(This letter is part of a series by The Indian Express where we bring to you the experiences of students at different foreign universities. From scholarships and loans to food and cultural experiences — students tell us how life is different in those countries and things they are learning other than academics)
Being from a small village named Surjanwas, in the Mahendragarh district of Haryana to Wroclaw in Poland, I underwent a huge transformation — both on a personal front and academically. From trying to fit in during college to making a place for myself, it has been a long but worthwhile journey.
I was a district topper in Class 12 and like most meritorious students, I was ecstatic to join a well-reputed college for my undergraduate studies. It was 2011, and I got admission to BSc Mathematics (Hons) at Hansraj College at Delhi University. However, my experience in college did not turn out how I imagined it would. I was finding it difficult to adapt to city life, make friends and focus on my studies. As a result in my final year, I failed twice so instead of graduating in 2014, I graduated in 2016.
After graduating in 2016, I was getting admission to two colleges — Azim Premji University in Bengaluru and Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai. I chose to study in the former. During that period, I understood the concept of mental health and my doctors helped me identify that I was dealing with anxiety. I was finally able to understand the problem and work towards it.
In 2018, after completing my post graduation, I got placed in Kerala State Poverty Eradication Mission — Kudumbashree on a contractual basis. It helped me a lot in improving my communication skills as my job was to spread awareness about the functioning of the panchayat system in Kerala to panchayat members in Tripura. We would train self-help groups to empower themselves and increase the participation of women in panchayat activities. I left my job in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
During my sabbatical, I pondered over what else I could do. I started preparing for UGC-NET and gave the exam for social work and fortunately, I cleared JRF. However, I wanted to pursue a PhD. Initially, I thought of pursuing higher studies in India but a PhD in Social Work does not hold much value in this country. It is similar to a Master’s in Social Work. Meanwhile, I began working with another company named Welspun and relocated to Amaravati, Maharashtra. There, I had a lot of time to think over options for PhD, not just in India but abroad as well.
I particularly searched for PhD opportunities in Europe as the USA was beyond my budget and anywhere in Asia would have been similar to India. During this research, I found out that in Poland, you get a stipend if you pursue PhD from a public university and decided to apply there.
I prepared my research proposal and sent it for acceptance to my current supervisor. It was my first acceptance and I came to the University of Wroclaw, Poland. My university is one of the 10 research universities in Poland and Wroclaw is the fourth largest city in the country.
Wroclaw is called the student city of Poland as it is home to five to six universities — medical, technical, environmental, physical education and economics. The city ranks 117th in QS ranking and comes under the top 10 in affordability. It is also the World Book Capital City. Poland also has a rich culture of Sociology, a lot of common knowledge words were founded here, such as field work, biographical research and diary research.
All in all, Poland has good quality education at an affordable fee. I just have to pay my application fee and got a stipend of Rs 50,000 which is good enough for one person.
My interview was held on September 13, 2021. They asked me basic questions such as why do you want to pursue PhD in Poland, what was my background since it wasn’t in Sociology and how do I justify that. My topic was India-oriented so why I didn’t pursue a PhD from India? There were questions regarding the language barrier and a few more questions.
My research topic and why I chose Poland
My PhD topic was research in Molkki or cross-regional marriages in Haryana and whether children born out of these marriages are accepted or not, and what is their identity. I could have done this research in India but there I wouldn’t get too many different perspectives and opinions as there are preconceived notions about Haryana and biases as well. The second reason I chose to study abroad is because of the exposure and the chance to explore places outside India.
The classes are held only thrice a week mostly or four times a week for bachelors, for PhD students it is one day per week
Difference between Poland and India
There has been a drastic change in my personality from the time I was in DU to where I am now. I have worked at different places and now when I am here, I meet people from all over the world. This has given a boost to my communication and social skills. I am well-travelled and my mental health has improved as well. I have friends from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Spain, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
PhD in India would normally take five years, but here things are more structured and PhD is normally completed in four years. The first year is mainly the introduction, working on research questions and more. The main PhD work begins in the second year, currently, I am in my second year.
We were also taught Polish in our first year, it is considered one of the toughest languages to master. I have learned till A1 level.
I stay in the university dorm and that is how I made friends from across the world. Being from a traditional Haryanavi household, I don’t know how to cook so I either order in or eat at the supermarket. There are a good number of Indian restaurants so food is not much of a problem.
My biggest takeaways
My biggest takeaway from my experience is that the world is big and not everyone gets an opportunity to come to Europe and live their dream. So live life to its fullest. I believe that whatever happens, happens for good and it is our responsibility to utilise whatever resources we have.
Courtesy : The Indian Express