By, Anindita Basu
Part 1 of 2
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a veterinarian. I have loved animals from a very young age and every street dog I would come across instantly became my best friend. And when I learned what a vet was, I knew that is what I wanted to be when I grew up. There was no turning back from that point. Ask all my old schoolteachers and classmates, a vet would be my answer to every career-related question. I do not think I ever had a plan B. I could never bring myself to imagine working in a different profession. And as illogical as that might sound, if it weren’t for my burning desire and passion to become a vet, I don’t think I would be where I am right now. Having a Plan B to me meant being hesitant and nervous about Plan A not working out. And I needed Plan A to work. So, I worked hard. Throughout high school, I fought my way through the rigours of the Science stream. For those who are unfamiliar with the ISC (Indian School Certificate) board, at the end of class 10, all students are meant to choose a specific subject stream for the next two years, for class 11 and 12. And this decision would determine the degree you can apply for in university/college. There was not a choice for me. The only choice for me to pursue veterinary medicine in university was the Science stream. The subjects of this stream involved physics, chemistry, mathematics, and biology. And as I mentioned earlier, none of it was easy. Even though I was in one of the best schools in Kolkata, the quality of teaching was not up to par. And every student in the Science stream had 3 separate tuition teachers coming home to help them get through the course. But I digress, that is entirely a different issue. Let’s circle back to how I chose Science at the end of class 10. And once that choice was made and locked into place, the next and very important matter at hand was to find a university.
Class 11 was a year of looking into different universities and researching them. For those who choose the path of getting a university degree, this is one of the biggest decisions. You want to find not only a well-ranked university but also think about the location, community, and culture. I was looking into universities like Cornell in the US but I quickly found out that I would have to do a 4-year Pre-Vet degree, followed by a 4-year Vet-Med degree. It would take me a solid 8 years to become a vet if I did my study the States! And very quickly the US made it off my list of potential countries to study in. I then started looking into universities in India since thankfully the vet degree takes only 5 years to complete similar to the Human Medicine degree. I made a trip to a few universities in India (Kolkata, Chennai, and Pondicherry), and although they were adequate, I could not see myself studying there. Seemed to be a bit lacking in terms of practical teaching, basic facilities, and extracurricular opportunities. Moreover, I would not be able to practice internationally with a vet degree from India. Next, I looked into Australia and encountered a problem similar to the US. None of the universities would complete their vet degree in 5 years. It either took 6 or 7 years. However, I did apply to the University of Sydney and got accepted into their Bachelor of Veterinary Biology/Doctor of Veterinary Medicine integrated master’s program, which I kept as my backup option.
And then one random morning something wonderful happened. Babin (my father) was reading the newspapers as per usual in the veranda with his morning tea by his side. And I was getting ready for school, already late of course. Just as I was about to head out the door, Babin rushed to me with the newspaper folded down to accentuate an article. He showed it to me so excitedly. And there it was, my first glimpse at the name ‘Massey University’, which would soon become my future home. It was an advertisement about this university located far away in New Zealand and how they have recently ranked even higher in their BVSc or Bachelor of Veterinary Science degree. They had made it to 23rd and had been acknowledged as being 1st in standards of practical teaching and employability worldwide. And guess what? It was a 5-year course! It seemed ideal. I was so hopeful about this new prospect that had suddenly sprung up.
Over the next couple of weeks, I researched Massey University like no other. I learned about the dreariest details about the university and I did not leave a stone unturned when it came to finding out about the BVSc course itself. My parents were so excited about New Zealand since it is a country not only known for its picturesque scenery, but also for having a peaceful and cooperative society. The more we researched, the more we realised that Massey University would be the best fit for me. Although the distance was a challenging factor to consider, the quality of my education trumped the distance. My parents and I were willing to go through the sacrifice of not being able to see each other. And living in Kolkata for most of my life I was looking forward to a change. Over my last year in high school, we started to finalise all the processes. I made my application and sat all the required tests to supplement my application. I even missed my last Children’s Day celebration at school so I could sit the TOEFL exam which unfortunately had been scheduled at the same time. I wrote the essays, submitted the letters of recommendations from my teachers, did a compulsory internship at my local veterinary clinic as my proof of work. My parents and I chose hall accommodation and now all I had to do was make sure I got a high percentage in my final ISC school exams to qualify for the course. And that would be the last but the most suspenseful result. Thankfully, when the results rolled around, I was able to achieve the grades that I needed to secure my place at Massey University. And just like that, I was officially registered as a student in my number one university.
The few weeks leading up to leaving for New Zealand was extremely hectic. Lots of packing and lots of goodbyes. And neither of those were easy. Luckily, my parents were coming along with me to settle me into my new university life so I could delay my goodbyes with them. Which I was thankful for since theirs would be the hardest. I met with all my friends one by one and bid them adieu since I would not be seeing them for almost a year. As tough as these goodbyes were, the thought of moving into a different country and starting a whole new life made me too excited to be sad for too long.
