of the people were all STEM-based. Because it was a good school, that's why people went there, but it was humanities-based. Like we had a lot of, like, English classes, Latin we had to take, or Greek, or something like that, whatever. I've actually never considered a career or anything in humanities. Because I was always just pushed towards STEM. And so I thought okay, whatever. This is designated for me, I guess. Yeah, that's not that good though. Should've had some real consideration.
I: Do you like humanities?
N: Yeah, I do like it. I like history a lot. Yeah, but I mean I also like STEM. Like it's… I don't know.
I: So your dad, does he fall into the tiger parent stereotype?
N: Hmm. I don't think so. The weird thing about my parents is that, like, a lot of people are really surprised because they're not so strict. And I think my work ethic is, um, what's it called? What's it called? Another word for internal.
N: Yes. Thank you. Intrinsic. Okay, like, my dad, he just wanted me to go to university, any good university, without paying. That was, like, his entire goal. He just wants me to get good grades. Actually, you know, he hasn't checked my grades and my report card since, like, elementary school, because he realized that I was doing well on my own, so then he was like, whatever. They focus on my sister because sometimes she needs more of a push than I do. [laughs] But no like the grades part, they just wanted me to have good grades. They didn't care about that 99 or whatever. And then the college? Yeah, they just wanted me to go to a SUNY, which is, like, Stony Brook. My dad really wanted me to do the eight-year medical program in Stony Brook. Yeah, it's pretty good, but I didn't really want to go there. Um, what else? I don't know. I don't think they pushed me that hard, like obviously they're like, just have good grades. But that's it. Yeah, when I was doing SciOly my mom was like, “This is so annoying, can you just quit that shit?” Just like, she saw me studying and shit and, like, going to other schools and such, like, "Why are you doing this?"
I: What drew you to Yale? Was it also just an intrinsic thing?
N: Yeah, my parents don't really know any Ivies besides Harvard. So, like, literally my mom did not know what Yale was. It's weird, like, other people do know, but my parents are just weird, I guess. They knew Columbia. My mom was like, “If anything, go to Columbia.” Then I told her I'm applying to Yale. She's like, what's that, and I had to explain to her. And then my dad, he researched everything, and like literally I told him about where I was applying one day, and then the next day he comes back with Wikipedia knowledge in his head. And he's like, “You know how many presidents went to Yale?”
I: That's like my grandpa. He didn't know anything and then he calls me and he's like, "Yale is a good school."
N: Yeah literally, like, "I know, dad." He was like, “That's an Ivy League,” and I was like, “Yeah, I know.” But I don't know because my parents are like, “Do you think you're gonna get in?” and I was like, I don't want to say yes, like I don't know. I don't want to jinx anything either. So I was like, "Just wait on it." Then I got in! And then my parents were very happy.
I: What was their reaction?
N: Um, well I was in my room, right? It was 6:59, very scared. Very nervous. Oh my god, I literally, like, hyperventilated and everything. And then I opened it. It was like, the video played, you know? I was like, "Oh my god! I got in!" He was like, "I'm so happy for you"—he was very happy, that doesn't show his happiness. And then my mom was also very happy. But like the thing is, I hadn't handed in my financial aid stuff yet, so I didn't know how much money I was gonna get. So my dad was still kind of iffy because he was like, "If they don't give you a lot of money, you can't go anyway," right? Actually, they were happier the second time, when I got my award, my financial aid award. They were so happy, like, my dad literally hugged me and picked me up and stuff.
I: Do you feel different at Yale being on financial aid?
N: Um, yeah, I guess it's a little weird. It's, like, kind of, I wouldn't say culture shock, but it's definitely like, coming in here, it's like, oh wow. I mean I could see the differences between me and other people, but I don't know. Yeah, some people have more privilege, what can I say? Hey, but you know what? Now I feel like my children will have it better than I did. And I'm lucky too. I'm not gonna be like, "Y'all, I was poor." My parents gave me a lot of stuff. They never said no, you know. I don't know. I feel very privileged with what I have. Like, I don't need all that. But I feel like the next generation, my children, will be very lucky, too.
