By Emmanuel Freeman
NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) — Going away to college and leaving home for the first time can raise students’ anxiety. And when home is thousands of miles away—sometimes on the other side of the world—the challenges of transitioning into a new culture and university life can be daunting.
Just ask Abhilasha “Abhi” Vishwanath, who at 18 years of age, left her home in Bangalore, southeastern India – about 9,000 miles away – to attend Tennessee State University.
“I was scared and excited at the same time,” says Vishwanath, a senior psychology major. “Going so far away to a new country and knowing that I was going to be on my own, was a little scary but I was excited about the adventure.”
Vishwanath was not disappointed when she arrived at TSU, she says. She immediately felt welcomed, as many faculty, staff and fellow students jumped in to make her comfortable.
“The atmosphere was so appealing it was immediately like a family,” she says. “Tennessee State has been a home away from home. It was difficult at first, but the people at TSU, and especially from the international department, the psychology department, friends I made as soon as I got here were very welcoming.”
Vishwanath also had a lot going for her that helped make her transition faster and smoother. She came to TSU on a tennis scholarship to play for the Tigers. She started playing tennis from age 8, and gained national notoriety in junior and women’s tennis in her country. She played on the national level and in few international tournaments. Vishwanath was once ranked in the Top 40s in India.
“That helped me to build a recruitment video to apply to U.S. colleges,” Vishwanath says. “I sent the video to coaches in the U.S. and one to TSU. The TSU tennis coach was interested in me. He got back with me. We talked about scholarships and what I was going to play here. I found that there was also a psychology program. So, it worked out well. So I signed.”
Since coming to TSU, Vishwanath has become an all-around standout in academics and athletics. A star player for the Tigers, Vishwanath is also one of TSU’s most outstanding students. She has a 4.0 grade point average, has been on the President’s List of high achieving students every semester she has been at TSU, she is a member of the Honors College, and has a research project that has gained national attention.
At the last Honors Convocation, Vishwanath received the McDonald Williams Senior Scholarship Award, given to a rising senior with the highest academic average.
“Abhi is just an outstanding young lady, in her academics and in her personal relationship with all other students,” says Dr. Coreen Jackson, interim dean of the Honors College. “She has truly served TSU in a magnificent way. She has represented the Honors College at conferences, where she has presented her research, and is always willing to tutor and to be of assistance to other students.”
Currently, Vishwanath is an intern in the Infant Learning Lab of the psychology department at Vanderbilt University, where her talent was noticed a year ago during a visit with Jackson and some members of the Honors College.
“She was immediately recruited and asked to come back, and a year later, she is at Vanderbilt participating in a major research project,” says Jackson.
While giving credit to her professors and the Honors College for the care and mentoring, Vishwanath has not forgotten what brought her to TSU.
“Tennis has helped a lot,” she says. “I don’t think I would have been able to afford college in the U.S. if not for the scholarship I was awarded. Tennis also keeps me focused. I think tennis is an intellectual sport. It keeps me on my toes. It keeps me thinking and occupied, so I don’t have to manage time. I think it is a good skill to hold. My coaches and teammates have been phenomenal.”
Monroe Walker III is the head coach of the TSU tennis team who recruited Vishwanath. He described her as “probably the hardest worker on the tennis court.”
“She always keeps a level head, never is down on herself, and competes harder than anybody that I have had at TSU,” says Walker. “You never have to worry about her giving up or quitting because she gives her all every time she is on the court.”
Vishwanath, who graduates TSU in May 2019, plans to earn a Ph.D. in psychology.