After my family was forced to flee Bhutan, they moved into a small refugee camp in eastern Nepal. A year later in October 1992, I was born as the sixth child into the family. I was named Shiva Sapkota. To fully understand how difficult life is in a refugee camp, you would have to live there. It was a very tough life for me and my family. Living in a hut made of bamboo and plastic is very miserable. It is hard when you have to go to school in your bare feet, and you have only a couple pair of stitched clothes to wear for many years. It is very depressing to experience water leaking through your roof on every rainy day. It is ever more and more discouraging when you live off of a couple kilograms of rice that the UNHCR provides you. In other words, living in a refugee camp is extremely difficult. I lived that life for 16 years. During that time, I did not have access to any technology and lacked any real world experience outside of the refugee camp.
There appeared a sign of hope in my life when the International Organization for Migration (IOM) started the process of resettling the Bhutanese refugees to various countries, including the United States. At a very early point in the process, when barely any people had applied, I became interested in resettlement. It was very hard for me to convince my parents to consider this, because they still thought that they could return one day to Bhutan. They still thought (and think until this day) that their house is still as it was in Bhutan, and that all their farm animals are right there where they left them. However, after several days of deliberation, they agreed to the idea of resettlement. They started the process, went through all the necessary medical examinations, and prepared for the date of departure. They could not imagine what their lives would be like in the United States. The most challenging part was the language. None of them could speak English that was intelligible. Anyway, they flew to the United States into an unknown future.
On their way to the U.S., they saw and experienced many things that were completely new to them. They marveled at simple things like an escalator (“wow, you can go up the ramp without walking?”). They arrived in their apartment prepared for them by the sponsor agency in Aurora Colorado. The apartment looked like an office to them which filled them with questions like “Can you get hot and cold water at the same time?” “How do we turn on that oven?” “Wait, you can cook rice with by just plugging in the pot?” So many unknowns for them, but the days to come were even more challenging. They did not know how to get to the grocery store. They did not know how to use the public transportation. And on top of all of that, no one could understand their language. What if they get lost? The beginning was just very, very difficult.
In spite of all the challenges and difficulties in his life here in the United States, Shiva was admitted to Aurora Central High School. He was excited to go to the school, but he did not even consider how hard his life was going to be there. In Nepal, right before a student enters a classroom; he or she is supposed to ask permission from the teacher. On my first day of school, I stood outside of my English class, dressed very differently than the rest, and asked the teacher very quickly and with a thick accent, “May I come in, sir?” Obviously, that is not something any student does here! The teacher gave me a confused look and said, “suuuurrree.” However, the students in the class could not cracking up. I experienced the same thing in pretty much all of my classes that first day. However, I also met some teachers that understood my situation and were willing to help me to learn English. I went home very discouraged and did not feel like I would go back to school ever again.
But I thought about my future and why I had come to the United States. I then made a determination: no matter what happens, I will strive for academic success! Day after day, I learned more and more English. I met some amazing teachers that helped me to become successful at “inculturating” into the American way of living and thinking. I would go around to a crowd of people and say, “Hi guys what’s up? My name is Shiva.” I received very weird and crazy looks, but I never gave up. I went to talk with my teachers every day after school. I went to school very early in the morning so that I could spend some time in the library learning how to use the computers. I started to become ever more acquainted and comfortable with the American culture. Yet I still had a long way to go to be comfortable in my school. There were still a lot of hurdles to overcome.
After being encouraged to do so by one of my teachers, I joined the Mock Trial program offered at Aurora Central. I was scared to death but I still made the decision to participate in it. Mock Trial is a program where students get a fictional court case each year. They break down the case and they present the case in front of real judges during a competition. Among a small group of students, some have to portray a lawyer and others witnesses (like in a real court case). At first I was very hesitant. How could I succeed at this? I barely know any English, I have a very thick accent, and I have never seen an American court before, etc. But I knew that I would have to get out of my comfort zone to be successful. Time kept moving on as usual. I worked so hard each day to memorize my statement and practice being in the court. I had no clue as to what the competition was going to look like. In fact, I was very, very scared! In the first practice we had, I was able to impress my coach so much that he gave him another part in the case. Oh, my god! I was scared of having one part in the case, and now I was being asked to take on two parts? However, one thing was becoming clear: I was doing very well. That is why my coach gave me another part to portray. The day of the competition came. I went in to the competition not knowing what to expect. Believe it or not, I was very pleasantly surprised by all the good feedback that I received. What was even more surreal to me was the result of the competition. I ranked as one of the top 7 students from all of Arapahoe County! My team defeated a lot of other teams and now had the opportunity to compete at the state level. I did my best in the state competition and received the award of being the Most Outstanding Witness, an award only 10 students can receive from the entire state of Colorado!
