Spruha Magodia is a 23 year old who lives in Philadelphia. A medical student originally born in India, she graduated from Rutgers University in 2012. Some of her accomplishments include receiving honors in her French major and publishing a novel at the age of 13.
1. Tell us about your ethnic and cultural background.
I am Gujarati. I grew up knowing how to converse in Gujarati, Hindi and Marathi. Mumbai has a very cosmopolitan background and I have always been raised to be appreciative and inquisitive about other cultures. When I was little, I remembered the thrill of the non-stop staccato of fireworks during Diwali, the star-shaped lanterns hanging from nearly every other home, and the intricate rangoli patterns and dias decorating doorsteps. One of my favorite holidays was Holi, when we threw colored powder on each other and had water-balloon fights with friends and family. A memory that always comes to mind is the monsoon season in Mumbai, when I would make small paper boats and watch them sail with the incessant stream of rainwater, only to find them later, all bunched together into a formless pile of debris by a drain.
2. Discuss the environment in which you grew up.
My childhood was actually split between three countries. At the age of seven, we left India and stayed, for a brief period, in Florida. After Florida, we lived in Canada for a few years. But then, when I was ten years old, due to my dad’s new job, my family had to move to the United States. I was teetering on the cusp of being this precocious yet blissfully happy child who was all positivity all the time and someone who was becoming more observant of the world around her, who was beginning to see things in a different light, especially the negative things. I was starting to grow up. We moved to New Jersey and I began sixth grade not knowing anyone. For the first time in my life I remember being scared.Till now, it is the only time I can really remember feeling “alone.” Later that day, I made friends with whom I am still friends with even today and that feeling of loneliness was quite short-lived; however, its intensity, even as I recall it now, in memory, is so palpable. No one forgets that first moment when they felt like an outsider, no matter how brief and transient it was.
3. How did this affect your perception of the world and identity formation?
Moving around taught me that moments are fleeting and transient, and that wherever you are, you have to make the most of the time you’re given, regardless of the situation. It also made me realize the force of my own resilience; I never wavered, I always moved forward with hope, embracing new people and new ideas and a new version of myself. And this strength and resilience comes directly from my parents, who have taken brave steps to chart out a unique journey for their children.
4. What led you to publish a novel? And could you elaborate upon it for readers who have not seen it before?
Inspired by the stories I was always reading, I felt the need to write my own. I always enjoyed creating things. Sometimes I liked to paint and draw, but most of all, I always loved to write. I remember a story I wrote in French class in elementary school about how ants were just like human beings. When I was around twelve years old, I began to write a story where the main character somehow finds himself in an alternate world (I was quite fascinated by the science fiction ideas of different and parallel universes). He assumes the identity of a dead person he had the misfortune of witnessing earlier, and it lands him in a whirl of trouble, from mistrust between new friends to acquiring a power and fame that is not rightfully his. It’s called Entwining Worlds: From the Other Side (http://www.amazon.com/Entwining-Worlds-From-Other-Side/dp/0976352303).
5. Tell us about the publishing process.
After school, I would write on my computer. An idea blossomed in my mind and the words took flight. Soon, Chapter One became Chapter Two and so forth. One day, my parents saw how much I had written and entertained the notion of having it published. That notion turned into sending out samples of the manuscript, to agreeing to a publisher, to dealing with an editor and a graphic designer for the cover, and to having a 407 paged novel held between my two hands when I was thirteen. There was a book launch and I was invited by Barnes and Nobles and local schools to speak to kids about writing and following their dreams. The best part was a series of messages I received from the elementary school kids at St. Mary’s; they were so sincere and heartwarming.
6. Describe your college experience and how your South Asian American background affected it. And how did you end up with two very different courses of study?
My undergraduate studies were comprised on a dual path of French Literature and pre-medicine courses. I’ve been fortunate to have a great relationship with my parents that leans more toward friendship and am thankful that they have always trusted me and let me chart out my own path. I lived on campus at school for the first two years, and they even allowed me to live off campus for the second half of my years as an undergrad. They never pressured me towards a particular career. As a child, I always had a fascination concerning medicine; I wanted to help others and make a difference in their lives. In fact, at my book signing, I remember saying that writing was my favorite hobby; however, it was not what I wanted to pursue as a career. That distinction, even a decade ago, was important to me.