I: Are you going to be a tiger parent or you going to say, "You can do whatever?"
N: If I don't feel it, intrinsic motivation, I'm probably gonna have to force them. Because I don't know, man. I just can't. Like, I can't just watch them doing nothing. See, like, my sister did nothing and my parents were like, “You gotta study, you should study,” and stuff like that. Yeah. How about you?
I: Yeah, I think the same. I think if they're motivated on their own, I'll be like whatever, but if they're lazy—like, I was so lazy, so I'm glad my parents got kind of angry at me when I was little, even though at the time I got really sad. But in the end, you realize, it is more rewarding.
So I think something that a lot of Asian Americans feel is that in a lot of places, there's no Asians. But obviously you're from New York.
I: So did you ever feel different because you were Asian or did you ever feel like you wanted to be white or anything like that, or was that not a struggle?
N: Definitely when I was younger, I did want to be white. It was really bad. I was like… because when I first came here, we were kind of poor, and everyone just had it better. So I was like, I feel like it would be better just to be white, you know, you get all that privilege. Yeah, and also this is bad, but I also thought they were prettier, which is, like, obviously wrong now. That doesn't make any sense, but yeah. Like, I wish I was white, I really wish I was a different race. But the Asian part, I never felt like I was the only Asian, ever. Like literally, I feel like white people felt like they were the only white person. My elementary school, very brown. It was in my neighborhood. My middle school, very Asian. My high school, very Asian. So yeah.
I: Jackson Heights, you say it's a very brown place.
N: Yeah, there's a lot of everything. There's a lot of Nepali communities there, obviously. There's a lot of Indians and there's a lot of Bengalis. It's, like, everything. It's super brown. And I like that. The supermarkets and the food, like there's a lot of brown food places and so you know, if I'm hungry for something, you just buy it. And they're cheap, too, so I like that.
I: You told me this story before about how when you first got your period, basically in Nepali culture, they just have different mindsets towards periods and what that means. Do you want to tell that story, if you're comfortable sharing it?
N: I actually wrote this for my, as you know, my English essay. See what happened was, my mom was just like, “Lie to your grandmother. Don't say anything.” I was like, “What the hell?” like, “What are you talking about, lie to her?” And she's like, “Yeah, like don't tell her you have your period.” Because I told my mom I had my period that day. She's like, “Yeah, she's not gonna let you touch your grandfather.” It's like, there's so many rules. Don't touch your grandfather, don't touch the plate that males eat from, don't enter the kitchen. You're not supposed to have any intimate contact with anyone really, because the idea is that it comes from chhaupadi, which is the idea that you're supposed to stay far away from your family [during your period]. And those sheds, like, you know, those articles about the Nepali women who live in sheds [during their periods]? Like a less extreme version of that. But yeah, so basically my grandmother didn't want me to enter the kitchen because I had my period, so I told her, "I don't have my period." I just lied, like, "What? No," and then she was like, "Okay fine," and then she let me enter. But I was like, "What the hell?" because it's so weird. And I was pretty young, too, so I got my period when I was younger, so it was really surprising to me. And I was kind of angry, obviously, because who wouldn't be angry? I wanted to be like, "Haha! I have my period. And I already served you food," you know, like, "Eat that!" But then my parents would get so angry at me. Like, that's just not accepted. So I just kept it in. I was like, this is kind of stupid, yeah, but what are you gonna do, they're the old generation.
