June is National Caribbean American Heritage Month, and Trinidad and Tobago native Vaishnavi Maharaj is proud to be the only Florida Polytechnic University student from the dual-island nation. Born and raised in beautiful Trinidad, she is used to living in a cultural melting pot.
“Trinidad is extremely multi-cultural. We grow up exposed to so many traditions from different countries and religions,” said Maharaj, who is majoring in computer engineering with a concentration in machine intelligence. “That mixture of culture makes it easy for me to relate to people with different backgrounds.”
Maharaj’s family, originally from India, established itself in Trinidad four generations ago. Only a week before she began her Florida Poly journey in the fall 2018, they moved to Lakeland. Having been exposed to diversity her whole life, coming to Florida Poly as an international student was a challenge she felt ready to undertake.
“It’s not easy leaving your country behind and changing environments, but everyone at Florida Poly is kind and welcoming,” she said. “I don’t feel like an international student. I feel like a Florida Poly student in a place where everyone is embraced.”
The rising sophomore heard about Florida Poly for the first time from a family member living in Florida. Maharaj immediately researched the University because she wanted to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
“What appealed to me the most was that the school is all STEM focused, and the fact that it is significantly smaller than other universities,” she said. “I didn’t want to be just a number in a huge university.”
Florida Poly’s small size enables students to get to know one another better, encouraging them to share their culture in a welcoming environment, according to Maharaj.
“I share steel band music with my friends. Trinidad is the birthplace of steel band and I love it,” she said.
Maharaj also wants her peers to experience traditional Trinidadian dishes, like macaroni pie and rice and beans.
“I sometimes invite them to my house and my family cooks for them,” she added.
Looking ahead, Maharaj has her eyes on California, specifically Silicon Valley, where she hopes to find her dream job as a computer engineer one day. In the meantime, she is excited to continue developing the skills she will need to reach that goal.
“I’ve seen so many Florida Poly students talk about how much the different programs here changed them, built them confidence, and gave them leadership skills,” she said.
“That is something that I really want to learn and develop in myself.”
Assistant Director of Communications