Victoria University student Preeti Bhandurge is a modern day Wonder Woman. An incredible individual in her own right, she is a multi-talented Indian international student whose motivation to excel has helped her greatly in life.
She is an artist, a dancer, president of the Indian Culture Club at Victoria University and is someone who is passionate about social work. She is also a former professional tennis player who has competed on an international level and is currently pursuing a double degree in sports management and business. To juggle and excel at all these aspects of her life is her superpower, as is her capacity to inspire.
Wise beyond her years, Preeti had plenty to share about reinventing yourself after a setback, experimenting with your identity, sticking to your guns and how to live your best life.
The first time we spoke was at MISC 2017 where we learned that you were very multi-talented and an all-rounder. Can you tell us more about yourself?
My name is Preeti, I’m from India and I’m 20 years old. I came to Australia two years ago and came to Melbourne to do my Bachelor’s degrees in Business and Sports Management.
Before that, I was a professional tennis player. I played tennis for ten years and participated [in competitions] internationally and was ranked in the junior rankings — not the highest, but I was ranked. Then after ten years, I got injured and because of that, I couldn’t compete internationally anymore. That’s the reason why I had to choose something to do with academics, and that’s why when I came across a mixture of what I had done — sports and business — which I had done in Year 11 and 12, I chose to do that and come over here to Melbourne.
But when I came to Melbourne, I felt like I didn’t have anything to talk about — like I didn’t have any sort of identity. I felt like all I could say about myself was that, “I’m Preeti, and I’m from India”. People would ask me about the culture and food, and I saw a lot of Indians around me and thought that we all should get together and represent our culture as a whole — organise some events, show some Indian movies, celebrate festivals and share with people what Indian culture actually is. So I took the initiative along with my friends to start an Indian Cultural Club. We started with just four people and now we have about 120 people and we hold various events and activities throughout the year. Currently, I’m President of the club.
So why did you choose Melbourne specifically to pursue your higher education?
Melbourne is well-known for its sports, and Melbourne has been rated as the most liveable city for a few years now. My sister is also studying here so it was easier for me to make the decision to come here to study.
So how did you choose the courses that you are studying now — was it mostly driven by your love of sports?
I always saw myself as a tennis player before. And after I stopped playing, I didn’t want to let go of the part of me that loves and has such a passion for sports. I gave ten years of my life just playing sports so I wanted to have a career in it. That’s why I chose Sports Management.
Do you still play tennis now then?
I coached for a while, and I also played in the mornings, but it’s more of a hobby now.
Was there any culture shock for you or any struggles you faced when you first moved to Melbourne to study?
Back in India, if you’re studying in a university, you see those people throughout those three years of your Bachelor’s. They’re in your classes, taking the same units. You see them every day, you grow up with them over the three years. But here you have different students in different classes so you don’t really get a chance to meet or bond with them because they have their own schedules and that’s different. They work as well while studying, so they’re always doing their own thing. Whereas in India you just study, and you stick together, but here, you’re on your own. So that was very different.
So what you’re saying is you feel less of a community here at first, and it was a struggle because there’s less of a support system.
Yes, exactly. And that lack of a community can be hard especially for international students.
Have you always had the drive to do everything and, most importantly, be the best at everything you do?
Both of my parents are also multi-talented, and they also wanted me to do what I liked and follow my heart. They are also great fans of sports, so that’s how I got into sports. But I also wanted to experience different things. It wasn’t so much about being adventurous, but more about having something where I can express myself. I am a very secretive person, so I need that. I dance and paint. Dance is something where I can express myself and my personality. So I want to do things that allow me to explore who I am more, and just keep adding to who I want to be.
So you do both performing arts and fine arts, and your drive behind it is about expressing and finding who you are. What kind of dance do you do?
Back in India, my cousins and I choreograph contemporary dance, and when I came to Melbourne, I started learning Salsa.
Is there any dance style that’s your favourite?
I love contemporary dance because I think it is really expressive. I like to do even on my own because I love dancing for myself and I want it to be my own.
You’re juggling many different things, is there any part of you that wants to slow down sometimes?
I think because I’m doing different things — there’s a variation, and it’s not monotonous, so I don’t feel it. For example, if I did drawing today I won’t be drawing to the point where I feel exhausted. If I’m drawing today, I’ll go dance tomorrow, or do my studies the next day. Because there’s a lot of variation, my mind is working in different ways and exploring different sides of myself so it is a method that works for me.
