By: Vidhya Mohan
It was my university graduation day. The last two years I spent 1,000 miles away from home studying in Bhopal, a city in central India, came to an end. I had nothing to complain about. I was leaving with friendships and memories that are the best to date. I was not just feeling happy but scared and confused as well. I did not know what was next for me.
The day went by tossing caps and clicking pictures. And at the end, I said goodbye to my friends and boarded a train. Trains in India have berths, which are kind of beds stacked upon each other where the passengers can sleep above the seats. Mine was the top-most one. I did not care to look around. I climbed up, arranged my bags and settled in. I was not going home but to a city in southern India to attend an interview for a PhD position. This is how the past eight months had been. Travelling to different universities every other week for interviews. And things were not going well. This interview was the last opening for that academic year, and I had 48 hours of journey ahead of me to reach my destination.
My friends would tell me that I should try doing my PhD abroad. Like every group of friends has that one strange person, my strange friend can read palms. “It’s in your destiny that you go abroad,” she kept saying. It’s not that I did not want to — who would not? But I was not sure if I could afford to study abroad. Even if I could, what about my family? How could I leave them? I would think about it and dismiss the suggestion.
Back to the journey, 18 hours had passed with me in my berth preparing for my interview, I decided to take a break. I got down, stretched a bit and took a seat. I was surrounded by middle aged men and an older man. They all seemed puzzled by the sudden appearance of a girl in their midst.
“So, you were in your berth the whole time?” one of them asked.
“I’m preparing for an interview,” I said.
And the questioning began, “Where are you from? What do you do? What are you planning to do next?”
Finally, all their interest subsided, and I turned towards the window.
“You said you are coming from your convocation, you must have your degree with you, right? Can I see it?” someone from behind me asked.
I turned back and saw; it was the old man talking to me. He was a Sikh and quite old, but not weak or feeble. The silver white beard, the turban and the glasses sitting on his nose made me feel something spiritual radiating from him. I was surprised, for he wanted to see my degree. I was not sure, but I showed it to him.
He looked at it carefully and said, “This is gold, use it well.” That made me feel hopeful about my future. He told me he was 70 years old and spoke about all his family, children, and grandchildren. “I used to work in Canada, and I came back to India when I retired,” he said. “You should apply to study in Canada. You will definitely make it,” he suggested. And this time, it did not sound ridiculous. I felt like I was being bestowed with this wisdom by a grandparent.
Our conversation went on for almost three hours, we had dinner together and I went up to my berth to sleep. Later, I woke in the middle of the night and the man was gone, and this was the only time I ever felt badly for not saying goodbye to a stranger. Everything he told me was playing in my mind for the rest of my journey.
Fast forward, a month later, I got the position I interviewed for. But now this idea of going to Canada was firmly planted in my mind. Little did I know, six months from then, my life would change for the better. McMaster University was the only university I applied to, and I got through! It was not easy, but now I believe it was meant to be. We might think we have a plan in mind, but there is a higher power that helps us on our path. We just need to be open to its direction. People ask me all the time, “why did you choose to come to Canada? And my answer is, “An old man on a train in India.”
About “The Journey”
“The Journey” was written as part of the Write and Tell Your Story workshop series during International Education Week (IEW).
Vidhya is a PhD student in the Medical Sciences Graduate Program at McMaster University.
Stories for a global community
Throughout IEW, students shared how recent experiences enhanced their global perspective and contributed to their intercultural skills. Experiences included:
- Remote or virtual experiences
- Experiences abroad (studying, working, volunteering, researching, etc.)
- International student experiences
- Out-of-province experiences
- Participation through clubs and organizations with an international or global perspective