On the 17th of February 2017, we arrived in New Zealand. The plane landed in the beautiful city of Auckland from where we took another flight to Wellington. There, we spent 2 days of holiday where we explored the city and did all the classic touristy activities. From Wellington began the main leg of the journey which was the road-trip to Palmerston North where my university was located. On this road trip, we saw why New Zealand was so well known for its sheep population. It was such a gorgeous and scenic drive, luscious pastures with the bluest of skies above. New Zealanders or “Kiwis”, as they are known, treat and preserve their outdoors very conscientiously.
After a 139 km drive, we entered the city of Palmerston North. And soon we turned into the campus of Massey University. And as that happened, I felt my stomach rise as if on a roller coaster. All of a sudden, the nervousness kicked in and I couldn’t even get out of the car when it parked in front of the Accommodation Services building. I saw all the new students lined up outside and it all felt very real. Was I ready for such an enormous change? I kept sitting in the car, refusing to get out for a good 10 minutes. My parents reassured me that it would all be okay. I remember how our driver too empathised with me and told me that I would be fine. And finally, I got out of the car, not because of any extra confidence but only because I couldn’t keep sitting in the car forever. I lined up with the other 1st year students and my parents struck up easy conversations with the other parents around but I felt like I had no voice at all. In the office, we collected my room keys and a packet with all the necessary campus information. As I walked out, my hall’s RA (residential advisor) spotted me and rushed up to me. She was so welcoming and friendly and directed me to my hall. There, I unloaded all my luggage into my new room for the next year. I sat down on my bed and just gave myself a minute to take it all in. I felt like everything was happening so fast even though I had been planning it for months!
Before classes officially started, there was what was called ‘Orientation Week’. This gave all the students starting a chance to meet one another through different events and an opportunity to find out about how the university runs through tours and presentations. When I arrived in the halls, it was relatively empty. But as the day went by, all the other hall residents started arriving and I went around awkwardly introducing myself and trying to make new friends. It was quite a challenge for understanding the Kiwi accent and all the different lingo they used. But the RAs made us play ice- breaker games and that did indeed help break the ice. As awkward as they were, with some effort from everyone’s sides, it brought in some laughs and potential friendships. We were a bunch of end-stage teenagers who were going to be living with each other, away from family. And this meant every person would have to make a special effort to reach out and take care of each other.
While I was enjoying my week of orientation, my parents had a cute holiday in the various towns and cities of New Zealand. It was as though they were scoping out the land on my behalf so I could be passed on the knowledge for my future travels. During the orientation events, I made friends with a bunch of my other hall residents. Together, we would go to the dining hall to eat, drive around, and explore Palmerston North and of course, prep for the official start of the semester. I remember how we would all stay up late in someone’s room just talking and getting to know one another better. We would play board games and card games in between the orientation events. Among these events, we had a Toga party, stand-up comedy night, sports day, barbeque lunches and a pool party at the city’s aquatic centre. I also joined the Social League Football Competition in which I could play with my other hall residents. Over the week, I also turned my bare new room into a home. I added different elements of my home in India such as pictures of family and friends, my Maa Durga statue and my ‘paash balish’ (side pillow), which I cannot sleep without at night. Just one tip for those travelling internationally, pack less! I learned it the hard way, I definitely do not pack light and ended up with too many things that I could have easily gone without!
The week went by seamlessly, full of new friendships and exploration. But when the time came around for my parents to leave, things became less idealistic. I still remember how sad Maa was to leave me in my new room for the first night. I cannot forget how the tears slowly welled up in her eyes as she realised, she would have to leave me all by myself in a tiny island right at the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere. Babin, although also very sad, was so excited and happy for my new life to begin. My parents are the most supportive people I have ever known and their unparalleled guidance is why my dreams are turning into reality.
Now that I am in the 4th year of my degree, I have completed 3.5 years in New Zealand. And let me tell you, it has been amazing. I have learned so much and have grown as a person. As a community, the people here are generous, kind-hearted, competent, and down-to-earth. Everyone is cordial, friendly, and polite to one another. Everyone is treated with respect. And of course, you come across the one-off rude and entitled person, but generally, there is such pure goodness among the people. And that has rubbed off on me. I have tried my best to pick up these good qualities as much possible. As far as travel goes, I have explored most of the North Island and have seen some terrific views, both rural and urban. Auckland will by far be my favourite among the cities. Born and raised in a metropolitan city like Kolkata, I feel most at home in Auckland. I have yet to explore the South Island but I will have to save that for a summer season since it is so cold down there other times. I hear how stunning places like Queenstown, Milford Sound and Wanaka are. But I still have a year and a half till I complete my degree and I am sure a few travelling opportunities will come around soon enough.