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Learning To Cook, Dealing With Racism, And 7 Other Lessons I Learnt While Studying Abroad

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This letter is intended towards people who are planning to or are in the process of going out of India for their further studies. Firstly, congratulations on attempting or thinking of making a move to other countries for gaining knowledge in the field of your choice. Not only does it require a good amount of money, but it also involves a year-long process of researching for good universities, writing a Statement of Purpose (SOP), collecting references, having good grades along with extracurriculars and internships, and finally filling up those big application forms.

It can be hard getting into world-renowned universities, but what’s even more difficult is settling in and finding a place for yourself in a country other than your own.

If you are one of those people who are going abroad to get an education, find a job and settle in, I’d advise you to think it over.

If you are aiming to settle abroad, I’d advise you to get over the idea that life overseas is easy. Most of us sitting in comfort cannot tell you about the kind of difficulties you face when in a foreign country.

Owing to my first-hand experiences, below are a few points that might help you before making this big decision-

  1. The moment you land, you are going to love it. Free like a bird you’d feel the air of the west already taking you away. Relax! With freedom comes responsibility. It takes time to settle in and find like-minded people. Don’t hold back, talk to people but don’t get in their space. Out there, everybody minds their business, and you do too.
  2. As troublesome as it might sound, there are very high chances of you facing racism. You will know it, and you will end up questioning yourself for the same. No matter how forward or modern the west is, racism exists everywhere. One is never really prepared for it, but don’t let it get to you. Share it with people you trust.
  3. Unless you are planning to spend money each day ordering in, please learn to cook for yourself. I cannot ever possibly stress enough on this point. More than anything you are going to miss home food, thus you must know your basics. From cooking, to washing your clothes, cleaning your room, managing your groceries, opening bank accounts, taking care of your studies and expenses, you’ve got to do it all. Nobody wants to live in a mess, or do you?
  4. You’ve grown up in a country with one kind of education system, and you are going to another which is entirely different. It may be hard, but it isn’t difficult to crack. Some of you might face the problem of not understanding how to get marks, not understanding the university expectations or guidelines. As dull as it might sound- read their marking criteria. It always helps, go out and talk to your professors about your concerns, if not anything it helps them know that you want to work hard.
  5. Even though we all leave with the intention of making good friends from people around the world, as cliched as it might sound you’d end up finding comfort in your own kind. If not many, you’ll find one Indian/South Asian friend you’d rely on for literally everything.
  6. Sometimes it gets difficult to understand their accent, and yours too for them. Try bridging the gap. Don’t let it affect your confidence of reaching out to people and talking to them.
  7. Compared to Indian education, education in the west leaves you with ample amount of time to do your own things. The free time you’ve always wanted to have back home, it will sometimes get to you abroad, try and make the most out of it. Go travelling (keeping in mind the expenses of course!), learn and explore. This indeed is your time to grow.
  8. Just like we have a perception of the west, they have a perception of us (and not necessarily a good one). People would want to talk to you and know more about your culture, your country, everything. India interests everyone out there. Be ready for the kind of bizarre questions that might come your way. “Is curry all you eat?” is one of the examples.
  9. You will miss your family. As much as some of you might be thinking of running away from them for a breath of freedom, you are going to miss them badly. Some days won’t pass easily, and you’d cry and feel lonely. Vent it out and then talk to people you feel connected to.

If not anything you will come back as a changed person. Mature, confident, sure, decisive and careful, this experience of being away from your family and your people will make you realise the importance of your own country, the benefits and comforts you had back home. You’d grow not only as an individual but as a human being, and then there is no looking back.

Go to get yourself educated, to learn, to expand your horizons, to have the experiences of your life, to build the career you’ve always wanted but never forget where it all started.

 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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