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An Indian Student in Windsor

Author: Yash Shah
Photographer: Syx Langemann
3 months ago
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Every semester, thousands of students arrive in Windsor from India, China, and all corners of the world to create a better future for themselves. I am one of those students, and this is my story so far.

If you were to pick a random Indian in Windsor, it is highly plausible that he or she hailed from the western Indian state of Gujarat, which is where I am from.

While growing up, an average Gujarati is constantly barraged with information about life in Canada from his or her social circle. With relatively non-restrictive immigration laws, Canada has become a very enticing option for many Indians wishing to move abroad.

There were several factors that led me to pursue a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Windsor, despite knowing little about the school or the city beforehand. With the countless number of engineers already in India, I knew not being among the best could significantly compromise my standard of living and quality of life.

I had never entertained the idea of moving abroad until I’d completed my bachelor’s degree in Instrumentation and Control. I had cultivated a raw interest in programming during my undergraduate studies and I found myself weighing my various options. I was hesitant to commit my entire future to a newly discovered interest. A good number of international students, especially Asians in the information technology (IT) field, were faring well in the United States. But I was not ready to stake a considerable amount of money on something I was skeptical about. After much contemplation and dithering, I applied for and later accepted an offer of admission from the University of Windsor and decided to move to a new country in December 2019.

My initial days in Windsor

It was disorienting at best and terrifying at worst to leave behind most of the social connections I had built during my lifetime. Since I had climbed into a car directly from the Toronto airport, I didn’t feel the actual extremity of Canada’s December chill until I arrived in Windsor.

I was to share my one-bedroom apartment with four other Indian roommates, who were complete strangers to me at the time. How I would fare in Windsor hinged on how well I would get along with them. Indians typically are thick-skinned and are generally impervious to comments and jokes about pretty much anything; unfortunately, I did not fall into this category. So, it took time and several arguments for my roommates to realize how sensitive I was to even mild criticisms and figure out what was off-limits. Our understanding and friendships have improved a lot in the following months, but it is still a work in progress.

Winter’s impact on day-to-day life in Windsor

The unusually early sunset at five in the evening and having to stay inside because of the cold contrasted sharply with what most Indians are used to in their homeland. For me, the lack of interaction and activity was often a source of frustration, and as someone who is predisposed to feeling the blues, I found it difficult to cope, like many other international students who come here.

Additionally, most Indians and particularly Gujaratis yearn for interaction, and it is unusual for us to go without knowing their neighbour for an extended time. So, I found it astonishing when I went without meeting mine for the first six to seven months.

To my dismay, I found that Canadians are more individualistic than Indians, who generally prefer to live in socially close-knit communities. This is especially true when it comes to extended families. I considered myself to be an exception and thought I could keep myself entertained solely with literature and European soccer but my notions about this were obliterated in the first month itself. I had underestimated, or perhaps downright discounted, the importance of genuine social connections in a foreign land.

In the first few months, I frequented the Leddy Library, which became an immediate source of comfort for me. I have always been a voracious reader and novels came to my immediate aid in this foreign land. I devoured a dozen historical fiction books in my first fifteen days here in Windsor. I had the luxury of both time and options between the Leddy Library’s abundance of resources and my trusty Amazon Kindle.

Experience of working in Canada

Winter is not so kind for international students—or even locals, for that matter. It was predictably difficult for my roommates and me. The extremity of the cold was something I had never experienced before, but the lack of part-time job opportunities I encountered during my first Canadian winter bred a lot of frustration too.
After four months of unsuccessful job-searching, I finally had some luck when I secured a job in one of the area big-box stores.

One of the most disheartening things while working at the store was the lack of friendships between locals and international students. It doesn’t evolve beyond casual acquaintance. I don’t intend to assign blame to either community since even most of the international students find solace in the familiarity of people from their own background. This is obviously not to say there isn’t an underlying inherent sense of respect between our individual communities.

Also, the quintessential Canadian politeness is something that took me by surprise. The locals here apologize to and thank each other for an almost infinite number of little things! This politeness is also something that permeates Canadian workplaces. In India, it is quite usual for the employee to have to figure out everything by themselves, with little help from anybody. In contrast, Canadians typically provide a comprehensive explanation for going about every task. This is something that most Indians find convenient and easy to adjust to.

Coping with the pandemic

The infrastructure and resources at a student’s disposal at the University of Windsor are something that even the most elite Indian universities fail to offer. In the first semester, we had the chance to experience life at the campus, but our joy was short-lived.

The pandemic forced classes to be moved online. This transition turned out to be far from seamless despite best efforts from the university administration, faculty, and students. The assignments and exams, despite being relatively easier than India’s, often kept students on their toes through the semester.
As time went on, the harsh winter proceeded to be a little more forgiving. We were able to get out of the house a lot more and satisfy our hunger for Indian food at many local outlets. This often helped to remedy boredom, which had not been possible during the former months.

Just as I had seemed to settle into a routine, Covid posed another challenge: I and three of my roommates contracted the coronavirus. For the first four to five days, our focus was simply on recovering physically. But soon battling boredom during the 14 days of quarantine became our primary concern. I turned to playing guitar and spending time with my pet hamster to cope up with the quarantine-induced ennui.

I hope my future is anything but boring. The improvement in my own self is a testament to all the storms I have weathered after coming here. Hopefully, by the time I graduate in April, I will have toughened up enough to navigate through the looming uncertainty of the job market.