It was the dynamic lifestyle I had as a child that really affected my college experience. In Canada, at the age of eight, I began to learn French. I fell in love with the language and the textures of the words when they were spoken correctly. I continued to learn French in middle school, high school, and spent my four years of undergrad getting immersed in the culture, the films, and the literature. My family always encouraged me to see my goals to the finish. My dad always says, “There is a difference between a wish and a goal.” Spruha, meaning “wish” in Sanskrit, made me, as a child, believe that I had some kind of super power – whatever I wished for would come true. Thankfully, a lot of what I wished for, has come true, but the practical part of me is very much aware of the work required to turn a wish into a goal and then accomplish it. And so I decided that no matter what, I would write my thesis entirely in French and become fluent in the language.
As a South Asian American, I am fortunate to have the education I received. In the States, I did not have to choose to either study the arts or the sciences – I could do both. Over here I was pressured by neither my family nor society to pick a career at a young age and work towards that and only that. I am thankful for the flexibility.
My college experience was everything I wanted it to be, for the exact reason that I did everything I wanted to do. I took an active part in the Bioethics Society and being part of that organization was the best decision I could have ever made. I was among peers who all were a source of inspiration to me and by discussing various ethical scenarios and taking the time to see healthcare from a moral lens, I discovered a new passion and a way to nudge away from a more traditional outlook on medicine.
In the eighth grade, when someone asked me “What do you want to be?” I had blurted out: “A Renaissance woman.” I knew that in concrete terms, the reply should have been “A doctor”, but the abject and sincere way in which those words somehow formulated in my mind and left my lips made me realize just how much they were true. I wanted to be in control of my own story; I did not want to take a traditional route to reach my goals. Oftentimes a course like this can have setbacks, but I knew I could trudge through them bracingly if I knew that it was my decision. I wanted to and I still want to become a doctor, and the beauty of this country is that I can reach my goal in a way that is entirely my own.
7. What did you do after college?
After college, I took a year off. I took the MCAT, I worked at a bookstore, and I volunteered at a small community health clinic. I also traveled to England and France.
8. Where are you now?
I am finally on the medical path I’ve ardently worked towards and in a few years, I get to be Dr. Magodia at last. I also get to call Chinatown, in Philadelphia, my home and I am continuously having small adventures in what is a most interesting city.
9. How has medical school affected your views on your ethnic and cultural background?
I am constantly aware that I represent my ethnic and cultural background. I was aware of that as a student in undergrad and I am certainly aware of that now. In the way that I interact with others and the way I hold myself, everything that I am is represented symbolically. I come from a very vibrant culture; our festivals are grand and colorful and originate from different stories in Hindu mythology, and yet the unifying message of all of them can be simple: family and tradition. I was raised with the knowledge that what I do affects my family and is a direct reflection of how they raised me. I never want to disappoint them. My family and what we have been through, the adventures we have had, the lives we have led in various places, all give me the ability to focus and march on, to keep in mind that everything I need to succeed is always with me.
10. What are your future goals? Gandhi once said something along lines of “You can lead a happy life or a meaningful one. But not both.” My future goal is to try to live both.
11. How importance has your culture been to you and how has that importance evolved?
My culture, my roots, will always be a largely inherent part of who I am and will permeate, consciously and subconsciously, into everything I do. I am an Indian in America and that combination itself has its quirks and nuances. I am a child from the noise, tumult and heat of Mumbai and the bells of the Siddhivinayak temple. I am also the girl who grew up in the West and can listen to Elton John’s rendition of “Moon River” every day, for the rest of her life. I like to jam out to Bollywood songs like it’s nobody’s business. I like to combine vastly different things and see how they go together, a testament to which is my entire academic path.
What I’ve come to realize is that in doing so, I have paid tribute to the amalgam that I am, and the combination of things that make up my own identity.