Initially this blog was created to document my travels but somehow became a space for me to “sometimes” rant about my struggles abroad. Anyone who says they haven’t struggled abroad is obviously a BIG FAT LIAR, or I’m the only one who’s had a hard time (I know I’m not). There definitely were things I wished I had known before I left home. With the young people in Mauritius having recently finished their A-Levels (school leaving qualification) and out in the world – many Mauritians choose to go abroad for their studies –, I thought it would be a good idea to reach out to those who have already been through this whole moving-abroad-for-studies process and lived to tell the tale, to help prepare those young ones (gosh it’s been so long since I left school) for their journey.
Note: “College” in Mauritius is the term used for secondary or high school.
Well who else to start with other than me? (Am I allowed to interview myself?) Let’s just consider me as Patient Zero. Don’t worry, you’ll be hearing from more interesting people in the coming weeks, as compared to just boring ol’ me.
So, tell us a bit more about yourself? What have been up to since you left college?
After school, I moved to London to studying Geography at King’s College London. Three years later, with my bachelor degree in my pocket, I moved back to Mauritius. After having a two-month well deserved break to enjoy the sunshine that was never present in London, I joined the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation as a volunteer Field Biologist to work on their Pink Pigeon conservation project. I was offered a scholarship to study for a master’s in Ankara, Turkey and have been living here since. I’m currently in the last six months of my degree, in Physical Geography, supposedly writing my master’s thesis. We all know how that is NOT going.
What led you to study this particular subject?
Well when I was at school, I thought I knew what I wanted to study – for those who don’t know, it was Software Engineering, or Maths – but once I graduated, it all changed. There was a whole world out there and I wanted to know EVERYTHING. Geography isn’t exactly the most popular subject in Mauritius, but going through the pile of university prospectuses on my desk, it was the only one that appealed to me because it basically covered everything from physical to social sciences. And also I needed something that vast since I had no idea what I wanted to focus on. Mind you, not that I know any better six years forward.
Why did you choose to study the UK and Turkey?
I wanted to study at one of the best universities of the world and where else to go but the UK? Getting in was not going to be an issue and my parents had generously offered to fund me. Whilst I could have gone anywhere, I applied only to London universities as I had family there, which certainly made it easier. Turkey on the other hand was a complete different story. When I’m asked this question, I always say that it was Turkey that chose me. I don’t know what drove me to even apply and it was certainly unexpected when I decided to accept the offer – I maintain it was the fact that my scholarship covers everything from tuition fees to living costs to health insurance. But I think I was also up for a challenge. I’m always dreaming about faraway lands, and at that point Turkey was one of them. Getting the opportunity to live and experience Turkey was probably one of the best things that could ever happen to me, even if I’m always complaining.
How was the adjustment from Mauritius to London and then Ankara?
I have to admit that the move to London was easier than that to Ankara. Having family there made all the difference; I didn’t really have to start from scratch. However, life in London is a tad bit more in the fast lane as compared to Mauritius and it certainly took around a year for me to transform into a fully fledged Londoner, surviving on six cups of coffee a day and cramming my day as much as I could. It was also hard not having a background in Geography, as compared to my fellow classmates who had been writing essays about LEDC and MEDC’s or coastal and fluvioglacial processes (say what?) for the past 2-4 years. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t the best in class.
The adjustment back home to Mauritius was even harder. I moved from the buzz of the London jungle to the quietness of our nature reserves. My phone got a rest (and eventually died). I had quite a limited internet connection, and to be fair I don’t think no one expected this city girl to survive as long as I did. Then from that, I was thrown again into Ankara, into another city, as different as anything I had previously known. No one spoke English – aye, I was naive –, people drank endless amounts of black tea and drivers don’t seem to have any notion of road safety. Learning Turkish wasn’t the only hard thing I had to do. I share a very very small space with three other people, I have a curfew and my skin colour brings attention wherever I go. But I got used to it. Turkish me is different from London me or Mauritius me, but I like her. She’s become quite flexible and relaxed, as compared to before.
What did you wished you had known before the BIG move?
I somehow knew what to expect for London. I had been there before and had an idea how life would be. Turkey on the other hand was unexplored territory. I wished someone had told me how much they loved bureaucracy. I also wished someone had told me that there would be the possibility that my degree would be carried out in Turkish. I know it’s obvious, but I just assumed it’d be in English the application process had been in English. Just liked I assumed people would speak English. I wouldn’t have minded learning some Turkish words.
What was the hardest thing to get used to?
Having to start up from scratch again. I’ve had to somehow do it in London, I had to go through in Mauritius and again in Turkey. Possibly again next year. I am NOT looking forward to it. Let’s just say I don’t make friends easily. And also eating cucumbers, tomatoes and olives for breakfast.
What is one thing that struck you about your time abroad?
How freaking small and unknown our country in. I currently live in a city with about 7 million people, a country with approximately 75 million people. Around 1.3 million live in Mauritius. My university friends back in London thought Mauritius was in Asia (okay, that’s kinda shameful given they were studying Geography). Here, people have never heard of it. It always takes 5 minutes to reply to the classical “where are you from?” question. I get stopped at the airport every single time, because they think it’s a made up country or they have to verify visa restrictions. They make good stories though.
What do/did you miss the most from home?
Right now, the lovely weather. It was -7 degrees when I woke up this morning and it’s only gonna get colder. I’ve gotten used to the cold weather but it doesn’t mean I’d love to go to the beach and enjoy the sunny weather. The beach is another one of them. The nearest coastal town is about 4 hours away.
What will/do you miss the most when/if you leave Turkey?
Where to start? The food is definitely part of it, even if as a vegan I don’t get to eat most of what Turkish cuisine offers: meat, lots of meat. I’ll miss the people I’ve met and grown to love. I’ll miss knowing that another world is just another adventure away – the perks of living in a big country. Just the tiny bits that make up my life. My life is here at the moment and I’ll definitely miss that when I leave.
What would be your advice to newly graduated college students?
While academia is important, there are other things as important or even more so. I grew as a person not by attending my classes but joining in the different societies at university. I learned to balance my work and social lives (and all the other ones I have), although I’ll admit I am a workaholic.
Leave me a message on Facebook or email me at themauritiangeographer[at]gmail[dot]com if you also want to share your experiences abroad.