Motivated by my performance and by teacher, I decided to join the Speech team. Yes, people crack up every time they hear that I joined Speech because it seemed so ironic to see someone who does not speak English all that well now on the Speech team. But I forged on anyway. I did my best to keep improving my command of English and I started competing in Speech. Because of my hard work, motivation, drive, and a lot of support from my teachers, I was soon winning very prestigious awards in Speech. I received awards such as Most Outstanding Public Forum Debater, Most Outstanding Congress, National Forensic League (NFL), Most Outstanding Speaker, Superior Speaker, etc. I even became a finalist for the NFL Congress, an honor very few attain in the entire country! I am very thankful for all my supporters, especially the teacher of my life, Ms. Monique Taylor.
I continued the same pattern of joining various programs. I started getting involved in my local community a lot as well. I learned how to fix computers and then started volunteering in the refugee community by fixing computers. Since I had now learned English fairly well, I did a lot of translating in and for my Bhutanese community. I filed Green card forms for them, helped them file their taxes, drove them to the hospital and interpreted for them. I tutored them and prepared them for the Airport Badge test, translated for them when they took the written permit test at DMV, helped them to apply for government benefits, and just became an advocate for the Bhutanese Refugee community in and around Aurora. I helped several families from Nepal to gain asylum through the University of Denver Asylum Clinic. Volunteering on the behalf of those in need around me became my passion. I could not say no even if I received a call at 3 a.m. on a very snowy night from someone saying “I missed the bus, would you take me to my job?” I do a lot just to help others and to see them smile. This is for me a very fulfilling goal in my life.
During my high school years, I joined 8 different clubs offered at Aurora Central. I became a member of the National Honor Society, the Ambassadors Club, Project Citizen and much more. I became involved with Metro Organization of People (MOP), Colorado ASSET and other community organizations. I testified on behalf of bills in front of the Colorado House of Representatives, and I volunteered for the Denver Mayoral Debate. I won a lot of department awards from Aurora Central, such as Science, Language Arts, Business etc. I earned more than 26 college credits by the time I graduated high school, and I completed more than 500 hours of community service.
My eyes and the eyes of my family, my teachers, and my friends all teared up when I was announced as the Most Outstanding Senior of the Class of 2012. I ranked 3rd out of 621 seniors from Aurora Central. I applied to over 60 scholarships, and won over 40 of them. I myself could not believe that I won the most prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship, the Daniels Fund Scholarship, and the Greenhouse Scholarship. An unrelenting drive to excel and to succeed is what kept me going through thick and thin. I attribute my success to my teachers, my elders, and all of my supporters who believed in me. I am so very grateful for those who looked over my scholarship essays, gave me helpful and constructive feedback.
My name is Shiva Sapkota. This is my story. It is not my intention to bore you by writing about my accomplishments. I am just trying to let others still struggling in the world and at school know that despite one’s background, you can still achieve almost anything you set your mind to. I am currently attending the University of Colorado at Boulder, majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in Computer Science. My goal is to go back to Nepal someday and help people over there with various technologies. Having lived the life of “hell” for 16 years of my childhood and youth, I now understand the need for technology and education in that country. For right now, I am just trying to help other students to be successful. I want everyone to strive for academic excellence. I think anything is possible with enough drive, determination and hard work. I want to arouse this awareness especially among the refugee students, and help them to connect the dots, the dots of drive, determination and hard work which spell “success.”
If you are a student reading my story, please do not hesitate to contact me. I love helping people, and I want every student to win scholarships. Trust me, it feels very good when YOU get paid to go to college! Scholarships are indeed very rewarding because they provide so may unexpected and wonderful opportunities, like the opportunity to meet Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. I am not an expert in scholarships and college resources, but I now have gained a lot of experience about them. Please contact me if you need help applying to colleges or for scholarships, or just anything in general. Thanks for your time, I wish you the very best.