Number 44, November 10, 2015
Erina Bista ’17 has made the President’s List (4.0 GPA) every semester except spring 2015. That term was ending when a violent earthquake and aftershocks devastated Nepal, killing more than 9,000 people.
Erina is from Nepal. Her parents were living with her in Darien at the time of the earthquake, but her sister was in Kathmandu. “We were glued to the television,” she said. “Communications were disrupted. We had no way to reach her. My mother couldn’t stop crying for weeks.” It was months before they heard from her sister, confirming she had survived.
Bista’s test scores quickly rebounded.
Her life story is one of perils, resilience, and determination. She came to the U.S. as a teenager in 2002 with a student visa and $1,400 in her pocket. She had made up her mind to immigrate when she was much younger, inspired by her uncle – a doctor in Phoenix, Arizona – and propelled by feminist views that were unacceptable in the Nepalese culture. “I always thought of America as the land of opportunity, so I decided this would be the move I should make.”
She started in Mobile, Alabama, a location she chose because of the low cost of living. She arrived with no conversational English, unable to communicate where she intended to go, and with no one to meet her at the airport. “I decided the safest thing for me to do was to go to the police. They contacted some Nepali students at the University of South Alabama who came to get me at the airport and helped me get established. I had to learn English with a southern accent, how to drive a car, get a job, cash my first paycheck. I was underage, so I started as a hostess in a restaurant until I could qualify to be a waitress.”
Bista had planned to be a nursing major, a career that would be acceptable to her family in Nepal. “But I ran out of money. And I cried whenever I saw people in pain. I just couldn’t do it. So I quit college.”
She partied with her friends through Hurricane Katrina, not realizing the extent of the damage that would devastate the coast. She moved to Baltimore. Two years later, she was becoming desperate to earn a better income and improve her situation. “I came to Georgia on December 18, 2007. A friend who knew I was hunting for more dependable work called to tell me of a job in Darien that I could have. I drove all night and started immediately.”
After the birth of her son in 2011, she decided to turn her life around. She sold her car and used depleted her savings to purchase airfare to Nepal, spending the next year learning the skills needed to properly care for the baby from her mother. “I was scared. I was afraid to even bathe him. I wanted to be a good mother and role model, to create a better life for us. I wanted a future for my baby. And I knew education was the best tool to change my world.”
She returned to Darien at the end of 2012, scraping resources together to enroll at the College of Coastal Georgia for summer term 2013 with a student loan to get her started.
“I had always been passionate about math, so I decided that would be my major. But I was starting college again after 10 years of being out of school. I registered for Calculus I and discovered I had forgotten almost all the math I ever knew! I was willing to work hard and to dedicate the time, so the ATTIC tutors were able to totally turn my fears around! Everyone needs to know about the ATTIC - it is just an awesome place, full of resources - a huge factor in how well I managed to get through in the beginning.” Now, Bista tutors for the ATTIC, a free academic service providing student support, headquartered in the Correll Center.
Bista is also the president of the campus Math and Engineering Club and has earned an academic achievement award in math. She received a Bertha S. Galin Memorial Scholarship last year and a Szwast Endowed Scholarship this year through the College Foundation. Her major in applied mathematics matches her goal to become an insurance actuary. “I like calculating odds,” she laughed. “Look at my own life!”
“I have received incredible support and love from the faculty of this College in every department. None of this would have been possible without them,” she concluded. “The math faculty believed in me, encouraged me, and with them around, I felt like we actually had a family here. Professors I met on my first day of school continue to be my friends and mentors every day. I think my message to the world – and to anyone considering this College – is, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’”