The Columns

Thriving at Home and Abroad: Karishma Patel ’18 Karishma Patel ’18 loves finding the intersections of technology and business – while studying abroad in Madrid.

— by on March 24th, 2017

“I knew I couldn’t go wrong choosing a school that invests so much in its students and does its best to shape students to be intellectual, passionate and well-rounded.”

Meet Karishma Patel ’18, who loves finding the intersections of technology and business – while studying abroad in Madrid.


Q. Where are you right now and what are you doing?

Right now, I am studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. I’m taking five classes, most of which are outside of my usual coursework: two art classes, one cinema class, one Spanish language class and one business class. I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity, and I really encourage everyone to study abroad if they have the chance. Studying abroad has pushed me out of my comfort zone and given me experiences that range from awe-inspiring (skiing in the Swiss Alps) to slightly tragic (cancelling an expensive train ticket to Barcelona without a full refund) to downright confusing (traveling for five hours in a car with only native Spanish speakers). Living in Madrid has taught me a lot about myself and my capabilities. It has helped me to improve my Spanish (though it’s still a work in progress), and has allowed me to gain amazing cultural experiences in Spain, as well as in other European countries. I’m already dreading the thought of having to say goodbye to this beautiful city in just two months.

Q. How did you first hear about the Johnson Scholarship?

I wish I had a more interesting story to tell, but I first heard about the Johnson Scholarship through a pamphlet I received in the mail. I owe a lot of gratitude to my dad, who encouraged me to apply!

Q. Were you considering any other colleges when you applied for the scholarship?

By the time I applied for the Johnson, I already had started the process of applying to 12 other colleges. I realize how ridiculous this sounds, but I honestly wasn’t sure what I wanted my ideal college to look like. As a result, I applied to all sorts of schools, varying in size, location, majors and so on. By the time it came down to actually choosing a college, I was deciding between Boston College, University of Denver and Washington and Lee.

Q. Why did you ultimately choose W&L?

Visiting the campus during Johnson Weekend helped me realize how much I liked having a small campus and small class sizes. I was also impressed with the students I met, who all seemed to be lively and welcoming, but also independent and passionate about their respective areas of study. I knew after that weekend that attending Washington and Lee would be challenging, but rewarding.

When I received my Johnson letter in the mail, I recall being stunned. I honestly did not expect to receive the scholarship and I was so shocked to realize that Washington and Lee was suddenly a serious contender. In addition to the financial advantage of being a Johnson Scholar, I honestly saw myself being able to thrive at a school like Washington and Lee.

Q. How has Johnson affected your views on leadership and integrity — or on academics?

Being awarded a Johnson has been such an honor. Knowing how powerful the Johnson Scholarship is motivates me daily to continue to work hard and follow my passions. That being said, my views on leadership and integrity come more from the W&L community than directly from the Johnson. My peers are the ones that inspire me to be a leader, to be intellectual, and to maintain my values. I see students on campus embodying these important characteristics regardless of their scholarship status. For me, the Johnson just serves as an extra reminder to be the best that I can be.

Q. What is your favorite story about your W&L experience — if you had to pick one?

My favorite W&L experience was hiking Sharp Top Mountain for a sunrise hike. As a Coloradoan, I love to hike, but I had never done a sunrise hike before! The whole experience was so incredible. From getting lost on the drive up, to hiking in the dark using our phone flashlights, to sitting at the top during the sunrise, I felt so happy and stress-free. There is something magical about watching the sunrise with great friends surrounding you. That experience taught me to really appreciate the small moments in life and to be present in the moment, because no matter how stressful life gets, there are always things to smile about!

Q. Do you have a mentor on campus?

I admire my Business Administration advisor, Dr. Shay. There have been many times that I have gone to his office for a quick visit and left over two hours later! I am grateful to have an advisor that makes time to talk to me, even though he has countless other responsibilities. Aside from being comfortable going to Dr. Shay with my questions and concerns, I also appreciate that he is constantly challenging me to be better. Often, I leave Dr. Shay’s office with a list of tasks that I need to accomplish. Once, Dr. Shay even gave me a list of alumni and challenged me to introduce myself to as many of them as possible at the Entrepreneurship Summit. Having an advisor that cares enough to understand my passions and my interests has been an invaluable addition to my undergraduate career at Washington and Lee.

Q. What extra-curricular activity are you involved in right now that you are extra passionate about?

Just last term, I started working as a teaching assistant for the Computer Science department. When Dr. Lambert first asked me to take on the position, I was honored, but also extremely nervous! I was unsure of my ability to help other students understand key concepts and write successful code. Every Tuesday, I would run from my last class of the day to the lab. Though I always left the lab exhausted, being a TA helped me to renew my passion for computer science, improve my ability to explain difficult ideas, and grow as a programmer. By the last class of the term, I realized that although I wasn’t always able to figure out how to help students, I was completely capable of taking on the role of a TA. When I return to Lexington after my term abroad, I hope to resume working as a TA!

Q. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to “first day on campus” you?

Get involved! Don’t be afraid to apply for extracurricular activities and don’t be afraid to explore your interests!

As a freshman, I was only involved in one extracurricular activity. I spent far too much time focusing on my classes, and not enough time doing other things that made me happy. I think college is a delicate balance between exploring your passions in class and exploring the things that make you happy outside of class. Since adding more extracurriculars to my schedule, I have found myself busier, but also happier! For example, volunteering at Campus Kitchen or Habitat for Humanity is my way of letting go of the stresses that come with classes. Joining more clubs hasn’t made my workload easier, but it helps me remember that life is about more than just my studies in the classroom.

Q. If someone asked you “why choose W&L,” what is the one reason you would give them?

Opportunities. Washington and Lee is incredible at providing its students with a wealth of resources and opportunities to explore their passions. Regardless of whether you are a Johnson Scholar, I feel that Washington and Lee does a really good job of helping students achieve their goals. Advisors, professors, the Career Development Center, and even peers are constantly working to help you follow your passions. For me, being a student at Washington and Lee has given me a means to attend conferences, secure internships, and pursue projects that are meaningful to me.

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