Tell us about the period of time after you stopped playing tennis.
I started experimenting and doing a lot of different things after I stopped playing sports back in 2014 when I was 17. Back when I was playing sports, that was the only thing I would be doing. I would be playing from morning 6.00am to evening 6.00pm. So all I did was sports. And at the end of it, I was exhausted and it was stressful. I didn’t go to school or college; I would just do my exams at the end of the year. All I did was play sports, to the point where I needed a break. I wanted to do different things; I wanted to learn about other things, like art. And back then, I wasn’t drawing, and I wanted to go dance, or go out and even eat good food, because I was on a nutritionist’s diet.
So when I stopped playing tennis, it was like a break, and I thought the transition would work better. But I think I had been playing tennis for so long, so tennis was my identity. I used to introduce myself as a tennis player. But after that, I had a blank canvas, so I had to recreate myself again. So I started experimenting and trying different things and that’s how I found a way to not focus on one thing, and I realised I wanted to try many different things.
That period of time just after I stopped playing tennis was a very rough patch, because I was kind of lost. I couldn’t find an interest in anything, not even daily things like getting up or eating, because tennis had been so close to my heart, and then I couldn’t do that anymore. But I also realised I had to move on and find myself again and recreate myself. I still don’t think I’m good enough yet, but I’m trying my best.
What do you enjoy most of all the things you do: sports, your academics, the arts or your community and leadership work?
I think art for me is what I enjoy the most. Painting and drawing is all about adding colour and it’s also my favourite because my dad said whatever I draw, he will send me there, so I can travel, and that’s very exciting for me.
Is it hard to maintain a social life with everything that you have going on or do you find that all your activities help you to keep connected and keep meeting new people?
Not really, no. I don’t really like partying or going out. I think growing up playing a sport professionally, it’s taught me discipline. I like doing things that will help my career. I’ve also never faced any difficulties maintaining a social life because of my club. We organise events and conferences, so I meet a lot of new people that way, and that’s also how I also keep in touch and spend time with everyone.
How do you keep motivated, and is it different between sports and academics?
I think I have one philosophy, which I learnt from my tennis coach, which is, “Do justice to whatever you’re doing”.
If I’ve taken up art, I’m going to do justice to it by giving it the time it deserves. If I take up a course, I’m going to do justice to it by doing my best. If I’m doing salsa, I’ll give it my time and do justice to it. It’s all about doing justice for what I’ve chosen for myself. I don’t want to leave anything half-done.
What are some of your goals?
I want to get into social working. I love helping people and it really satisfies me, more than earning money, so working and doing it for the community.
I’m doing Sports Management [but want to leverage that] into gender studies: women’s rights and lack of access within sports. I want to help people in the rural areas in India get the opportunity to play sports, especially for the women. There’s this organisation in India — OYE (Organization for the Youth & Elderly) that I want to get involved with and work for. They help not only the youth and elderly but also soldiers and refugees. I want to help and give back to the community.
My own personal goal is to stay with my family. When I started playing tennis professionally at the age of 9, I moved out from my home into another city away from my family. Since then, I haven’t lived with my family for a really long time, so that has always been a personal goal — to stay close and live with my family for a long time. To find work near them, especially since my parents are both doctors, so they are very busy, and I want to have the time to spend with them.
I also want to travel, so that I can find inspiration for my art. I want to travel with my family, because they are my top priority. Whatever I want to do, I want to do with my family. My parents and sister have always been my best friends since I was a kid, because I don’t socialise much.
What advice do you have for new international students who don’t know what to expect?
I think one thing that I learnt when I came to Melbourne that I think is very important is human connection. When I first came to Melbourne I kept to myself, even though I was living with a group of people. I would do everything by myself. But that doesn’t help you in the long run. You need to build human connections. You need to talk to people, you need to share with people things. When you come here from another country, you often have absolutely no one. So you need friends — you need that support, and find people who will be there for you.
I think a career is important, but there are lots of things that are as important. So give time to spending time with friends, give time to explore your passions. If you like travelling, go and travel. Do something for yourself. You will be working on your career for the rest of your life, and you’re young, so it’s okay to do things for yourself and have fun.
Another piece of advice is that when you come here, you are a blank canvas. Add things that will take you to a place that you want to be. If you want to pursue art, go add and experiment with it. Treat yourself like a blank canvas and keep adding good things to that blank canvas.