One of my favourite things to do at the airport, after devouring copious amounts of food, is to watch people. I came upon this quote, which reads, “The truth is that airports have seen more sincere kisses than the wedding halls, and the walls of hospitals have heard more prayers than the walls of a church.” This quote always plays in my head while at the airport, watching as people squeal with happiness, joy and excitement while running to greet their loved ones at arrivals and holding back tears of sadness and sorrow when they have to depart. The airport has always been host to such contrasting, genuine emotions, and I have been lucky enough to be witness to this whole spectacle.
In 2018, I made the decision to leave India, the only home I had ever known, to move to Canada to start my MBA program. If you are wondering why an MBA? Have a read here to get a quick glimpse of my reasons. There were mixed feelings flowing through my body. On one hand, I was ecstatic to be starting my dream program in a brand new country and on another, there was this pit in my stomach filled with uneasiness, sadness and nostalgia. It replicated the emotions felt at arrivals and departures at airports. For the majority of my first semester at university, this feeling always made its presence felt.
I understand that the experience of being an international student is different for everyone. I also noticed that most students found their new normal in a matter of days, however, I quickly realized that someone could have looked at me from two years ago and also assumed that I was fitting in perfectly too. I was making friends quickly (attributed to my social nature), getting involved, and keeping up my grades. In retrospect, that is when I realized that the only person who could understand and address my internal struggle was myself.
There have been times when I felt like I was fitting in right away, and other times where I felt like a foreigner in a new country. A good example of this could be traced back to when I met diverse individuals from various backgrounds and geographies for my program, and it got me thinking, “What am I doing here? How do I fit in?” Luckily for me, this self-consciousness slowly but steadily started to fade away. It finally came down to one thing — the people.
My absolute favourite thing about Canadians is their kindness, and there is no other country in the world that better reflects this mutual kindness and respect for each other. My university in particular, has adopted ways to introduce and welcome international students to the Canadian culture and lifestyle. They have had numerous events in the past like “Thanksgiving Dinner”, “Canada Day Barbecue”, and many such events. I also had the privilege of having friends invite me over to their places during important holidays, and look after me, for which I am very grateful. I realized then that we are all probably facing the same struggle. This revelation made me further open up to people, and people not only showed interest but encouraged such discussions.
If I could turn back time and have a chat with that anxious first year version of myself, I would advise him not to stay holed up in his room, instead I would tell him go out, meet people, and share life experiences with each other in order to build great relationships. There is no single correct rule in life to fit in. We acknowledge that we are from different backgrounds and different experiences, carrying the weight of our different stories.
To my fellow students, I ask that when you encounter someone that you may not fully know or understand, it’s important to have respect, empathize, and be inclusive of that person. I’m grateful to my university and Canada for helping me achieve those three things.
Finally, to my fellow international students, carry your culture with you. Initially, I used to wonder if my accent would set me apart from the rest, but now I see it as an expression of my roots that keeps me closer to home. Being categorized as “different” can be scary to begin with, but it is also what makes you who you are, which is beautiful. Just know that people are not confused by you, they are curious about you. So, encourage indulgence and open up to them. Be yourself and present your culture with absolute pride. There is no better place to do so than in this country, which promotes and celebrates the strength in diversity. There is a long journey ahead of me in this beautiful country.
Welcome to Canada.