Anuja Patel, who has lived in each of these cities, doesn’t stay in one place very long.
“I don’t have a place to call home, but I have so many places to call home at the same time. And I love that about me; that I’m not a person who’s constricted to one place, that I’m open to new experiences, and it doesn’t scare me,” said Patel, who graduates Dec. 17 with a degree in marketing from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
The pattern continues after graduation, when she plans to move to Cincinnati, Ohio, to live with her aunt and uncle and pursue full-time work. In about a year, she wants to enroll in a Master of Business Administration program at an as-yet-to-be-determined university.
“My life changes every four years, so I’m about to go explore some other place,” said Patel, who went to high school at Covenant Academy in McMinnville.
It has been a busy four years for her above and beyond being a UTC student. She’s currently president of the American Marketing Association chapter at UTC. She’s working two jobs, one part-time in the IT department at UTC and another as an intern in Unum Insurance’s billing department.
Once graduation is behind her, though, she vows to have some Me-time, which includes a trip to India in January to reconnect with family and friends—including her parents, who stayed in India to take care of their businesses when she moved to McMinnville to live with her aunt and uncle in 2014.
“In India, we have investments in land and a factory that produces clothing bags and other clothing products like N95 masks during COVID,” she explained.
Born in Titusville in 2000, her parents sent her to Ahmedabad to live with her grandparents when she was a year old. Her parents followed in 2006.
“My parents wanted me to grow up with the Indian culture and have that background as a part of who I am,” she said.
When she was 14, she moved to McMinnville for the educational opportunities in America, she said.
After her Me-time is done in April, she’ll head to Cincinnati.
“January to April is my time to do whatever I want is what I tell myself because I owe it to myself to just enjoy,” she said. “I put in the hard work and I graduated, so I’m just going take that time to do whatever I want.”
When she first arrived at UTC, she was “quiet, timid,” she said, certainly not words that describe her now. Coming from a graduating class of 10 at Covenant, the UTC campus of about 11,000 students was overwhelming.
“It took me a while to get comfortable here, to be able to make conversation with people and not feel like I was not qualified to be here. In a way, you’re always comparing yourself,” she said.
“Today, to have connections, know people, have friends, walk around campus to be able to recognize people, talk to them, makes me feel like I’ve grown.
“I’m a little sad that I’m going to be leaving this place, but for me it has always been about excitement. Leaving India and moving here was all about excitement. Moving to Chattanooga was all about excitement.”
Her roommate, Naina Patel, has had a front-row seat to Anuja’s UTC journey.
Although they are not related, they share common bonds. In an intriguing coincidence, both lived in India and were high school classmates at Covenant Academy—graduating in 2018. They have been roommates at UTC since freshmen year and will be participating in commencement ceremonies Dec. 17.
“We are so different, but somehow we just clicked,” said Naina Patel. “I would describe Anuja now as more comfortable and grounded into her environment as opposed to when she first came from India. She is confident and happy, especially as she found a career path she loves and enjoys.
“And she can always make a room laugh.”
A year or so after she settles into Cincinnati, Anuja Patel wants to pursue an MBA.
“Talking to professors, talking to people in the field, they say that, if you have some full-time experience under your belt, you’re likely to understand the material more and get a better idea on how to use it in your full-time job rather than just focus on the GPA,” she said.