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When I Didn't See Many South Asians on TV, I Became a Reporter

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I remember being young and fawning over Disney Channel starlets like pre-twerking Miley and Brenda Song on Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Looking down at my tan skin, I never thought I could make it on TV. Still, that didn't stop me from hosting my own Hannah Montana concerts on my bed, pretending the pillows were my fans — yes, I high fived every one of them (anything for the fans). Gleaming with joy, I would fasten my bejeweled belts above my waist like Hannah. Playing make-believe never seemed to end when my upstairs neighbor and I would plan Hannah Montana concerts in our backyard and set up chairs for our family members to sit and watch us (they never came). We'd go all out, handwriting scripts of our favorite episodes onto loose leaf, meticulously erasing away any errors.

I never saw people like myself on TV. I could never make sense of it, and I didn't realize I had the potential to change it, either. When Indian model Freida Pinto landed a lead role in Danny Boyle's film Slumdog Millionaire I basked in compliments of her being my doppelgänger. Still, this was only one film — and a L'Oreal commercial. Where were the rest of the South Asians? The closest match I could find were the Middle Eastern Kardashian sisters, who embraced dark hair and exotic complexions. In one of the show's episodes, Kim visits Dubai and India and mentions how happy her Armenian father would be if he knew she visited. This irked me. Why should I have to settle for a "close enough" representative of the South Asian community on television? I was sick of not feeling acknowledged in the media. It felt unfair and wrong. I wanted to change it, but I didn't know how.

The best decision I ever made was joining Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization that aims to teach 1 million girls how to code by 2020. By 2020, there will be four times as many STEM jobs as there will be people qualified to fill those positions. Houston, we have a problem! On day one, our awesome instructors dispelled our illusions of what a computer scientist looks like — no, the title doesn't just describe a nerdy male wearing a plaid shirt, typing away at his computer. After demystifying our stereotypes of the tech world, we got down to some fun robotics, mobile app building and a field trip to some company called Google — and yes, we got goodie bags. You jelly yet?

The program ended after only eight exhilarating weeks.

This was the best experience of my life. What could possibly top this? I thought. I was in for the surprise of a lifetime.

Girls Who Code makes incredible efforts to expose its students to different realms of the STEM world from company tours to internships. They really do go all out. Our founder, Reshma Saujani set up a tour for a few of us at AOL. The panel of employees seemed so happy to be working there. I hope I can be this happy at my job someday, I thought. A few weeks later, I received the call to start my internship at AOL. I would be rebuilding their website Cambio with four other Girls Who Code alumni.

I met Natasha, Nikki, Lily and Michelle, and we all clicked instantaneously. While we were seated in two groups opposite of each another at the start of the internship, we took it upon ourselves to cram into a single row so we could all sit closer together — and it stayed this way 40 hours a week for eight full weeks. Today, I'm lucky to get to call them my Cambio sisters. Together, we built an Inspirational Meme Generator (Celebspiration) and a Contributor Network Platform (Col[lab] —sound familiar?) Our relaunch event was a success! We had a glam team, videographers, personalized candy and pillows, a BGG-themed manicure station and even a 3D printing station! As Lily put it, "We were scared to begin and weren't sure if we could live up to the standards of AOL, but our experience at #BUILTBYGIRLS made us fearless."

Fearless. What does this mean to me? As Taylor Swift said, "Fearless isn't not having fears; it's not that you're not afraid of anything. I think that being fearless is having a lot of fears, but you jump anyway."

What's my dream job? Being a TV reporter. At the end of the Cambio internship, I was humorously awarded "reporter on/off the job" by my co-workers and managers. I've always loved television and public speaking, but I never admitted it to anyone else. Whenever I would watch the nightly news, I would stare in awe at the reporters behind the desks, admiring their speaking tone and stern delivery. Could this be my calling? Though I've dreamt of being on TV for as long as I could remember, I assumed every girl secretly pretends that she's Rosanna Scotto hosting Fox 5's Good Day New York. I've literally had dreams that I become this woman. (Fun fact: The Cambio interns were invited on Fox 5 and were personally interviewed by Rosanna Scotto! And of course, I was sick that morning.)

Another Girls Who Code alumna and a good friend, Madina, spontaneously messaged me about reporter auditions in the city. She was too sick to make it, so she encouraged me to take her place. I stopped what I was doing and ran out of the house to introduce myself to my current boss. Taking a tour of the office, I noticed an entire green screen room. I had always dreamt of being in front of a green screen! The day before I landed the job, I even bought neon green posters from the 99 Cents Store and set up a mini green screen in my room to practice in front of.
I started my dream job as a TV reporter that very day. My boss let me borrow her blazer and after throwing on a company T-shirt (YAY, free stuff), I recorded my first segment while reading off of a teleprompter about the Nigerian inauguration. This was the happiest moment of my life (besides walking the red carpet immediately after James Franco and touching his back. I know, creeper status). My coworkers applauded me when I finished speaking, and it felt great to go home that day from a job that I loved and thought I would have to wait a decade to have.
From a happy (and grateful) girl living her dream job at the age of 19, here's what I've learned throughout my journey:
  1. People will discourage you. Listen to the ones who encourage you.
  2. As you think, so you shall become. Act the part — I mean it! Every morning when I kiss my family goodbye, I tell them, "If you need to contact me, call my publicist. Bye. Love you!"
  3. Create opportunities for yourself. Google is your best friend. Oprah Winfrey once said, "You get in life what you have the courage to ask for." Don't EVER hesitate to ask for what you want.
  4. Be your own biggest fan. Do this for yourself because you're the one who's going to be putting in the work 40 hours a week, you might as well be in love with it.
  5. Brand yourself. Don't be afraid to put your work out there — you never know who's watching! Social media is a great way to spread the word about your talents! Through Instagram alone, I've gotten responses from Eva Chen (Lucky magazine's former editor-in-chief and Anna Wintour's BFF), Hannah Bronfman (celebrity DJ and entrepreneur), Simone Boyce (Fox 5 entertainment reporter) and Beyonce! OK, that last one was a lie, but you get the point!
  6. Study your craft; you'll actually enjoy doing it. Would you ever believe me if I told you I finished two entire books, in less than three hours, in one sitting, at Barnes and Noble after my FINAL EXAMS?! Maybe it's because I was reading entertainment gurus Michelle Phan and Giuliana Rancic's memoirs. The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried, so take the initiative and learn from the best.
  7. Reach out to your idols, mentors and even the stars. You'd be amazed at how willing people are to answer your questions, so send that email or even that tweet! Tag them on Instagram. Don't forget those hashtags. #Shameless is my favorite.
  8. Record your accomplishments. Remind yourself every day of how far you've come, and keep a vision board (a mental or tangible one — whatever works for you) of what you'd like to accomplish. It's all about the journey, so if you want to share yours with others, don't shy away from doing so! You never know who you'll inspire.
  9. Seize the moment. If your celebrity idol is standing a few feet away from you, jump at the opportunity to introduce yourself (and of course, take a selfie!). These are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Don't waste them, or you will regret it. Don't be afraid of no's, either. People are generally friendly, so smile at them and shake their hand!
  10. Listen to lots of Beyonce. Seriously, she's unarguably empowering.
(Cambio Col[lab] is a lab for young creators to showcase their passion and develop their voice. Like what you're seeing? Share it to support their effort!)


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