By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The first thing she noticed was the weather.
“You can be prepared, in theory, but when you actually come here, that’s when the real test begins.”
Jashna Samuel definitely wasn’t ready for the frigid temperatures that greeted her when she arrived at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in January 2021.
“Even Nebraskans were like, ‘That’s the worst weather we’ve had in a long time,’” she recalls. “The weather was definitely something I had to get adjusted to. And the food. Oh my gosh, I miss my Indian food. There isn’t an Indian restaurant in Kearney. Spicy food is what I miss.”
Other than that, the 22-year-old feels right at home in central Nebraska.
“It’s been great. I love the people here,” she said. “They’re kind, but they’re also very direct.”
“They tell it like it is, you know? That’s good,” she added with a laugh.
Samuel is from Belagavi, a city similar in size to Omaha that’s located near the coastal region in southwest India. She graduated from high school there and studied music theory for one year, then decided during the COVID-19 shutdown that she wanted to continue her education in the U.S.
“From the time I was young, I had a desire to attend college in another country just to experience life there and get that exposure,” she said.
Her mother Serene made UNK the obvious choice. She came to the U.S. first to complete a theology program on the East Coast. After seminary, she was appointed to the United Methodist Church in Burwell, a small town about 80 miles north of Kearney.
“That’s how I landed here,” said Samuel, who wanted to be close to her mother. “This is just how God worked it out.”
With her father and older sister back home in India, the sophomore is happy to have another support system at UNK.
“The community at UNK is what I really love,” she said. “Faculty, staff, students, all of them, from the time I came they’ve been very helpful, especially my professors. That’s something I’ve experienced that is new, because in India it’s different. You can have a better relationship with your professors here, ask them any questions, and they are willing to help you. That’s something that has stood out to me.”
A dean’s list student, Samuel is studying biology with a health science emphasis. “No matter where you are in the world, there’s a need for health care workers,” she notes.
She’s active outside the classroom through her involvement with organizations such as the International Student Association, Christian Student Fellowship, Loper Programming and Activities Council and United Campus Ministry.
“There are so many opportunities for students to be involved on campus,” Samuel said. “There are so many different organizations, and we have so many events that take place. There are always opportunities to make new friends and talk to new people.”
As the current International Student Association president, Samuel helped organize last weekend’s Scott D. Morris International Food and Cultural Festival, an annual event that brings campus and community members together to celebrate diversity and learn about cultures and traditions from around the world. She also performed during the event.
“The International Student Association is a place where you can be yourself, you can represent your country, you can represent your culture, and no one will judge you,” she said. “I feel that way pretty much everywhere on campus. It’s like a safe haven for international students who are away from home.”
By hosting events such as the food festival each fall and International Tea Party in the spring, Samuel hopes to “build a bridge” between international and domestic students, as well as encourage interaction among the international population.
“I understand, it can be intimidating for both parties. Like OK, how do I approach this person? They’re different from me. They have a different culture. I’m from a different country. And sometimes language can also be a barrier,” she said. “We tend to get into the groups where we feel like we belong and there’s a sense of comfort. But you also need to try to get out of your bubble, meet new people and make those connections.”
In addition to the campus organizations she’s part of, Samuel works in the Office of International Education, Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center and Nebraskan Student Union, where she’s also a regular in the noon music lineup. Samuel plays the piano, guitar and drums, and she’s fluent in three languages – English, Hindi and Kannada.
Once you get used to the cold weather and Midwest cuisine, “there are so many advantages to studying abroad,” she says.
“When you study abroad, you meet people you would have never met otherwise. And it’s interesting to learn about them. It is great to experience life outside your home country. You grow as a person when you do that.”