One man’s inspirational journey from refugee to valedictorian to MIT.

Abishkar Chhetri was born and raised in a refugee camp in Eastern Nepal, where living conditions were less than ideal.

An inside look at one of the many refugee camps in Nepal. Image via Jesuit Refuge Service/YouTube.


His family lived in a bamboo house, food and water were scarce, and he had to trek three miles just to get to school, which then presented its own set of challenges. The floors were dusty, there wasn’t any proper furniture, and all the kids had to sit on the floor squished together.

But despite all that, Abishkar’s desire to learn never wavered.

His parents decided to move to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, so that they could provide Abishkar and his sister, Amisha, with a better life and education.

In ancient times, Kathmandu was in the middle of the trade route connecting India and Tibet, giving birth to a fusion of art and culture. Image via Sharada Prasad/Flickr.

At 7 years old, Abishkar was clearly thriving. He described the experience to MIT News as "a new world for me — a place where I can be curious, and finally study without worrying about what I’m going to eat."

It seemed like the start of an exciting new way of life. But sadly, it didn’t last. The family hit some financial trouble and were forced to return to the refugee camp where they started after only a few years. It was back to square one.

Yet somehow, it was a blessing in disguise.

In their return, they learned about the U.S. resettlement program. And with the help of the International Rescue Committee, they were soon relocated to Decatur, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.

Abishkar was now 13 and began attending Druid Hills High School. The quality of living was much better, but a new set of challenges arose.

Druid Hills High School is known for its highly competitive academics. Image via Titaniumjjp/Wikimedia Commons.

"I was in a state of disillusionment. I felt lonely. The language barrier was turning out to be a big hurdle, and I almost felt like all of the hopes and aspirations would be left unfulfilled," Abishkar told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "But I knew I had to make the most of the opportunity here. My parents had made big sacrifices for me and my sister’s education, so I had to do everything I could to make them happy."

Undeterred, Abishkar put in the work and persevered.

In fact, he got really smart about his process. While he was still trying to grasp the English language, he put a lot of effort into making sure he excelled at math. It was an ingenious way to build momentum and confidence in his abilities.

Solving math like it's his business. GIF via "The Hangover."

Through some self-teaching, Abishkar's English eventually caught up. He watched countless history documentaries and YouTube videos on class subjects and even listened to audiobooks to improve his skills as much as possible. His classmates took notice, nicknaming him "workaholic" for all the extra hours he put in.

But his teacher and mentor, Alexandra Salivia, paints the picture a little differently. "The thing that sets him apart is his determination, self-discipline and resilience, and he doesn’t just do it for a while but he does it with consistency," she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Abishkar was named valedictorian and offered a full scholarship at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

MIT's Great Dome looks even greater at night. Image via Eric Baetscher/Wikimedia Commons.

It’s a testament to the tireless work ethic he displayed, not just in high school, but all throughout his life. And while the uncertainty of what lies ahead is now more exciting than it is unnerving, Abishkar knows one thing to be true. He wants to help people, plain and simple.

"If you have a goal, follow your heart," he concluded to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "And be thankful for what you have. Recognize what you have and make the most of your opportunities."

Abishkar is a shining example of the great things anyone — including refugees — can do if we allow them the opportunity to succeed.

The faces of the future! Image via the International Organization for Migration/YouTube.

Unfortunately, stories like his — of which there are many — aren’t often the ones we hear. The topic of refugees is still a polarizing one in America, and sometimes it's easy to forget that there are real people at the heart of the issue.

A survey in Colorado found that after four years of life in the U.S., most refugees were "happy, productive, and integrating" members of society. Research like this and stories like Abishkar’s show that if we provide refugees with the support they need, they can go on to do amazing things that have the potential to give a lot back to the communities they live in.

Can you imagine seeing that kind of progress across the entire country? Sounds like the American dream, if you ask me.

More
True
Ad Council - #EmbraceRefugees
Courtesy of Houseplant.

In America, one dumb mistake can hang over your head forever.

Nearly 30% of the American adult population — about 70 million people — have at least one criminal conviction that can prevent them from being treated equally when it comes to everything from job and housing opportunities to child custody.

Twenty million of these Americans have felony convictions that can destroy their chances of making a comfortable living and prevents them from voting out the lawmakers who imprisoned them.

Many of these convictions are drug-related and stem from the War on Drugs that began in the U.S. '80s. This war has unfairly targeted the minority community, especially African-Americans.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

Climate change is happening because the earth is warming at an accelerated rate, a significant portion of that acceleration is due to human activity, and not taking measures to mitigate it will have disastrous consequences for life as we know it.

In other words: Earth is heating up, it's kinda our fault, and if we don't fix it, we're screwed.

This is the consensus of the vast majority of the world's scientists who study such things for a living. Case closed. End of story.

How do we know this to be true? Because pretty much every reputable scientific organization on the planet has examined and endorsed these conclusions. Thousands of climate studies have been done, and multiple peer-reviewed studies have been done on those studies, showing that somewhere between 84 and 97 percent of active climate science experts support these conclusions. In fact, the majority of those studies put the consensus well above 90%.

Keep Reading Show less
Nature
via James Anderson

Two years ago, a tweet featuring the invoice for a fixed boiler went viral because the customer, a 91-year-old woman with leukemia, received the services for free.

"No charge for this lady under any circumstances," the invoice read. "We will be available 24 hours to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible."

The repair was done by James Anderson, 52, a father-of-five from Burnley, England. "James is an absolute star, it was overwhelming to see that it cost nothing," the woman's daughter told CNN.

Keep Reading Show less
Heroes

I live in a family with various food intolerances. Thankfully, none of them are super serious, but we are familiar with the challenges of finding alternatives to certain foods, constantly checking labels, and asking restaurants about their ingredients.

In our family, if someone accidentally eats something they shouldn't, it's mainly a bit of inconvenient discomfort. For those with truly life-threatening food allergies, the stakes are much higher.

I can't imagine the ongoing stress of deadly allergy, especially for parents trying to keep their little ones safe.

Keep Reading Show less
popular