The following is part of a series detailing the experiences of international students at the University of Alberta. Given that these students face separation from family, paying more than $20,000 in tuition per year, and uncertainty when it comes to rising tuition costs, we are sitting down with some of these individuals to talk about their experiences at the university.
Megnath Ramesh had no easy options when it came to studying abroad, but he did have a “less hard” option: Canada.
“The harder option was moving to a place where I don’t know anyone,” the third-year electrical engineering student said. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to meet new people or make friends because I had never had this experience before. I thought having a backup plan of knowing a couple of people here would be a good idea.”
Originally from Chennai, India, Ramesh had cousins already living in Edmonton, making it more appealing. The city was also home to the University of Alberta, which had a reputation for a hands-on approach to teaching engineering — since Grade 11, he’d wanted to go into electrical engineering. He moved to Edmonton in 2013 after being accepted to the U of A.
“(It’s about) learning the skills you need to be employable at the end of the degree, and also do the stuff that you like,” Ramesh said. “That’s something that I feel is missing in a lot of the educational institutes back home.”
Upon arriving in Edmonton, Ramesh encountered a language barrier. He tried to talk as properly as he could, but was still afraid of speaking with Canadian students. Tamil is the most commonly spoken language in Chennai, and while most of its citizens have at least a basic understanding of English, it usually isn’t used to communicate.
“Here I had to use English as my first tool to talk to people (instead of Tamil),” Ramesh said. “That was hard. Sometimes you tend to think in your first language. So changing that language, changing the way that you think, was another important thing (for living in Canada).”
But the cultural shock was not all bad for Ramesh — his relationship with his fellow students was far more cooperative than in Chennai, which had more competition at school. In Canada, he and his classmates tended to “work together and stick together” rather than compete. He also found that in general, Canadians would go out of their ways to be helpful.
“When I try to cross the road, the car stops for you, which is unheard of in India,” Ramesh said. “That was something which really scared me. Is he really stopping? Am I dreaming or something?”
Ramesh found the biggest change in university was living on his own for the first time. As an only child, Ramesh admits he was pampered growing up, and suddenly being on his own was what caught him off-guard more than anything else.
“Coming out of the country, trying to live by myself is a form of culture shock,” Ramesh said. “I wasn’t ready for it. That was more of a shock for me than any other thing — just living alone and trying to make new friends.”
Ramesh became more involved in extracurricular activities during his second year, volunteering with the Engineering Students Society (ESS), and helping to organize the group’s carnival and career fair.
This year, Ramesh is working on the AquaUrsa, the U of A’s Autonomous Robot Vehicle Project. The underwater robot competes in the annual RoboSub competition where teams from universities around the world to build the best system. Ramesh’s role on the team is to design and build the AquaUrsa’s navigation tools.
“It’s a really competitive project,” Ramesh said. “It’s a great team, and the people on the team are great. I just joined this year and the team members are all really good friends of mine. I’m looking forward to it.”
In this free time, Ramesh plays basketball and guitar, both of which he taught himself. He’s inspired by Steph Curry’s ability to “dominate the game” despite being “probably the tiniest guy on the court,” which he tries to bring to his own style of play. He says he’s not great yet, but he can play a little bit.
Ramesh’s advice to international students is to bear in mind that almost everyone is struggling in one way or another, academically or socially, and that the only way around it is to face one’s fears.
“I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s something you have to face at one point in your life,” Ramesh said. “And having good friends is very important to university life because you’re going to hang out with these people for the next four or five years.”
Read the previous installment in Lives of International Students: Roxanne Mai — China