Even though there's, you know, the idea that these traditions will kind of diminish with newer generations, I can even see my parents' generation be like, you're not supposed to pray or touch the temple that we have in our kitchen when you're on your period or anything. So during festivals… like, my mom, during Tihar, which is, like, you pray to the gods or whatever—or you know like Diwali, the one with the all lights? Yeah, you're not supposed to put the lights, you're not supposed to touch anything, put the tika. So my mom didn't do it. I was like, okay. This is also kind of stupid. But yeah, and there's a lot of places, I feel like, that still have that same mindset. So it's kind of toxic, and it's not going to go away, even in our generations. I know a lot of people in Nepal who still are, like, super icky when it comes to their period and stuff like that. Yeah. They, like, won't touch their dad, because you're not supposed to touch males or whatever, which is so weird to me.
I: What's the root of that? Why do people believe it?
N: Um, well the origin story of periods is that this god, right, he killed a Brahman—which is, like, Brahman is the top of the Hindu caste system, you know. So because of that he had this sin, right, because he killed a Brahman. And so the sin he distributed among the water, trees, and women so he could get rid of it. And the sin on women was that they're going to have periods. But the thing is… because when they have their periods they have the sin, technically it's, you know, it's kind of sexist, even from the beginning. Yeah, even the words used to describe periods are like, unclean, dirty, impure—impure is a big one. Like, you're impure. That's the main thing, you're not clean during your period. And so a lot of people just take that and… I don't know, every household has their own little thing that they do. It’s not as extreme as in the poor areas. In the countryside, it's so bad. Like the shed I was talking about? They actually do that. A lot of people, the women, they died, too. Pneumonia, rape, and you take your child with you. If you're breastfeeding, you have to take them. And children die. And that's the thing, they don't care because it's like… and also if you break the rules, it's like breaking a pollution rule. So you basically bring misfortune to your family. And you can die, too. Yeah. So yeah, it sucks. That's all I have to say.
I: It's so interesting, because even from a Western perspective, periods are so stigmatized, just everywhere. So what's your relationship with religion would you say?
N: I would say I'm agnostic. Um, I don't know. When I was growing up, I never really felt like there was a lot of gods, which is what Hinduism is. There's a god for everything. But the thing is, now I think about it, I think there's a God. I don't know, but when I pray during festivals, I actually do pray. But it's just really hard, because I like the festivals and I like what they're associated with, but I don't feel that connection with, like, all the gods specifically. Let's say, during Diwali, when you're supposed to pray to Lakshmi to bring you blessings and wealth. I'll pray to her. But I don't know what that means. I really don't. Like maybe I do, maybe I don't. I just really don't think about it that much. And I don't follow all the rules either, like, I just don't think that I need to do anything for God or gods to, you know, look at me and wish well for me, I guess.
I: Your family is, like, pretty religious though?
N: Yeah. I know my parents believe in the gods. I thought my dad wasn't that religious, but then before I left for college, I saw him pray really quickly, and I was like, interesting. I've seen them pray during festivals, but that's just everyone closes their eyes and puts their hands together. So you don't really know what everyone's thinking. But yeah, they do pray. My grandparents, both sides. Especially my mom's [side], my grandfather wakes up at four o’clock every single morning. Yeah, and you can hear, like, the bells and shit. And like, you're not supposed to take a shower, don't eat. You pray and then you do everything. My mom does that sometimes. Before she goes to work, she'll, like, not eat. She'll take a shower, pray, and then eat and do everything. Except when she has her period. Yeah, so I guess they're not that religious. We celebrate everything. I guess they're religious, but they didn't enforce it on us. They're not like, "Oh, you have to do this and that." Yeah, I think it's more about the culture than the religion for us.
I: What about you and your younger cousins? Are you mostly in the same boat?
N: Yeah, I think so. I think all my cousins are agnostic. I think my family circle, especially since we're here, it's like, what's the point? They don't really enforce it that much, which is great. I don't think I could ever really go to a temple and, like, pray every morning or whatever. Um, yeah, I think they're all agnostic, actually.
I: This is another thing you told me about, how you always talk about your cousins, and how, like, you call them your cousins, but some of them aren't even related to you. Could you tell more about that and finding your community?
