Growing up in Tokyo, Pria Koll ‘18 watched American movies— narratives about young characters living in a world across the Pacific. On-screen, American kids were independent, often wandering outside the house alone at night or seeking their own adventures without an adult’s permission. For Pria, this inviting blend of autonomy and self-possession became the image of the distant country in which she would soon spend her high school years.
“America to me looked like a place where you go to be an adult, where you find yourself and become a human being,” Pria told the Notes. And perhaps this is what attracted her to Thacher in the first place: a strange opportunity to grow up.
Pria already had a taste of the independence she admired, yet it lacked the thrill and challenges of true adulthood. “You are so safe in Japan,” she explained. “You can walk around by yourself. For me, being able to walk outside my door and being right in the middle of the city was what shaped me into the person I am today.”
While initially assuming she would attend an international academy through high school, she felt conflicted. “Going through middle school and sort of understanding the life of an international kid in Tokyo, I just didn’t want to go down that path,” Pria reflected. “Because in a way my friends went down this path of breaking rules, sneaking out and staying up late into the night— not really going anywhere, I guess.”
Her decision to attend Thacher was as personal as it was ambitious. However, to break with tradition was intimidating. And despite Pria’s lofty hopes for her American high school experience, the transition posed its own challenges.
While at Thacher, Pria feels at home in the insulated community. But, she expressed discomfort with the country outside the school’s walls: “I don’t like to spend too much time here.” When asked about this unease, Pria highlighted two distinctions between Japan and the United States.
The first came as an anecdote. “As soon as I got off the airplane and was walking through the terminal, I remember seeing twelve American flags on the wall,” she remarked. “To me that was like, ‘Woah, lots of patriotic feeling.’” While common displays of patriotism go unnoticed to most of us, Pria immediately felt the prominence of American nationalism. Looking at herself as an America was often difficult and she grappled with a culture markedly different from her home. “It was just really surprising to me,” she offered.
The second difference she noted underscored one of America’s perennial issues: “When I came to Thacher —well not just Thacher, but in general— there was such a focus on race.” As an outsider, Pria described a home unfamiliar with racial conflicts. At her elementary school, she observed, “We never talked about race. We never really talked about diversity because the community I was in was already so diverse.”
Thacher, like many other private institutions, struggles with fostering a racially diverse community. With initiatives to broaden student and faculty demographics, race awareness has become an undercurrent of campus life. This did not go unnoticed for Pria.
She said, “I was used to living in a community where everyone was from different places and it was never an issue. But then coming to Thacher where it was such a big discussion made me realize, ‘Wow, I kinda miss home a little bit.’”
Yet despite this, Pria has weathered these cultural differences with grace, attributing her resolve to her buoyant character: “I think one aspect of my personality that is important is my optimism towards things. I think seeing how other people get on made me realize the effect that a negative outlook can have on your well-being.”
Indeed, throughout her interview, Pria crescendoed with intrigue and humor, and her energy never wavered. Whether she cracked jokes or took a moment to laugh at herself, she expressed comfort in Thacher’s environment.
“I find that being here, a lot of people don’t care what you do and appreciate what you do when you’re weird,” she commented. As the head of the often comedic Mind Bender club, a group that encourages community interaction through bi-monthly riddles, Pria thrives when pushing the envelope. Through her mildly eccentric personality, she has managed to carve her own place within Thacher’s borders.
In many ways, Pria’s upbringing in Tokyo inspired an identity fueled by new experiences. She has found that an openness to such experiences —while they can present their own obstacles— has yielded many of her most poignant moments at Thacher. And as she begins her final year, it is clear that her independence has not flourished in spite of her challenges, but because of them.