Shenandoah Profiles: From South Asia to Northern Virginia
By: Harry Wall
Rinzin Ongchu, a native of Bhutan, found himself lost on his first day of class here at Shenandoah University in the Fall of 2016.
Ongchu is one of Shenandoah’s one hundred and thirty-six international students. He comes from a small country with a population of just over seven hundred thousand people. Bhutan the land-locked nation is also known as The Kingdom of Bhutan and the land of the dragon. It is located in the Eastern Himalaya mountains of South China and borders numerous Indian states.
His journey to Winchester started in 2016 when Shenandoah’s annual GCP trip took place. This time a group of students were travelling to Ongchu’s homeland Bhutan in South Asia. The group’s goal was to gain a better understanding and appreciation for Bhutan’s culture and traditions.
After graduating High School Ongchu was unable to further his education due to financial constraints.“I didn’t know if I was ever going to study again. My family just couldn’t afford it”
Instead Ongchu started working as a tour guide, giving foreigners insight to his culture and upbringing. After a successful GCP trip to Bhutan, Dr. Tracy Fitzsimons President of Shenandoah University approached the young Ongchu, presenting him the opportunity to attend Shenandoah University as an international student.
“The invitation came as a big surprise for me and my family.” Ongchu was awarded with a Presidential Scholarship that allowed him to make the move to America to seek higher education.“I never imagined getting to study again and pursue my degree. I never in my wildest dreams thought to be able to study abroad, especially to get the opportunity to study in the United States of America.”Now all that stood in the way of Ongchu achieving his dream was 30 hours of flying across the globe.
From getting lost on the first day of class to playing pick-up basketball in Shingleton gym with his American friends Ongchu admits it hasn’t always been easy. “I was overwhelmed upon arrival in America. Everything was new to me, the environment, the people around me, the culture, the tradition, everything was just really new to me.”
Now going into his fourth and final year at Shenandoah Ongchu claims he has adjusted well to the new environment and has enjoyed his time in Winchester, but nothing beats home. “I miss home, my friends and of course my family the most. “I’m really glad and proud of myself for grabbing this opportunity to study further. Not everyone back home gets to study beyond High School.”
Ongchu raves about what his father means to him and says he wouldn’t be where he is today without him. “My motivation is my dad. He’s the first person I look up to. He’s taught me many life lessons and I now know the value of sacrificing your own needs and wants to make other people happy.”
If Ongchu is not studying or working behind the grill at the cafeteria, he’s playing basketball. From a young age Ongchu fell in love with the game. From shooting hoops with his friends back home in Bhutan to playing pick up on Friday nights with students who speak a different first language, his love of the game has never changed. “Basketball is my escape; it makes me forget about all my stresses. I just feel free when I play, I don’t have to worry about all the things in life.”
After Ongchu graduates in May of 2020 with a degree in Business Administration, he plans to go back to Bhutan to reconnect with his family and friends before applying for a green card which will allow him to work and live in the US. “I’m very grateful and blessed for the opportunity to study in the United States and I want to work here in the future. The opportunity is a lot better than back home.”
Known for his friendly nature and willingness to give anything a go this valued member of the Shenandoah community will be missed next year. We hope Ongchu is not the last Bhutan native to step foot in Winchester and look forward to following the rest of his journey here in America and beyond.