N: It's just, when I came here and I was five, we got introduced to this other family, which is one of my cousin's today. She was also a little five-year-old. And I memorized her number. I remember calling her from the home phone. I got so excited, I was like, oh my god. She doesn't remember that, so. Um, yeah, she's one of my cousins, and we grew up together basically. So yeah, we've had a lot of fights and stuff over the years and like, you know, all that shit. My other cousin is also one of my mom's best friends. There's basically three or four families in our group, and all the children basically hang together. That's what I call my cousins. And one of them is my actual cousin, the 28-year-old. She came here three years ago from Nepal. Yeah, she's my actual cousin from my dad's—and my mom's—side. It's complicated. Yes. There was some incest in my family. Nah, I'm just kidding. It's just weird. Yeah, and then there's my sister. I think that's it. And then there's my cousin's husband who also hangs out with us. He's really cool actually, like, even though they're 28. They're very cool. I really like them. Yeah, that's it.
Yeah, we hang out a lot, actually. When I go back to New York, we always do something together, which is really nice, because we used to hang out a lot more. But obviously I'm here and then they [my older cousin and her husband] moved to Virginia recently, because she got a job as a programmer, and then obviously her husband went with her. My sister and my other cousin are in their junior year, so they're very stressed right now, and then my other cousin's applying to college. So yeah, we're all in our own places.
I: So we've talked about this a little bit about the periods specifically, but what are the biggest things that you think are different in Nepali culture and American culture?
N: That's good question. Yeah, um. There's more discrimination against women, obviously. Um. Hmm, you have to be very respectful to your elders, which sounds like a stupid thing. But it's sometimes like, people, the elders, treat you wrong, or they can say whatever they want, and no one will say anything to them. So yeah, it's kind of annoying. And I've had experiences where, you know, they said some off stuff or did something wrong, and I got mad, but you can't say anything technically, because they're elders and they know better and stuff like that. You have to let it go. So yeah, a lot of that, which is annoying. That, my parents really believe in. Like, one time, when I was younger… [in Nepali] we have formal and informal tenses. Like, the way you say the verb is different depending on your friend, someone lower than you, or someone older than you. So like, you're my friend, so I would use timi. Older person, thapai, and lower person, ta. And then one time as a joke, I call this older guy who is like living with us—my uncle, I'll say—I called him ta, which is the lower one. I don't know why I did it. I thought I was being funny or whatever. My parents got so mad. I, like, cried and everything. It was so bad. I mean, yeah, I guess it's my fault. I shouldn't have done it. But like, whatever! I was a little kid. My parents make a really big deal out of that.
Actually, the biggest thing is that you have to you have to respect others and sacrifice everything for guests. It's a really big part. Like your guests are treated as this, like… my mom goes all out when she has guests, it's crazy. Super respectful, do everything for them, give up your time for them, blah blah blah. You can't say anything, even if they ask too much of you. Yeah, it's really big, you know, the hospitality part of it, which is not a bad thing because, like, they're really nice. And you know, my mom will pay for everything that they do and just, like, whatever. But sometimes I feel like people can take advantage of you that way. My mom's definitely been too nice to some people. Like the guests that we have right now… our relatives are super annoying. I would say I want to kick them out, but my mom will definitely not do that. There's two kids that live with us; she buys everything for them. They’re so irritating. One time, we were in this store and the little girl's like, "I want this backpack," and then her mom always wouldn't buy it for her. So then she was like, "Let me just wait till your mom gets here." Like… who do you think… we're not made of money! And my mom will just buy it. She'll be like "Oh, it's okay, just leave it," you know, like, doesn't matter. I'm like, I think it matters. I don't think I can be that nice. My mom is like, “Yeah, you have to be nice to other people. Because then… what do you have other than that?” But like, I don't think that's the way the world works. We always have a lot of arguments about that, because I think that she's too nice and really easy to manipulate, and I would say that I'm not going to be like that at all, and my mom gets really mad.
