By Allison Turner, 2015-2016 Fulbright Student from Purdue University at the University of Waterloo
I’ve been in Canada for two and a half months. I’ve been in graduate school for two of those months. What have I learned after all of that international education-ing(?). This: if you want to feel alive, go study abroad…but be prepared for quite a ride.
In the first few weeks of my program, I felt lonely and frustrated. I’m used to a packed schedule, but graduate school started off very slowly. I only take one course this semester, and the remainder of my work involves the solitary tasks of reading and writing. I had lots of questions, but I felt silly asking them. Most of my classmates enjoyed the company of a friend close by; I struggled to keep in touch with old friends and mentors, who were a nation away.
However, I made an effort to resolve these issues, and things have improved as a result. Instead of doing my reading and writing alone, I now choose to work in a more collaborative “shared research space.” My classmates have been friendly and supportive beyond what I expected. They take the time to answer my silly questions, which has made me more confident asking them. They also frequently ask me how I’m doing and include me in excursions and workshops—actions we Americans sometimes neglect to do (and something I’m now working hard to improve upon).
Finding ways to get involved has also made me feel more at home in Canada. I’m a Master’s student representative for my department. I’ve taken on a leadership role in a student group, running the promotions committee for a festival happening next March. I am volunteering with a community group similar to one I volunteered at as an undergraduate, and it’s been fun to compare and contrast their approach. I attend fitness classes every week, where I come across students from different fields of study and from other foreign countries. Last week I traveled to a Lake Erie forum for my research, where I learned firsthand about issues and initiatives in the area. I also stopped by a greenhouse, national park, and provincial park on my way back to campus.
Finally, it’s been fun to learn unique things about Canada, while sharing stories from the United States. For example, I learned a lot about Canadian politics when I watched the election results with my classmates, and I got to talk to my classmates about the early stages of the American presidential race. I’m in awe of the Canadian tradition of wearing a poppy to remember their veterans, wishing we had something similar in the United States. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed trying some Canadian food!
In sum, international education has taught me to embrace the exhilarating and the challenge—because the sum of this journey has forced me to grow as a person and as a global citizen. In the process of “acquaint[ing] Americans with the world as it is,” as Fulbright puts it, international education also requires us to be acquainted with ourselves. In the process of “humanizing mankind,” we undertake a very human experience. International education gives students the tools to transform the world because it first gives them the tools to transform themselves.