You did your Bhaktivedanta College studies in two periods.
Yes. I started in 2007, did two years, then took a two-year break. I started my third year in 2011 and graduated in 2012. I took a break because I wanted to travel and do other things. But since I like to finish what I start, I returned to earn my degree. Coming back was great, because of the improved facility and academic standards. The college had opened its new building, where I had a single room, and had become affiliated with Chester University. Some great new teachers lived on campus, such as Rasamandala and his wife, Abala.
What is your most vivid memory of your time studying?
I first remember the friends that I met. We truly became like a family. They all play an important part in my life even today. I remember with equal feelings the highly qualified teachers who visited the college and their courses. I remember deep, thoughtful discussions we had in the classroom and the interactions between students and teachers. At the same time, Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha stole my heart from day one and arranged many experiences and learning opportunities for all of us. I also remember the many smiling faces of devotees who dedicated their lives to the deities or the community.
What is the most precious thing you gained?
Along with the lifelong friends I made, the most precious thing was the college courses. These courses are unlike anything else offered in our movement, except perhaps at the other devotee college in Budapest. The teachers are all highly qualified, insightful, devotional, and in touch with modernity. They shared their knowledge and hearts with us. Learning about our siddhanta in that light was unique and enriching. It is hard to describe how important these precious courses actually are for the education of the members of our movement (or even anybody outside it who wants to understand Chaitanya Vaishnavism). At times it felt like we were making history together as our minds opened to the vast possibilities of establishing Srila Prabhupada’s movement on many levels in the broader society. Additionally, I gained so much faith in our acharyas and their genius. This was exactly what I needed to feed my intellectually inclined mind and a heart eager for devotional progress. I really hope that many devotees will study at the college. The experiences and knowledge are priceless. Although at times I felt that three years would be too long, I now see the positive impact it had on me. It’s like baking bread: You need to “stay in the oven” of the college long enough to be properly baked for Krishna’s pleasure.
Please tell us about your fellow students.
I was always impressed with the students who came to the college. Those who were serious about studying showed in time just what great souls they actually are. I remember sitting among them my first year, looking around the classroom and feeling safe in their association, and safe about the future of Srila Prabhupada’s movement if these students were to become its leaders. The fact that these students decided to dedicate their lives, money, and interests in studying at the college, while also being active in the community and preaching, showed me that these were future leaders of a certain kind.
What are you doing now?
I am doing a teaching degree at Southern Cross University at the Gold Coast, Australia. I am doing it together with my fiancé, who was also a Bhaktivedanta College student. I chose to do this degree because I would like to contribute to the field of education both in our movement by teaching and by developing educational programs useful to all kinds of schools. Some may think it is a cliché to speak about investing in youth and future generations, but this does not lessen its importance. Their devotional lives and dedication may very much depend on the quality of education they receive. I saw first-hand what an impact educated devotees have in the broader society. I just finished my first five-week teaching practicum at a high school in Australia, where the kids are coming from pretty low socio-economic backgrounds. Krishna opened up many opportunities for me to inspire these kids in various ways, even to discuss with them spiritual and moral values and challenge them to change their thinking. These kids then ended up writing protest poems on themes like animal cruelty and materialism, and we did pranayama exercises before their exams. I could see how tangible it is to change someone’s perspectives, even just slightly, by investing in his or her education. The biggest part of my own success is owed to the education I received, so I truly hope that Bhaktivedanta College will flourish by receiving the support it needs.
How did the college help your career development?
Successful students will develop very good research and writing skills. Furthermore, they will develop higher order thinking skills, and a range of ways to express their thoughts creatively and effectively. These are only some of the external skills that can be measured. Another way the college helped me was internally, because studying there was like making a journey. On this journey I had to learn so much more than I thought I would. I learned about communication, interaction, and how to find my own dharma and act on it. Hence studying there will challenge static thinking patterns and make students find out what is important for them and then how to go for it with determination and conviction. Even though theology may not be a promising “career,” studying Vaishnavism was never my career choice. It was an inner calling and an investment in my spiritual life. What I gained from it was very fulfilling. I developed practical skills that help me in my current studies. I had contact with devotees who have successfully established their lives in their dharma and service, and this allowed me to thoroughly think about how I want to use my short life in Krishna’s service. Thus I am grateful that I had a chance to be a student and really believe that it is a privilege to study in such devotee association.
Do you have a message for the present and future students?
For the present students, I would say give your best and use all you have in your learning experience. Try to find and hold onto the opportunities you will get to develop your own life. And seek positive learning experiences and think of ways that you can use what you have gained to make someone else’s life better. Have faith that Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha know what is best for you and that all the experiences will end up being positive and enriching. For future college students, I would say that success is measured on many levels: financially, socialy, spiritually, and internally. The success of your studies will therefore depend on your own readiness to independently seek the success you are looking for. Bhaktivedanta College can open up many doors, if you are ready to find them. Studying theology may not seem like a practical career choice externally, but theology was never about this anyway. It is about developing the right internal attitude toward your future, a life that is not only a career path but an offering of service. Therefore if you seek something unique, which will help you develop a deep and vast understanding of spirituality, then the college may be the right place for you.