Students + Campus

Blazing a trail from the Middle East to UCLA

UCLA senior Yuvraj Talwar
Peggy McInerny/UCLA

Yuvraj Talwar of Dubai will be starting his senior year at UCLA this fall. His family's enthusiasm for the campus is one reason why the largest number of undergrads from the United Arab Emirates are coming to study at UCLA this fall.

When Yuvraj Talwar began his undergraduate studies at UCLA in 2012, he was one of only a few students from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). But this fall, in large part because of the enthusiasm with which Talwar and his parents have embraced the campus, UCLA will be enrolling approximately 30 students from the small federation of emirates, the largest number of undergraduates to come from that part of the Persian Gulf ever.  

True ambassadors, his parents share their love of the UCLA campus at information sessions they host for potential students and their families in their Dubai home.

In turn, Talwar, a soft-spoken senior, and other international students from distant lands, bring a global perspective to this campus — in and outside of the classroom. Now a senior, Yuvraj started the UCLA Cricket Club last year and was able to field a team for league play. Recently, Yuvraj was one of two team captains in Southern California to be named “newcomers of the year” by the American College Cricket League.

Courtesy of Yuvraj Talwar
Talwar (above) organized the UCLA Cricket Club when he missed playing his favorite sport. The nascent club was able to field a team to represent UCLA in the American College Cricket league.

Back in 2012, Yuvraj chose UCLA over his other top university choice, University College London, to get out of his comfort zone and indulge in his passion for economics. “I love economics, but I don't like the mathematics that surrounds it because I'm not a mathematician,” he said.

He found what he was looking for in the International Development Studies (IDS) Program, part of the UCLA International Institute. “IDS gave me the option to take economic classes and is also very interdisciplinary,” he explained. Although he has focused primarily on regional economics, he studied Italian for two years and spent a summer in Italy.

The relationship his parents, Lovraj and Dolly Talwar, developed with the university began when Yuvraj applied at UCLA, but it grew stronger when they came to Westwood to drop their son off and stayed for orientation. “We were at a luncheon at which our son happened to be seated right next to Susan Wilbur, [then] director of undergraduate admissions at UCLA,” recalled Lovraj Talwar, managing director of Terrazzo Ltd., a UAE-based firm that specializes in construction materials and operates throughout the region. 

After the luncheon, Wilbur approached Lovraj to learn more about his son’s high school and the students who attend it.

The Talwars soon invited Wilbur to visit Dubai. “Since then, one thing has led to the other,” the father said. The Talwars have now become full-fledged Friends of UCLA, a group of International Institute supporters, and have opened their home in Dubai to people wanting to learn more about the campus. “We’ve been holding at least a couple of events a year in our residence in Dubai — to encourage students to apply and then choose UCLA over other schools [which have accepted them].” The Talwars also have become regular visitors to Los Angeles.

A game of patience

Yuvraj has come to love UCLA, and California in general, especially the sunny weather and laid-back lifestyle. But when he first arrived, he missed one essential thing: cricket, his favorite sport. A bat-and-ball game that remains unfamiliar to most Americans, cricket is played mostly by the member nations of the British Commonwealth. Although UCLA had a formal cricket club sometime in the 1920s and has had informal games since then, it did not have a formal organization. So Yuvraj decided to create one in the last academic year and fielded a team that played in the college-level league.

Considered to be one of the most popular sports in the world after soccer in terms of audience size, international competitive cricket is played in matches called “tests” that last for five days, with 10 hours of play a day; it's a game of endurance and strategy in equal measure. 

“Cricket is a patience game,” said Yuvraj, a lifelong player who claims the sport is “nothing other than a religion.” He considers American sports to be “crash-bang-wallop.” “They are very loud, whereas cricket — especially the traditional game — has never been loud,” he explained. “It’s meant to be a gentleman’s game.”

Among the players he has recruited for the club are members who are learning the sport for the first time. Between 15 and 30 players played regularly for the club during the 2014–15 academic year. The UCLA team even played a demonstration game in Compton, where ex-gang members have famously formed the Compton Cricket Club. “When we were playing our game … the high school baseball kids came to watch us,” Yuvray said. “They were also being cross-trained in cricket. And those kids were amazing. They were really, really good. … It was a humbling experience.”

Despite the knowledge gap about cricket in the U.S., Yuvraj is certain the sport will become popular in this country. “ESPN has had a lot to do with football [soccer] coming to life in the United States in the last 10 years,” Yuvraj said. “I’d say cricket here is where soccer was 50 years ago.”

Other reasons to come to Westwood

While students from the UAE may not be coming to UCLA to play cricket, there are many other reasons to come, say the university’s supporters in Dubai.

 “I think UCLA is the right choice for a lot of people from so many different angles — it's a great combination of lots of advantages,” said Lovraj Talwar. Parents in Dubai do not have to be convinced of UCLA’s outstanding academic standing, but the biggest concern appears to be that parents initially think California is a world away, he said.

“They think the West Coast is too far,” he said, adding that L.A. is now a direct, 15-hour flight away from Dubai. “But the climate, the whole city of Los Angeles and the State of California — all of that is so infectious that you forget everything else.”

Read the complete story posted on the International Institute’s website.

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