When Tej Chigateri first arrived at Montana State University in the fall of 2002, it was dark, and the Bangalore, India-native remembers being unable to sleep because he was too excited to see what his new surroundings looked like.
He had left his home and family in India to come to MSU on a tennis scholarship, and Bozeman promised to be different from the bustling metropolis of Bangalore.
"I grew up in a place with almost five million people," Chigateri said. "Bozeman has a population of about 35,000. I probably had 35,000 people in my neighborhood."
As Chigateri was searching among dozens of colleges and universities in the United States, his main priority was to find a school where he could earn a scholarship to play Division I tennis.
He landed at MSU because it fit that requirement and because the tennis coach finished Chigateri's paperwork in time for a visa, which was necessary for studying in the U.S.
Playing Tennis at MSU
Since Chigateri's arrival on the MSU campus, he has excelled both on the tennis court and in the classroom. As a tennis player, Chigateri helped propel the MSU men's tennis team to three Big Sky Conference tennis championships since 2004 and was named Big Sky Conference Player of the Week three times.
Montana State was lucky to have Chigateri on its team, said his coach, Mike Phillips.
Chigateri not only helped the team to important victories - Phillips calls his career highlight a win in 2005 against Southern Methodist University when that school was ranked number 38 in the nation - but he was also a pleasure to have on the team.
"He was a hard worker, always enthusiastic and fun to be around," Phillips said. "He really competed with a lot of heart. It was fun to watch him play."
Chigateri, whose partial scholarship to play tennis at MSU eventually evolved into a full scholarship, started taking tennis seriously at about age 11. He trained for six years under Krishna Bhupathi, whose son, Mahesh Bhupathi, is one of the world's top doubles players.
His efforts yielded results.
"Tej was in the top 10 in India when he was playing there as a junior, and that means something, because there are a lot of good players there," Phillips said.
Playing at MSU improved Chigateri's game, Chigateri said, and it was also a source of pride.
"I got bigger, stronger and faster in the U.S.," he said. "And it was such an honor representing this school.
We definitely made waves," Chigateri said of the team's performance. "I think we set the bar high. I want somebody to break [the bar]."
Strong Academic Performance
Despite a full tennis schedule, Chigateri also excelled as a business management major, maintaining high grades and winning awards, such as being named one of this year's winners of an Award for Excellence.
He credits his success to hard work and to the College of Business, which he said is designed to help students succeed.
"I think it's a great program," he said, citing the breadth of courses the curriculum encourages. "It's good to take classes from many areas, like philosophy, history and business," he said. "It's broader that way."
An internship last summer at RightNow Technologies, a global software company based in Bozeman, also helped prepare Chigateri for the business world. The internship - a podcasting project which Chigateri completed early - led to part-time work with the company during the academic year.
"I learn something every day there," said Chigateri, who does Web maintenance work in RightNow's marketing department for about 12 to 15 hours per week.
The transition from Bangalore to Bozeman wasn't seamless, though. Chigateri misses his family and his older brother, who live in India, and he remembers feeling culture shock when being confronted with differences in things such as food, driving and living situations in the dorms. However, he notes that he learned from every experience, and Montana State exceeded his initial expectations.
"I like the little town experience," he said. "I like the space. And it's beautiful here."
Looking Ahead to the Future
- Though he misses tennis - Chigateri's four-year stint at MSU concluded last spring - he's now looking forward to his career. When he graduates in May, he might try to secure a full-time position at a business in the United States, and he envisions going back to school within the next three years to earn an MBA.
"My goal is to get into a top MBA school," he said. "I'll apply to the top 15 to 20 schools and hope to get into one. I want to work for corporate America."
In the meantime, Chigateri is relishing his remaining time at MSU and in Bozeman, which he calls a web of connections.
"Professors here have invited me to Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas parties," he said. "Professors and friends in the community come to my tennis matches. I think I wouldn't expect that in L.A."
For Chigateri, landing at MSU was a good decision, he said. "The best-case scenario was to come here, to get a degree valid all over the world, to play tennis at a high level and to get a scholarship while doing this," he said. "It's a win-win-win situation. What more can I ask for?"
By Anne Pettinger