Guest Contributor: Marie-Frédérique Ouellet
While taking a sip of my masala chai with alu paratha, I am staring at these kids throwing colorful powder at each other, laughing and running in every direction. The city is calm, the sun is clear and the air is fresh. So much to see, so much to taste, so much to discover: Welcome to India.
Even after two years, some people still ask with stupefaction, why I left Canada for India to pursue my Master’s Degree and if I did not have universities in my own country. Most of the time I quickly answer that I came to India to specialize in agriculture economics and Indo-Canadian relations but that is just one part of the truth. The other part is that after my undergraduate program, I made the decision of offering myself the greatest gift: I went to study abroad. I chose myself for two years. A gift from yourself to yourself that changes your whole perception of life and its intrinsic value. Studying abroad leaves you by yourself with your knowledge, culture and values in the middle of a whole new world where the culture is different, the religions are different, the language and food habits are different, where everything is to discover. The real challenge is to find the strength to adapt in this new world without losing who you are.
After my studies in International Economics and Development at the University of Ottawa, I wanted to become an economist. Specifically, I wanted to become a development economist. The kind that can bring efficient economic solutions and alternatives based on a deep understanding of the social, cultural and historical background. After my third year of Bachelor’s Degree, I was selected by the Ontario/Maharashtra Goa Student Exchange Program to pursue the Student India Program in Symbiosis International University in Pune, India. I came back to Canada to finish my last year of undergraduate studies and started to prepare my application to conduct a Master’s Degree in India. After my graduation, I received the Commonwealth Scholarship Plan in collaboration with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Department of Foreign Affairs of Canada, which gave me the opportunity to pursue the Master’s Degree in Economics at Hyderabad Central University in India.
It took me almost a year to plan and prepare what was going to be the biggest trip of my life, with myself as my only travel partner and my humility and curiosity as carrying luggage. To anyone thinking about pursuing a degree or a semester abroad, few steps can guide you:
1) Choose a country, read about its culture, history and social development. See if it peaks your curiosity to the point where you are determined to live and experince it by yourself.
2) Look for the different educational programs that are offered by the host country and if the diploma obtained abroad will be recognized by your home country or own institution. You can discuss with your teachers and determinethe added-value of this diploma to your career. Discuss with your parents and friends about your project, ask their opinion and determine the pros and cons.
3) Look for scholarships offered by the Provincial and Federal governments, such as the Department of Global Affairs Canada, NGOs, organizations for international studies, LOGIQ for students from Quebec, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Canada India Education Council, Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, Commonwealth Scholarship Plan, Ontario/Maharashtra Goa Student Exchange Program. Also, many Canadian universities are offering scholarships to students willing to complete a semester abroad.
4) Construct a budget of the expected expenditures and fees. Try to determine the total cost of this project, including flight tickets, visa fees, accommodations and living expenditures, fix a budget if you want to travel across the country. By preparing your project in advance, you can find many helpful ideas, you can ask for the flight tickets as birthday or graduation gift from your family and friends, save money from part-time work to achieve this specific goal, work with NGOs and seek out sponsorships. If there is no solution, it is because there was no problem at the beginning.
5) Make an appointment at a travel health clinic. The specialists will give you advice and preventions for the specific country you will travel to, discuss with your doctor about the different options to ensure your security abroad. For example, ask about the prevention of malaria, hepatitis, rabies, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and if you should receive any specific vaccine before leaving.
6) Learn more about the culture, the university where you will study, the basic courtesies of the country, watch documentaries on the social challenges the country is facing, learn more about their history and language. The better your preparation, the easier your adaptation to this new environment will be.
7) Enjoy, learn, share and make a lot of friends.
I hope this article brings to you the fire required to conduct what I believe is the biggest trip of your life. You will face challenges, culture shocks and misunderstandings, but you need to look beyond that. You will discover a new culture, make life-long friends, learn a new language, you will see landscapes that you can normally only see in movies. The memories and friendships created will remain long after the completion of your studies. By the way, the picture was taken in Munnar, Kerala in December 2015. Yes, life as an international student is pretty boring as you can see 😉 Give it a try, you will be surprised!