I: Do you guys have that thing where, like, if you go out to eat you have to fight for the bill?
N: Oh my… you have to fight. Oh my god, you don't understand how many times they have the same conversation where my mom's like, "I'm not going to talk to you if you pay this bill." She's literally like, "I'm gonna cut off all my ties with you," and my aunt's like, "Do it, do it. I don't care." They have that argument every single time. It's so bad. It's so bad.
And then when I see other people and they don't do it, then I'm like, whoa. It's surprising. I was really surprised. Especially with adults. I just feel like everyone has that innate desire to pay the bill, you know? Yeah. My mom says she feels more comfortable when she pays the bill. Sometimes I'd go out for birthdays or some special event with my friends and she's like, "So who pays it?" I'm like, "Look, we all pay our own meals." She finds that so weird. We had this whole little talk about that. And also with my cousins, when I was younger, she used to pay for everyone a lot, but it kind of added up. And then I told them, like, “Pay your own shit,” and my mom was like, "You don't have to do that. I can pay, I don't care." I was like, "Nah… they have their own parents." And now we pay for everything separately. It's just very different from, like, the way we grew up.
I: Yeah, I feel so much better doing that though because either you're, like, losing all your money paying for everyone or you feel crippling guilt because they're paying for everything.
N: Yeah. Literally, I hate when people pay for me. I'm like, “Don't pay for me, please.” I don't like it.
I: Do you guys feel pressure to support family members back in Nepal?
N: Yeah. Oh my god, you don't understand how annoying they are, people in Nepal, they're on another level. They know what's the good shit and they know what's fake, you know, they know. So every time we go to Nepal, which is only two times, we spend so much money. Most of the money is spent on gifts. So… like, I can't even explain to you how angry I get. It's also another disparity, I guess, between me and my parents. They bring the nicest stuff, like, my mom will buy MacBooks for people, she'll buy iPhones. First time I went back she bought three iPods—that was what was in. Clothes, she'll buy a lot of new clothes. Makeup. Oh my god. They love MAC lipsticks back there, and she'll buy little Ziploc bags with makeup for everyone, and it's so expensive because it adds up. We have both sides, and then friends, too, like, it adds up. And she can't forget anyone, like, even the kids she has to buy chocolate from Costco, and we put them in little bags and we give them. For big family members she'll buy nicer stuff, like purses and stuff. My mom, now, she's like, "I don't even want to go back anymore, because I don't have that much money to spend on other people." And they won't get it because it's like… you're only asking for one thing, like, why can't you get me that? But like, if everyone's asking for that one thing, then doesn't it build up? It's so bad, like, I get so annoyed. It's so irritating. I'm like, “Don't buy it,” but I can't do anything, because it's not my money.
I: Do you think when you grow up you'll go back to Nepal frequently?
N: Frequently? Probably, because my parents want to live there. My mom says that after I finish med school she's gonna go back there. And then she says, "Just buy me a penthouse," and she'll live here for six months, then she'll live in our house there for six months. I'm like, "Sure mom, that's fine with me." Yeah, but I'm definitely not going back. My parents actually really did want me to go back. My mom was like, "Well, why don't you just go to med school there," because med school there is five years. You can go directly there [from high school]. But obviously it's not the same, like, come on. So yeah, she was like, "Why don't you just go there, and you can just live in the house that we're building," and my grandfather would take care of me. And then she's like, "I'll buy you a car, just go." Yeah, that's how much they wanted me to go. I thought about it. I was like, hmm. But then, nah. The culture's too different. I'm too used to it here. I, like, I can't imagine leaving everyone, like, that's so sad to me. Everything's just different there, and people are, like, sexist, too. I don't want to deal with that. I can live there for, like, a month, but living there forever just is not an option.
I: Do you feel like when you visited, does it feel like your home?
