Rohan Swamy gives his account of being an international student in Ireland, and what studying abroad really entails.
In the latter half of your 20's, when you are a little older, and a lot wiser, the idea of going back to school is like taking a step back from a decently settled career. Going back to school in a foreign land entails even more in terms of logistics, finances, applications and of course bureaucracy.
Nevertheless, if one makes a choice of jumping the barriers and taking the plunge, studying abroad opens up a portal to a world within the world we live in. And this is not just an opportunity to learn new things; I feel that it is a chance to un-learn things that have the potential to cloud the idea of acceptance. I won’t go into great details of the journey made from the tropical climates of India to the temperate climates of Ireland. I won’t even talk about the financial shock that I received when I learnt a can of cola cost more than what I spent daily on meals back in India. Nor will I go into details of the fear that was instilled in me by ‘supposed’ well-wishers when they recounted the horrors of racism-induced crimes that were inflicted on the ‘brown-skinned man’ by the ‘white-skinned man’.
The day I arrived in Ireland, a junior from school (of Italian-Brazilian heritage) welcomed me at the airport. She was more excited to meet me than I was to be here. The manager of the hostel that I checked into fist-bumped me when I told him that I had come to study creative writing (against the long held notion that Indians travel to study computer sciences abroad), and asked me to remember him as a character in one of my stories. At the bar next to the hostel, I ran into two gentlemen (travellers themselves), one of who had never actually met anyone from India, and they both insisted on buying me a drink and later on, dinner at an Eddie Rockets outlet round the corner.
The first friend I made here was from the city of Olbia in the province of Sardinia, Italy. Up until then, the only mention of Olbia I recollected was from the Sidney Sheldon bestseller 'Bloodline'. Over the next few days at the hostel, I met people from across the globe. Places that were just names once upon a time metamorphosed into people. Smiles were less plastic and more organic. The policemen smiled, random strangers smiled, the four-fingered homeless man let me pet his dog. I never saw racism. I smelt it faintly at times but never saw it. At school, there were colleagues who wanted to share experiences and professors who encouraged to bend standard issue norms to create new ones. Innovation was encouraged and not frowned upon.
Studying abroad is comprised of these experiences that cannot be quantified. It entails setting up a new world after having dismantled the previous one. You also start unlearning myths and pre-conceived notions about people and begin to learn, in the truest sense of the word.
But outside the philosophical aspect, studying abroad also opens a new portal for critical thinking, as well as understanding the opinions of others first hand. As mentioned earlier, this allows you to modify your own thoughts and uproot notions that have been held onto wrongly for years. Critical thinking, I believe, enables us to become more tolerant of others and their opinions. More than sympathising it allows you to empathise with people and situations.
Lastly, what does it mean to study abroad in terms of education? For starters, it allows you get a clearer insight into the trends and methods that are being employed in another part of the world, in your field of study. Second, it allows you to interact with people from across the world and expand your own horizons and thoughts. Finally, it fills you with a treasure trove of memories that cannot be bought, but reminisced over a lifetime.