Divija Sharma, University of Iowa psychology major, spent the first year of her academic experience in India due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She made the most of her remote learning experience and is thrilled to be on campus this year, involved with student organizations, research, and learning about American football. Learn more below.
Divija Sharma on the University of Iowa campus
You completed high school at the Rajmata Krishna Kumari Girls’ Public School in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. What prompted you to pursue your undergraduate studies at the University of Iowa?
I had applied here after I had fallen in love with the psychological and brain sciences courses and research facilities. With around 30 labs gloriously contributing to the fields of psychology and neuroscience, the department is certainly stellar. However, what sealed the deal was the University of Iowa’s hospitality towards me as an international student when the pandemic was gaining momentum and the world’s fears were at a peak. On receiving a generous scholarship and with my admissions officer and academic advisor gently and constantly guiding me, I felt heard and welcomed when the world was shutting me out.
Divija Sharma wearing traditional Rajasthani attire called Rajputi Paushaak
You completed your first year at the University of Iowa remotely due to COVID. How was your experience?
I had classes from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. for the entirety of my first year. Being the typical night owl teenager I was, I enjoyed staying up and sleeping in every day. The chat option of the zoom format led to me putting myself out there easily, and I learnt appreciating stuff in people’s background is all it takes to find a friendship.
I lived in the foothills of the Himalayas, so outside of classes, I enjoyed the mountains abundantly with my family. Being with them also helped me harvest the valuable skill of cooking. There would be days where I would be laughing at my dad’s deflated breads, and others where the hospitalization of a relative would stifle me. Overall, it was an adventure of a year that gave me plenty of experiences to cherish and/or learn from.
You are currently a research assistant in the Developmental Psychopathology Lab. What do you do in this role? Has it been a good experience?
Yes, I am an undergraduate research assistant in the Developmental Psychopathology Lab. Under the supervision of Dr. Petersen, the lab aims to understand how children develop behaviour problems as well as positive adjustment and how that affects their school readiness. I code externalizing behaviour from self-regulatory and cognitive tasks and collect and manage data from child lab visits for longitudinal analysis. I am on track to become an EEG specialist, so I am thoroughly appreciating it so far. Big picture wise, I think I have found my habitat.
Divija Sharma at the IMU during an ISAB event
You currently serve as the undergraduate board secretary of International Student Advisory Board (ISAB). Can you tell us about this role?
As ISAB’s undergraduate secretary, I voice international student concerns and needs in order to improve the international student experience on-campus and lead the selection and recruitment of new members to create a more inclusive campus environment for international students. Moreover, I am very fond of having close relationships with all the members and facilitating communication between them. I am exposed to such a beautiful assortment of ideas and knowledge from all over world, it makes me feel at home as I live by the Sanskrit phrase ‘वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्’ (translation: ‘the world is one family’).
You also serve as a UI Honors Program Fellow. Can you tell us about this role?
Yes, I applied for Honors scholarships and got selected to be a UIHP Fellow. In this role, I have a weekly discussion class with a group of immensely intelligent and insightful peers to embrace the spirit of service learning. We share the motivation to better our community through the insights we gain from our field of education. For this, we are involved in different kinds of volunteer work (medical, education-based, etc.). A chunk of my inspiration to join UNICEF (Iowa Chapter) was due to this class. I hope I stir some change and substantial action to improve our society. Stay tuned for fundraising events!
Are you enjoying your time in Iowa City?
Yes, absolutely, definitely! I have learnt the mechanics of American football, ice skating and driving a motorboat. I not been here very long so I still have much to explore, and that just thrills me.
Even though I am attached to Macbride Hall because it gives me shelter and natural history exhibits to enjoy in the cold while I wait for the bus, my favourite spot is the backyard of the Pride Alliance Centre. It is utterly underrated so I have its serene silence all to myself. I love climbing the trees there and feeling the breeze on my face. Sometimes I decide not to be a wild animal and sit properly on the bench, basking in the sunlight peeping through the tree canopies.
Do you have any advice for prospective international students considering the University of Iowa?
Sure, I’ll try haha. Please engage in proper research before coming here, the academics on the university web pages are not all to look at. Being an adult includes dealing with boring stuff like finding a part-time job, getting insurance, and signing leases. For international students, all of this can be extremely puzzling and intimidating. Just take a deep breath, and reach out (to ISSS, ISAB, or any experienced international you are comfortable with) if you need help.
Also, initiate and/or reciprocate warmth even where there’s differences and remember what Jane Elliot said, “We don't need a melting pot in this country, folks. We need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, you put in the different things. You want the vegetables - the lettuce, the cucumbers, the onions, the green peppers - to maintain their identity. You appreciate differences.”