N: It does feel really good. Everyone just showers you with love because, like, you're never there, you go back every five years. It feels so good. I actually cry when I leave because, like, I don't know, seeing everyone else cry, I feel sad, so yeah. Also, visiting all my relatives, my grandparents—meeting my cousins for the first time, because they were just born, like, a year ago and they're really small. I'm like, oh wow. And yeah, and then my aunts and uncles are really nice. They give me gifts.
I: Do you feel like being at a school like Yale, do you feel like you're, like, doing something for all your family?
N: Oh my god, literally, I really do feel that. I really actually do feel that. I always feel like I'm representing something and, like, you know. I actually do want to go back and help the country a little bit, just because we're, like, a Third World country, and you know, we could use all the help that we can get. Hopefully I become rich so I can donate money. The government is also very corrupt. They don't give a shit about anything. Like, we have horrible roads in the country. They don't give a fuck. Yeah, so I want to go back and help and stuff like that—live here, then help them, you know, the whole thing.
Yeah, because there's not a lot of us here, first of all, and even if we are here, I feel like a lot of people don't go to higher institutions. So yeah, it's different.
I: So in terms of being at Yale, what do you hope to get out of your four years here?
N: Hmm. What I want is, I don't know. You know what I want? I want deep friendships and good connections with people. They say that in college, you meet the people that you're going to be best friends with for the rest of your life, which is really nice to think about. I want that. I want to really grow here. And, like, you know the cliché thing people say, meet lots of different people, try lots of different things? I guess kind of like that. Yeah, I just want to be a changed person, like, grow for the better and meet people. Yeah, and obviously try to get into med school blah blah blah, but that's like, the obvious.
I: Based off your first semester, do you think you've changed a lot?
N: I don't think I've changed that much, but I definitely recognize some of the changes in the people have been around. I think I've become more honest. My suitemates are very honest, which is really nice. It's very genuine, I would say.
I: Did you think it wasn't like that in high school?
N: I don't know, man. They're like, everyone's really shady there. In terms of, like, competitiveness, yeah. It was like, no one would share their report card grades. I don't know, like, you had to guess who broke the curve. I don't know, people made assumptions and stuff, yeah. It's very bad.
I: Do you feel that competitiveness here at Yale?
N: I don't think so, because there's so many people. Because there it was different. There, it was like, like, I know I was up there. So, like, I had to be aware of other people and it was only, like, 200 people, too. So like, it was a small community, and then you had to be at the top, and then I don't know, a lot of people did the same thing. Yeah, and then here it's different because there's a lot more people and the classes are different. And I don't know, I don't feel as… much. It's still stressful, but in a different way, I would say. Yes, stressful.
I: In what way, then?
N: I don't know. Oh my gosh, asking the real questions. What counts as stressful? I don't know, maybe… a lot more self-responsibility, maybe. Got to take care of everything on your own, whereas in high school there was always a reminder. People there, teachers, always trying to help you out. Professors help you out here, too, but it's different. You really gotta look out for yourself. Yeah.
I: Have you gotten homesick?
N: Nah, I go home too often to be homesick. I'm homesick for the food, as you know. I really miss home food.
I: What's your favorite… like, if you could have three dishes from home, what would you want?
N: Three dishes? Well, the thing is like our main dish is, like, rice and then vegetables and meat. Probably that. It's a basic, you know, what you eat every day. Or, like, they switch it around by adding different vegetables, but that's what we eat every day. Yeah that. Momos… I love momos. And maybe paratha. I love paratha.
I: What's that?
N: It's, like, bread filled with potatoes.
N: It's really good.
I: Say you read this interview four years down the line. You're a senior. What do you want to ask yourself as a senior? And what do you hope you as a senior will know?
