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Home / Education / Notes from unlikely study-abroad destinations

Notes from unlikely study-abroad destinations

Indian spices in Armenia, enviable work-life balance, communities that set time aside to mingle, and ones that don’t — students are learning to adapt as they venture into new lands.

education Updated: Dec 25, 2019 14:36 IST
Jessica Joshi
Jessica Joshi
Hindustan Times
‘The Irish make it a point to take part in others’ cultural activities,’ says Shreya Shah, who is studying at the Michael Smurfit business school in Dublin.
‘The Irish make it a point to take part in others’ cultural activities,’ says Shreya Shah, who is studying at the Michael Smurfit business school in Dublin. (iStock)

As more Indian students head to nations that haven’t traditionally been centres of study abroad, a look at what it’s like to live in Armenia, Auckland, Belgium. Here are some student experiences.

‘Armenia feels like home’

Siva Veeraswamy, a student at Yerevan State Medical University, Armenia, says the biggest reason he chose the country is that it is affordable for a middle-class family like his. “Indians are well integrated into the local culture, be it celebrating Christmas in January or performing the national folk dance in the Village area. Necessities like spices and dal are easily available, though food and transportation are comparatively expensive,” he adds. “Not a lot of people speak English so that can create a communication gap. And there are better food options for non-vegetarians than vegetarians.” Rahul Sethi, former student and head of international student affairs at the university, says the government medical university has had Indian students since 1987. “We offer special local language training and Armenia has a high safety index.”

‘I miss the Indian weather, but cycling around is fun’

Sagar Rao is a graduate of Linköping University, Sweden, and says it was an experience living in one of the leading countries in the world, when it comes to engineering and sustainability. “That was one of the main reasons I chose to study there,” he adds. “The people believe in a minimalistic lifestyle. They live by the word ‘lagom’ which translates to ‘just the right amount’. The food is different, but it’s not too hard to find Indian groceries. A downside for me is the long sub-zero winters and dark days. There are barely six hours of sunlight in peak winter. I miss the tropical weather back home sometimes. But I ride a bicycle around town and it’s been healthy and fun.”

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‘People are always ready to party, but it can get lonely’

Shreya Shah, is studying at Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, Dublin, Ireland. “I have Indian, Irish, Italian and Russian friends who take turns to cook a famous native dish so we can learn about each other’s cultures better. I miss home, but enjoy the freedom and independence here,” she says. “The Irish make it a point to involve themselves in others’ cultural activities. A friend’s landlord accompanies us to the gurudwara to experience their langar and their performance of prayers. It is a beautiful and peaceful place, but it can get lonely too.”

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‘The free transport for students, amazing monuments, cheap air travel all across Europe and pleasant climate make for a good standard of living,’ says Viraj Gala, a student at the Beuth University of Applied Sciences in Berlin.
‘The free transport for students, amazing monuments, cheap air travel all across Europe and pleasant climate make for a good standard of living,’ says Viraj Gala, a student at the Beuth University of Applied Sciences in Berlin. ( iStock )

‘Free transport, amazing monuments, cheap air travel’

Viraj Gala, a student at Beuth University of Applied Sciences, Berlin, says the culture here is pretty rigid; Germans take pride in speaking their language and encourage others to do the same. “There are lots and lots of Asian and Indian shops here, so that’s a plus. On Facebook, you will find groups like, Marathi in Berlin, Indians in Aachen, Bharat in Germany. The free transport for students, amazing monuments, cheap air travel all across Europe and cold, pure climate make for a good standard of living. But it’s hard to find a decent apartment and a good job, the latter because of the language limitations.”

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‘Excellent focus on work-life balance’

Priyanka Agarwal, an MBA graduate from Barcelona’s ESADE Business School, says the biggest cultural shift was that people in Spain are open-minded and, in general, more keen on work-life balance. “They focus on developing hobbies, working out, and spending quality time with family. And this makes you see the bigger picture. The only bad thing about Barcelona is the pick-pocketing.”

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‘Shopping and travelling are the highlights of living in Milan,’ says Shikha Gor, who is studying at the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti.
‘Shopping and travelling are the highlights of living in Milan,’ says Shikha Gor, who is studying at the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti. ( iStock )

‘I miss Mumbai’s safety and nightlife’

Shikha Gor, studying at the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, Milan, says she finds Italian architecture inspiring, and had always wanted to do a Masters in interior design in Italy. “Finding vegetarian food is difficult. Indian groceries are not easily available,” she adds. “There are few Indians at our university. I miss Mumbai’s night life; here roaming around at night is lonely and not as safe. People here don’t understand English so communicating with locals is difficult. But shopping in Milan and travelling to other European countries are the highlights of living here.”

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‘It took me six months to settle in’

Sara Nair, a PhD candidate at University of Auckland, New Zealand, says she found the people extremely welcoming to newcomers. There are many Indian associations. Temples, I found, are a good way to reach out to the community,” Nair says. “There’s a vibrant Indian cultural centre in Auckland. They celebrate all the major Indian festivals. There are many Asian grocery stores that will satisfy your cravings for any Indian food or drink. Still, it did take me around six months to find my feet and get the hang of things”.

‘There are many associations in Auckland that celebrate Indian festivals, and there are several Asian grocery stores,’ says Sara Nair, a PhD candidate in New Zealand.
‘There are many associations in Auckland that celebrate Indian festivals, and there are several Asian grocery stores,’ says Sara Nair, a PhD candidate in New Zealand. ( iStock )

‘For parties, concerts, hiking, Belgium is the place to be’

Srimanth Guntupalli, an engineering student of KU Leuven, says he feels Belgium is a happy mix of both culture and technology. “Most Belgians are trilingual, speaking Dutch, French and English, and everyday communication is no trouble. However, it’s difficult to find jobs since most require you to speak the local language. Another annoying thing is that all the shops close by 6 pm. But the support you get if you want to pursue a project or a start-up is tremendous. The best thing is that I am a train ride away from places like Paris, Amsterdam, Luxembourg.”