Hi! Thank you for stopping by! My name is Aparajita (AJ) Jeedigunta. Studying culture and people is one of my passions in life, and so far it has led me on one of the most incredible journeys I could ever hope for. It has taken me from a childhood in India, to higher education in the American Midwest, to graduate school and academia in Hawaii, and now to the latest chapter in my life in California. Along the way, I have been fortunate enough to be exposed to an amazing array of diversity in people and thoughts.
I was born in a small coastal town in the South Indian state of Andhra, and I was raised in Hyderabad until I was 14 years old. My family is about conservative and traditional as Indian families get, but by virtue of growing up in an urban, metropolitan jungle, I was exposed to a countless number of people from other walks of life as I grew up. I had the privilege of a great education. I was also an extremely curious and independent kid who didn’t mind doing something differently than the rest of the world around me. My favorite question was (and still is) “Why?” I was that kid. I always needed to know why some people were speaking different languages than me, why they were following different customs than I was, why they thought differently than what I was taught, why they practiced different religions and so on. Observing and making sense of these kind of cultural complexities was truly fascinating. Even at that young age, I sensed that the culture we identify with, and the way we express and practice our identity are driving forces that fundamentally shape people into who they are. If only I had known then just where my life would take me in my journey!
“When I was 14, my parents and I migrated to Michigan, United States. We went from being a part of a community where everyone basically looked like us, to being the outsiders and minorities in every sense of the word, in a brand new, totally alien world. So, there I was, on a new planet (or at least it seemed like it at the time), going through culture shock and puberty at the same time. To top it all off, I was a brand new sophomore in my all-girls high school, entering a situation where friendships and groups had already been formed. Yet, to my surprise, even in this new world, the cultures and sub-cultures that people identified with and they way they incorporated these values into their lives were still the same driving forces that made them into who they were. I knew I was onto something, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
Much to my parents’ chagrin, I chose not to pursue medicine as a career choice. From as far back as I can remember, I was told that I was going to be either a neurosurgeon or a cardiologist. So, of course, I decided to pursue a doctorate in Social Psychology, specifically focusing on the study of culture and everything it entails, and everything it affects. The fact that I got to pursue this in Hawaii – one of the most culturally inclusive melting pots in America – was an added bonus. To top it all off, I was the first and only student of Indian heritage in the history of my department, so what I really wanted to study wasn’t even offered as a structured program. I had to create and shape every step I wanted to take, on my own. This only made me more determined to pave my own road, without ever knowing to where it might lead.
So, armed with my educational credentials and knowledge, I taught many courses at the college level for over 5 years, worked in non-profit management, tried my hand at owning a business (twice), and made dozens of failed attempts to make a mark for myself in the corporate world. I realized I failed because I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that something was wrong. Nothing that I was doing was satisfying me at my core. Nothing was making me happy. I had battled and resolved an untold number of conflicts in life, but nothing was giving me a true sense of accomplishment in my life.
Then, something interesting happened. I figured out that I was the most engaged with myself and with the world around me when I was talking about all the different cultural observations I noticed over the years. I was talking to dozens of people about my observations, specifically about the Indian culture and the Indian-American culture. My analyses rang true to many people, and they led to some of the most insightful and interesting discussions in my life. Several people started asking me if there was a way they could share these thoughts and discussions with their friends and loved ones. So, here we are!