Just seven years ago she came to the United States from India.

“Coming to America was like entering a new galaxy,” recalls Pooja Patel, ’15. “Everything was different.”

But her adjustment to life at Richmond was virtually seamless. The Gates Millennium scholar secured a spot in a competitive living-learning community for first-year women with an international interest led by Lidia Radi, associate professor of French and Italian.

Patel’s experience with Moore International provided the kind of community she hoped to find at Richmond, but had not always experienced growing up.

“Ours was an immigrant family,” Patel says, recalling a sense of isolation. “You go to work, come back and that’s about it. One thing that I didn’t get a lot of during my high school years was being a part of extracurricular activities.

“I came into college with a lot of insecurities. I was really worried that no one was going to talk to me. With Moore International, I lived in a hall with girls I can relate to. They challenged me and motivated me to work harder.”

When she moved with her parents and older brother from a remote village in India to live with an uncle in rural North Carolina, most of her family didn’t speak much English. They found the new environment an unfamiliar and challenging one. At 11 years old, Patel, who had trained at a medium English school in India, had to take the lead as the primary communicator for her parents.

It’s a role she continues to play on campus as the public relations chair for the Multicultural Student Union, and as a volunteer in the Office of Admission. Patel credits her year in Moore International with launching her to a new level of engagement.

“Pooja has been an asset,” says Radi, the community’s mentor. “First because of personal experience and also because of her personality. She is intellectually very curious and she really yearns to gain an in-depth knowledge about the texts. She has an extremely contagious enthusiasm for the subject matter.”

Radi designed the community for first-year women with global interests — whether in foreign languages, study abroad, or learning about other cultures. The associated course — “Women, Virtue and Temptation in Literature” — explored perspectives on women through a range of sources spanning Greek myths, Shakespeare’s plays, religious texts, and literary sources from around the globe.

Not only did Moore International’s women read and discuss these texts, but they also explored them outside the classroom by seeing the written word come to life. The group attended performances of Verdi’s Aida, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and the Broadway musical Wicked.

For Patel, the program unlocked potential for leadership and experiencing new ways to engage with the community. It was also the first time she attended a play.

“I didn’t know all that existed,” Patel says. “Having missed out on all that I want to make sure I do all I can possibly do to get involved and give back.”

Patel hopes to continue building that sense of community. This fall she’ll be part of a Sophomore Scholars in Residence program led by Craig Kocher, University chaplain. The "Living a Life of Consequence" group will explore social engagement and various paths to self-discovery.

“I wanted to do an SSIR is because I had such a great experience with Moore,” Patel says. “I really want a community where I’m challenged and can learn from my peers.”