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“Corporate life did not appeal to me,” says Varsha Kothari MPA ’17 (Master in Public Administration) describing her short stint working for a big corporation in India after graduating with a master’s degree in business administration. “I have always wanted to do something that is of service to other people.” Quitting her job was a difficult decision, as she had invested both time and money in her degree, but she was convinced her talents would be of better use in the non-profit world.

As she explains it, a young woman from her background has a limited window to make a career for herself because it is not customary for women in her caste and religion to work outside of the home after marriage. She took the first job she was offered in the development sector, an administrative position. Her hard work and enthusiasm soon caught the attention of her superiors and she was promoted to the position of program manager. “That was a most wonderful moment for me,” says Varsha, flashing a large smile. Her work involved economic development and education projects benefitting women and girls in smaller villages in the state of Rajasthan.

For the past two years Varsha has worked closely with Institute alumna Emily Patrick MPA ‘12. “Emily is an amazing person,” says Varsha, “and she told me I could do a lot more with the right education and training.” Emily raved about the experience she had at the Middlebury Institute, encouraged Varsha to apply, and then kept on encouraging her until the application was submitted. “I thought this was an impossible dream,” admits Varsha, describing three daunting obstacles: her own doubts about whether she would be accepted, her fear that her parents would never allow her to go, and the lack of resources to cover the cost of two years of graduate school.

“When I realized I had not only gotten accepted, but had secured a full scholarship, I could not believe it,” Varsha says, adding that she had not told her parents about her application, as she thought nothing would come of it. She knew that they were thinking that it was high time to find her a good match in marriage and was afraid of their reaction. “I was stressed about how to tell my parents the news!” Her father surprised her by not only not being angry, but telling her that he was very proud of her and her accomplishments. “Both he and my mother have been very supportive.”

Moving to California was a big step for Varsha, as she is the first person in her family to leave India. “But I was met at the airport in San Francisco by another former colleague and MIIS alum, Benjamin Couch (MBA ’12), who offered me a place to stay and drove me down to Monterey.” Varsha knows the next two years will be challenging in many ways, but she feels supported and ready to take that on. “I want to give a message to the girls in my country that a step forward always leads you to take the next step. Find your own path and be yourself with respect and dignity and do not wait for your husbands or relatives to make decisions for you.”

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Jason Warburg

Eva Gudbergsdottir