“Here,” Rich texted when we were supposed to meet, “looking really grungy.”
"Really grungy" might have a different meaning for most Penn students though; Rich looks put together. He's even arrived a few minutes early— which is extra impressive, considering the number of activities that fill the slots on his calendar. Rich's extensive involvement means that he has branched into a lot of different groups at Penn.
“Penn has a problem with self–segregation of communities,” he admitted. “People with similar backgrounds or interests tend to gravitate towards each other.”
Consciously or not, Rich has developed the ability to float between different crowds at Penn. He blends two vastly different majors into one course schedule (while fulfilling all of the pre–med requirements), is a member of two different senior societies (serving as the president of one), and was the president of the 200+ member South Asian Society at Penn, which brings different Asian–identifying groups together into one collective.
When he talks about his involvement with different communities on campus, he speaks deliberately, twisting a class ring on one finger. He has only positive things to say about each group: each one, according to Rich, has superlative qualities. He doesn’t pick favorites among his senior societies—even though he is the president of Friars and wears a crewneck with the hooded Friar symbol during our interview.
Rich admits that his two majors—Biology and South Asian Studies—don’t have a lot in common, but he hopes to combine them one day by working to improve public health in India. His Indian heritage and love for Indian culture is what prompted him to add the major in South Asian Studies.
This talent for bringing disparate things together underscores almost everything he’s done at Penn. When he was the president of the South Asian Society (SAS), Rich would coordinate events between different Asian–identifying groups on campus. He has been involved with the organization since his freshman year and served as the president of its 200+ members. Last year, he was a leading organizer of the SAS Game of Thrones–themed fall culture show, a massive performing arts exhibition featuring Penn Masala and ten other acts.
Even his solely recreational activities have the scheduled precision of someone who is adept at managing their time. “I am in Copa every Wednesday at 6:00,” he explained. Picking a favorite food truck or Indian buffet is not a trivial matter; both preferences are informed by meticulous tasting research. (For reference: according to Rich, the best Mexican food on campus is the Tacos Don Memo truck and the best Indian restaurant is Dana Mandi).
Next year, Rich will take a year off to apply to medical school. He’s not yet sure of exactly what he’ll do, but he’d like to draw from his experience working in Philadelphia and Boston health clinics to volunteer in India. “I’m really interested in public health problems that exist there, like social determinants of health. For primary care especially, there’s a lot to be said for things outside of medicine that affect your healthcare—behavior, diet, poverty, lifestyle," he said, once again combining two distinct interests into one goal.
In his own words:
Street: There are two types of people at Penn, what are they?
Rich Chaudhary: So, I thought about this, and I’d say the two types are the people who eat from Don Memos, which is my favorite food truck, and people who don’t know what a good burrito tastes like.
Street: So that leads nicely into the second question: if you are what you eat, what are you?
RC: I like spicy food, so I would say either that or...I eat a lot at Indian buffets.
Street: What’s something that’s changed about you since coming to Penn?
RC: I think since freshman year, I’ve became very comfortable in my own skin. When I came to Penn, I was very intimidated by the culture and the types of people that were here and I tried to be someone who was appealing to other people but that wasn’t me, and sometime between my sophomore and junior year I became very much myself.
Street: How would you suggest Penn students take a step back?
RC: I think we just need to remember why we came here and what we really want out of our college experience. And for me that was a lot of focus, sometimes even at the expense of classes, on relationship–building and getting to know people and understanding different perspectives.
Street: Humanities majors are better than science majors at...?
RC: Interpersonal skills and reflection.
Street: Do you have a favorite meme?
RC: I’ve recently started loving the Kermit the Frog memes when he’s looking in the the mirror and it’s like "me at me." And I like the ones where the guy is sprinkling something on something, like sprinkling glitter on something. Memes are a way of life, though, honestly. I love them.
Street: If there was a Kermit meme about you, like the bad side of you to the good side of you, what would the meme be?
RC: The meme would kind of center around the internal struggle I face most nights if I want to stay in and do work or go to Copa and drink double margaritas.
Street: What’s cooler than being cool?
RC: I think being nice. That’s really underrated.