Pencil and paper: How sophomore Karthik Dulla taught himself through middle school


Nidhi Pejathaya

Sophomore Karthik Dulla decides his next move as he plays a game of chess against himself. Dulla learned to play chess in India since it was the only thing he could do to pass the time. “You don’t have to be smart to play chess, all you need to know is how all the pieces move, and then you can take a go at it,” Dulla said.

When sophomore Karthik Dulla’s United States visa expired, he and his family returned to India in October 2021. They planned to stay for a few months while the U.S. approved a new visa. But, when the pandemic hit, they stayed longer than intended. Stuck in India without access to WiFi or school, Dulla found alternatives to keep himself busy and educated.

“I had a lot of free time since I wasn’t in school,” Dulla said. “And there was no Wi-Fi during the day, [so] I decided to try out chess.”

Dulla learned the rules of chess when he was five, but he did not start playing and studying the game until he moved to India.

“At first, [chess] was the only thing I could do, but then as I started playing it more, it got more and more fun,” Dulla said. “I used to play against a computer, and [after a game] I’d analyze and see where I went wrong, and where my opponent went [wrong], [and] I’d learn from that.”

While India’s government requires children ages 6 to 14 to be educated, around 32 million have never been to school. Intending to return to the United States within a few months, Dulla did not enroll in school.

“We kept thinking we were going to go back to the U.S., so [enrolling in school] would be a waste,” Dulla said. “We thought we’d be able to get the documentation done quickly, but then COVID-19 hit.”

When Dulla’s family saw that the process was taking longer than a few months, they ordered him Physics, Biology and English textbooks from Disha books so he could homeschool himself and prepare for the SCC-JE exams, which are recruits junior engineering students in India.

“My studying was very erratic. Sometimes I’d study for really long, and sometimes I didn’t; nobody was making me, but on average, I’d study around five hours a day,” Dulla said.

“I started teaching myself from when we first moved. There was a lot of self-motivation behind it, because I had to study if I didn’t want to fall behind when we got back.”

— Karthik Dulla

Living in rural India gave Dulla time to spend with family while learning how to live without the internet.

“I would get fresh milk from the neighbor and then eat breakfast. [After that,] I would study Biology or Physics if I had free time. After that, I would eat lunch, and then there was more studying,” Dulla said.

Dulla believes his two years of homeschooling got him ahead academically and taught him how to overcome challenges.

“When I didn’t understand something, I was screwed unless one of my parents knew or I knew someone who knew it,” Dulla said. “For me, learning Biology was harder. Biology is a lot of information without explanations, and it all felt unrelated, so I’d often get frustrated. I’d have to move on until I understood the topic more.”

When his family moved back to the U.S. in October 2022, he found transitioning to a structured form of schooling challenging. He was unfamiliar with earning specific credits and participating in clubs.

“I never had to worry about credits or learn about new clubs. I didn’t get to do all that, and I just had to learn about all this new stuff; that was the hardest,” Dulla said. “[Teaching myself] might have been more challenging, but I certainly liked it more [since] it allowed me to [study certain] areas that I wanted to get ahead in.”

Dulla’s original plan to skip a variety of freshman, sophomore and junior classes halted when he learned Parkway students could only earn two credits through testing out of a course. Dulla took Algebra 2 Trigonometry his freshman year and could test out of Honors Pre-Calculus.

“I could be learning so much more,” Dulla said. “I didn’t want to sit through something that I could learn much faster by myself. It doesn’t [affect] me now, but in the future, it might since I won’t be able to take as many classes.”