For India’s newest Bulls, a sprinkle of Stardust

Ojas Rawal, ’08, advocates for USF in his homeland

Ojas Rawal, a young Indian man with dark hair and glasses, stands in front of a bright blue display with Education USA Orientation in text. He is wearing a light gray suit and holding a University of South Florida pennant.

For 18 years, Rawal has helped prepare Indian students for life at USF and other U.S. universities. [Photos: courtesy of Ojas Rawal]


In the heart of Mumbai, India, in “the most precious corner of my house,” stands Ojas Rawal’s shrine to USF — a collection of Bulls awards and swag lovingly gathered over two decades. A successful film, theater and TV actor, he is a passionate advocate for international higher education, particularly at USF. 

So for 18 years, he has helped prepare Indian students for life here and at other U.S. universities. 

Rawal has a packed calendar. Last May he was in Los Angeles shooting a biopic, “Minus One Dollar,” for Gujarati-language cinema. A few weeks later, he toured western India and the U.K., regaling audiences with the Gujarati comedic play “Aaje Rokda Ne Udhaar Kaale” (“Cash Today and Loan Tomorrow”) while the thriller film “Gulaam Chor” (“A Slave Thief”) aired on a popular Indian streaming service and the daily sitcom he’s in approached its 700th episode. He’s currently shooting a Hindi web series on Mahatma Gandhi in which he plays Gandhi’s older brother.  

Still, Rawal makes time for the Indian teenagers and master’s students embarking on what can be a daunting adventure. Since 2005, he has been a panel moderator for pre-departure orientations hosted by EducationUSA, a U.S. State Department network of student advising centers. He and other USF alumni in India also volunteer at sessions specifically for students admitted to USF. 

“Ojas has been a wonderful ambassador for USF. Students look up to him and trust him. Now, he’s a popular celebrity, but 20 years ago, he was just like them — a young adult leaving behind everything familiar to live and learn in a completely different world. Ojas understands their concerns. And he did exceptionally well at USF,” says Kiki Caruson, vice president of USF World.

Ojas Rawal, a young man of Indian descent, poses with his sister, Khushali. The two are wearing green USF caps adorned with the iconic Bull U symbol, and she makes the USF ‘horns-up’ hand symbol.

Rawal and his sister and fellow alum, Khushali, are Horns Up for USF. [Photos: courtesy of Ojas Rawal]

More than 1,500 students from India are currently enrolled at USF. They constitute the university’s largest group of graduate students from overseas, and the third largest group of undergraduates. They also make up more than 25% of all foreign students studying in the United States. 

Rawal encourages seeking a college education in a different culture because, he says, it is unmatched in providing a global perspective.

“It equips a person with a plethora of opportunities for self-discovery, especially at an age that is most conducive to grasping and learning,” he says.

With his gift for captivating audiences and full faith in the benefits of choosing this path, he connects with students. 

“This could hardly be called a Q&A session because Ojas is so thorough and gives you such a 360-degree view of USF that there are hardly any questions left to ask!” one student commented after an orientation in Mumbai. 

He tells them to get involved. A 2008 biomedical sciences graduate who planned to become a physician, he took up teaching assistantships at USF, joined interest clubs, became editor-in-chief of the student-run newspaper, The Oracle, dabbled in theater and became a Student Government senator, among other pursuits. 

He warns the students they may get distracted by money woes. Don’t, he advises. Look for ways to save and earn instead of “moping about how expensive everything is as you keep mentally converting the dollar cost of every item into rupees!”  

He could talk for hours about his role as Resident Assistant for Beta Hall on the Tampa campus. 

“Not only did that experience teach me volumes about leadership but also gifted me friendships for life. I would bring in speakers, organize picnics, plan movie nights, host tutoring sessions … Fifteen years later I’m still in touch with most of my student residents and I’ve even attended the weddings of many. One look at the shining Best Resident Assistant trophy on my desk, and a flood of nostalgia engulfs me.”

His experiences still inspire many of his stand-up comedy routines.

 Rawal first attended a small private U.S. university, but transferred to USF because it offered more opportunities for undergraduate research and on-campus involvement, had a sizeable population of international students and a diverse array of student organizations. Those features, he reasoned, would allow him to grow in a more comprehensive way.

Inspired by her brother, his sister Khushali, ’15, followed. 

“Having my brother’s name etched forever on the walls of the University of South Florida as the Distinguished Student of Spring 2008 made the institution even more special for me,” she says.    

 While Rawal planned to become a physician, his involvement in campus life and a lucky break led to his career in show business and entertainment. It started with events he took part in as a member of USF’s Students of India Association, which hosts Bollywood parties and other cultural get-togethers. An offer to assist the legendary Bollywood film director Kundan Shah snowballed into a mini avalanche. Soon he was performing at The Comedy Factory, which pioneered stand-up comedy in Gujarati; became part of a local theater group; and started writing episodes for an Indian television channel.  

 “Before I could join a hospital or a research team or shadow a doctor, I was taken away into the field of performing arts,” he says. 

Still, he sometimes misses the world of academics and science. 

 “The nostalgia for it only increases with either a trip to USF or interactions with young U.S.-bound students or reading about a new biomedical intervention or even a passing look at all the USF paraphernalia that adorns my room,” he says. 

Rawal travels to the United States every year, and never fails to visit USF.

“I love to walk around the campus, sit near the MLK Plaza fountain where I used to grade papers, visit my professors, talk with the new Student Government senators at the Marshall Center, meet the young writers at The Oracle,” he says.

Seeing the Yuengling Center revives memories of graduation, and he loves seeing what’s new on campus.

“I was very excited to see the new Judy Genshaft Honors College building because that college holds a very precious place in my heart,” he says.

He continues to look for new ways to help USF change students’ lives — “just like it did mine,” he says.

“I will always look for opportunities wherein I can divide my time,  and my enthusiasm and my energy between the academic Ojas and the artiste Ojas.”