N: What do I want to ask myself? That's a really hard question, Isabella. Um. I just hope that… I do something, anything, that I want to do. I just want to be happy in my career. I don't want to feel forced. I just want to find something that I love, and then I hope I'll have a sense of, like, relief when I'm a senior, because I'll have something. I always hear that people feel as if they haven't done enough in their time at Yale. Like [my FroCo, Freshman Counselor] Casey was telling me that it goes by so fast and you always feel like, have I done it? Have I completed what I wanted to? Yeah.
I: And what advice would you give to little Niyati?
N: I would literally just later to keep going… keep on doing it little fish. Keep swimming, I would tell her. Don't get too mad at your parents, because they can't understand everything. Keep up your familial connections, because you know, those are important.
I would literally tell her right now that you should have learned Nepali and kept it up when you were, like, eight, please, so you don't have that weird-ass accent. That thing, the fact that I lowkey have an accent, it really sucks. It really does. I hate it. One thing is in psychology, there's this thing where the persona and the personality that you give out can be attributed to things like your actual persona and the environment you're in. So, let's say I go to a party and I see you and you're really quiet and I think, oh, you're a shy person. But in reality, you're not shy person. It's because of the unfamiliar environment and that it's weird for you, right? So yeah. So the thing is a lot of people, Nepali people, when I first meet them will think I'm really shy. And they'll be like, “Oh my god you're so baladhmi,” which means, like, obedient and nice and shy. But in reality, I'm just thinking, like, oh, I just don't want to expose myself. So yeah, I'm really not like that. Like a lot of people think I'm like that, but I really am not. I love to talk. And I just think, like, if I could speak Nepali better, I would talk so much to them. So yeah, that kind of sucks. And then people will just, like, say stuff in front of you. They'll be like, “Oh my god,” like, “She has an accent,” or something. And that sucks so much, like, that's so annoying. Keep it to yourself.
I have these little moments I remember clearly, too, because it sticks with you. No matter how old you get, you know, you remember. Like the first time I met my sister-in-law of my other cousin. She's like, "Oh my god," like, "Oh, you really can't speak Nepali that well, can you?" It was years ago, and I was like, "Okay, then. Never mind. Let me just take it all back then." Because I was talking to her pretty well, because she seemed friendly and nice. It sucks also because one of my cousins, she went back to Nepal for a year when she was growing up, so her Nepali's amazing. When you're in puberty, that's, like, the optimal time to learn a language, obviously. So that was when she went, and so she can speak Nepali so perfectly. Like, she gets little nuances. I don't understand how she gets everything so well, and I think it's because of that, right? Um, so yeah, I always get compared to her, you know, like, I can't speak it and my mom was like, "She speaks so nicely, why can't you speak like that?" But, like, at this point, I can't do anything about it, mom. Sorry. You're stuck with me.
Yeah, that's one of my biggest regrets actually, because even if I have everything, I just want to be able to speak my language perfectly. That's what I want. Oh my god, like, I should have taken classes, but it’s not like there's many classes available. There's not, like, classes I can take here. I was really considering going to Cornell, because they have Nepali classes there. I was like, should I go just for the classes? But then I decided to come here. So yeah.
I remember I used to speak Nepali when I was younger with my parents. It's because, like, I didn't know any English. So like, when I was trying to assimilate here, my dad spoke in English to me a lot of the time so I could get it, even at home. And you know how mostly people speak English at school and your language at home? But since it was English at both, yeah, I kind of lost some of that. Yeah, I had to learn it. So my dad spoke English a lot and at some point, he kept speaking English with us. And then my mom was like, "Don't speak English with them," like, "They're gonna forget." He speaks Nepali now. I mean my parents both speak Nepali now, because I really kind of relearned it myself. It's just that I know it, I just wish I didn't have an accent. That's all I want.
I just want to formulate it correctly, you know, like you're alone and you just try to say it right and you can't. It's too late. It's so hard, I don't know. Especially when I'm nervous, when I get really nervous around other Nepali people who I know are gonna judge me, I really mess up. It sounds like, it's like, hard American accent. My sister's actually a lot worse than me though. I don't think she can say, like, a sentence. That's the thing.
