Achievements

‘To apply at institutions like Oxford, one’s CV must be internationally decorated

Apeejay Kharghar alumna Amrita Shenoy, winner of the Charles Wallace scholarship and a Professor at St Xavier’s Mumbai, decodes the global scholarship code

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Please tell us about your school life experiences? What are some of your special memories of Apeejay Kharghar?

I found my best friends Supriya Kubde and Aruna Mullick at Apeejay. We sat together in the lunch break, every day, unwaveringly for 5 years—hands down my best memory ever! We’re inseparable to this day. Other special memories include becoming student editor of the school magazine, representing the school in inter-school writing and drawing competitions and then, being a fierce contender for inter-house competitions, all for the love of Topaz house.

Who were your favourite authors growing up?

My tryst with literature began in the school library. The first unabridged book I remember enjoying was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I also recall being moved to tears at Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in eighth grade. Then there was the Harry Potter series, or the odd Goosebump novella by RL Stine. Also, I delighted in the poetry of D.H. Lawrence and Lord Alfred Tennyson, which we learnt in Judith Ma’am’s class. I will never forget Lawrence’s ‘Snake’, which Ma’am taught so wonderfully!

What inspired you to choose English as a discipline in college?

In school, I often felt stressed in the Maths and Science classes. Unlike me, everyone else used to grasp the concepts very quickly. Moreover, I had always been inclined towards languages, story-telling, speaking contests and creative writing. So, at 14, I had a conversation with my parents about my passion for literature and the social sciences and decided to pursue Arts after class 10. This eventually led me to choose English literature at college.

How has your professional experience been as a literature teacher?

It feels a bit strange. Just a couple of months ago I was a student pursuing my second Master’s degree with some classmates as young as 21. I now teach 20-year-olds! Although delightful and enriching, Literature can be very intense. In my view, to be a good teacher, one has to be a good student again. I am re-reading the novels on the reading list, doing my research and trying to give the best possible knowledge I can to the students. I feel that in teaching, one only gets better with age and time. Also, since things are digital now, I hope for a more natural classroom experience when the pandemic subsides, as it will give me a better chance to engage with the students.

Please give some tips to students on how to get a scholarship for studies abroad?

To begin with, let your inner voice guide you. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes until you find what best interests you– it gets easier from here. Step 2 is being proactive, doing your research. I reasoned that while applying to institutions like Oxford, one’s CV benefits immensely from international achievements. So, I started early. In my college days, apart from maintaining consistently high grades, I regularly checked the notice board for such chances. Similarly, I would follow students at world-renowned institutes on platforms such as LinkedIn and would try to mirror some of their achievements. It is during my first year of master’s studies at Mumbai University that I came across the ‘Scottish Universities’ International Summer School’, for which I received the Charles Wallace India Trust Scholarship. When it came to all my applications abroad, be it to the Summer School or Oxford, I kept my applications clear, lucid and honest. The narratives focused on my authentic experiences, sans any exaggeration. Hence, my advice to young students would be to be proactive, disciplined and sincere.

What are the differences you noted between the education systems of United Kingdom and India?

I have noticed that the student-teacher relationship is more egalitarian in the UK. Also, fascinatingly, a question is not asked, but rather posed for discussion in a classroom. The question itself is more important than finding a solution, and the understanding gathered through discussion is the student’s key takeaway. The emphasis therefore isn’t on solely acquiring knowledge, but also on gaining perspective through interaction.  

Please give some tips for those who want to take up a career as an educator?

It’s just been 3 weeks since I began teaching at Xavier’s! Yet, from my experience as a student, what I hope to be as a teacher is a humble, inclusive and sympathetic facilitator for my students. I urge anyone who aspires to be in this profession to never walk into a classroom assuming superiority or to think that they can assess a student’s mind by their appearance or speaking skills–both markers of caste and class backgrounds. It is surprising how exceedingly common this is in India, and it can be a very demoralising experience for a student. Also, teachers must discuss life alongside their doctrine. We must make students see life differently and apply their knowledge to solve problems in the world.

Could you tell us some of the teachers you remember from school and how they shaped your

worldview?

Shalini Ghosavi, my class teacher in class 4 nurtured and adored me; she ensured that I participated in extra-curricular activities. In class 6 I had Nivedita Mitra Ma’am as my class teacher. She taught us honesty and civil behaviour as students, and had a very liberal, ethically-focused approach to education. She would leave the class sometimes during invigilation duty in exams—she had complete faith we would not cheat. I also remember my class 10 class teacher, Usha Ma’am.  She was very kind and sensitive, never underestimated my potential and made me work harder whenever I got complacent. Shalini Garg Ma’am, the coordinator in my time was the most polite, eloquent and fashionable teacher, someone whose kindness and grace I still try to emulate. I also loved Judith John Ma’am, our English teacher, whose classes were my favourite, and whose training improved my writing and speaking. Then there was Sunita Mohan Ma’am whose iconic line “This, you will learn in higher classes” has stayed with me—proof of how she gave us only the best, most advanced information.  I also would like to mention the fantastic Bina Shukla Ma’am, who handpicked and trained me to anchor in the annual day function when I was 15, an experience that left me with so much confidence! Sadly, there are so many names I’m missing here. But I love and miss all my dear schoolteachers, to whom I am eternally grateful for the invaluable love and labour they put in making me and several others like myself.

What are the challenges and rewards of being an educator?

India is a nation with a fragmented and unequal education system. A teacher in a higher education institution here must bring students from very different backgrounds at the same place, tailoring content and language to suit everyone’s needs. This is a challenging task. I remember a dialogue from Rishi Kapoor’s movie Do Dooni Char: “Hum banate hain laddoo, imartee, Aap banaate ho log”. I quite believe in this notion that teachers make people, and it is therefore a profession that requires so much care and relentless day-to-day effort. To come to the joy and rewards of teaching, students are an endearing lot and it is immensely heartening to see them imbibe your language, compliment your style or laugh at your jokes—really improves one’s sense of self-worth!

“When it came to all my applications abroad, whether to the Summer School or Oxford, I kept my applications clear, lucid and honest. The narratives focused on my authentic experiences, sans any exaggeration. Hence, my advice to young students would be to be proactive, disciplined and sincere.”

 -Amrita Shenoy, Assistant Professor, English Literature, St Xavier’s College, Mumbai

Arijit Roy is a trainee correspondent at Apeejay newsroom. He has done his masters in English literature from Delhi University and has a book of poems published by Writers Workshop India. He can be reached at [email protected]

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