I: She doesn't speak to your mom in Nepali?
N: Yeah. Except, like, certain phrases. She'll say little stuff, like “ouch” or “hey” or whatever, but I don't think she can even, like, formulate a sentence. I really don't. It's fine. I mean, she's younger than me. She came here when she was two, so it's really hard. And then she has a really strong accent, too. So when we go to Nepal, yeah, she really can't speak Nepali, which sucks. At least I can, like, formulate stuff. Like, I know sentences, I know how to say stuff, but I just have an accent.
Sometimes languages have those little things. Like, sometimes my uncles will tell jokes in Nepali and they'll ask me, "Do you understand?" It gets me so tight, like, yes, I get it. And even if I don't get it, now I have to act like I got it, because I feel like I'm never… I'm not gonna say no. One time this guy—well, my cousin's actual cousin—we were in a car and he told this joke and I laughed. But I didn't hear it, I just laughed. Sometimes I do that. And he was like, "Did you even get it?" And so I was caught in that situation because I didn't hear it. I was like, "No." And then he was like, "Haha." He's so annoying. I do not like him. So yeah, so that was awkward. And it sucked, too. What are you going to do? You can't do anything.
I: What a happy note to end the interview on.
N: What a happy at note.
I: That's what you would tell a little Niyati?
N: Oh, yeah. Ugh. Even if I get everything—even if I get what I want, go to a good university, get rich—I just want to be able to speak my language. I feel like if that was solved, a lot of the problems I have would be solved. I really, really believe that. Because sometimes, especially when I was younger, I couldn't say everything to my mom, because she didn't understand English that well. My dad understands English really, really well. My mom does not, like, I have to say it slowly and speak… like, I can't say complicated stuff to her. Let me think of a sentence. Like, "She betrayed me because she was like a bitch," you know, I can't say that. She won't understand it. I've had to be like, "My friend was mean to me. She said she would do this but she didn't do that," like, you know, so yeah. And then because of that, I couldn't tell her what I was feeling in my emotions, and so I would bottle it up when I got angry. I want to speak in English because I can get my thoughts out properly. So yeah, I couldn't tell her everything, and so I feel like that was really bad. Because then, when you're not able to talk, come on, when you're not able to communicate with your parents, that sucks. Also, that's one of the main reasons I wanted to learn Nepali again, and I can talk to her now because I can speak it, because I did not want it to be like that.
So then my sister speaks really fast. And I told her, like, "I don't think my mom can understand you," because either she doesn't answer or she just says, like, “Yeah.” Oh my god, my sister is so annoying sometimes. Like, she really is.
I: When did you relearn Nepali?
N: It was just a long process, but probably in high school.
I: Like, online?
N: No, I just… when you force yourself to talk it more. Just, like, when I think something, like, think it in Nepali, and then I would say it to myself, and then yeah. I don't know what it was. Maybe it's because my dad started speaking Nepali to us again, and so I got it better. Before I had a really hard time with tenses. It's really hard to figure out. Because I'm not used to speaking to like… Like, I'm really used to speaking to elders and younger. I'm not used to speaking the middle one, which is, like, a friend. I couldn't get the ending—you have to adjust the ending. Like, I'll say a sentence like… So for an elder, "What are you doing?" would be like, "Thapai ke gardai hoicincha." To a friend, it would be like, "Timi ke gardai chue.” It was really hard to get the ending for me. It was really tough. And sometimes I would use informal endings to older people, and then I realized that after I said it, but I couldn't take it back. Everyone else realized it, obviously, because it's an immediate thing for them.
I: That's really hard. That's crazy that there's three tenses.
N: Yeah, it really sucks. Usually if I have trouble, I'll adjust it so it's easier to say, you know. Yeah, but then it's kind of weird because people don't really speak like that.