Series 2: Interested in Spending the Summer Abroad? South India Experience

Posted by Sunera on January 20, 2014

On-board to York

“South India” — Defining One Student’s  International Experience 

Myriad events are one of the key features at York U. Amongst these events “McLaughlin’s Popular Lunch Talk Series” is one of my personal favourites. Talks usually take place in the Senior Common Room. Attendees are treated to free lunch while listening to interesting speakers. Students are granted certificates upon attending a certain number of lunch talks (For more information click on this link.)

On November 15, 2013–Jennifer Mendoza, a fourth year Public Administration student at York U spoke of her experience as she participated in the York International Internship Program (YIIP), while interning at Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy in India during the summer of 2013. Mendoza discussed the process, challenges, what she gained from this experience, and how this experience affected her personally and professionally.

The chance of going abroad is not just limited to studying abroad but you can also gain valuable work experience abroad, as the YIIP program is an opportunity for York undergraduate and graduate students to work in another country. As I grabbed pizza, made myself comfortable while leaning back in the comfy couch of the Senior Common Room—someone was assisting Mendoza set up the power point presentation to get ready for the talk.

What is YIIP? Mendoza started the presentation by explaining that there are 55 internships in 5 continents available in 32 different countries. Due to financial constraints students don’t take advantage of the international work opportunities, hence York U awards the selected students with York International Internship Award (YIIA) worth $3000, and students can also apply for the York International Mobility Award (YIMA) to help with expenses. You must be a returning student to take advantage of this opportunity.

YIIP-South India Experience

Challenges: This opportunity didn’t come without challenges to Mendoza, as applying for the visa was very time consuming, and she had to apply several times as she did it wrong initially. Mendoza also met York U students on this journey. She explained that India is very different than she had ever imagined, as it is a cross cultural country. Mendoza was travelling on the weekends and working during the weekdays which gave her a chance to see, contextualize, and discover what was happening at grass root level.

In to the Local Cities: Not being able to speak any of the languages spoken in India, one would think it would pose as a challenge but this was easier than Mendoza had anticipated as many people speak English in India. The rickshaw drivers couldn’t communicate in English, but just by hearing the name of the place the passenger desired to visit they were always able to take you to your destination. They would however try to give you a higher rate knowing that you are a foreigner, and Mendoza mastered the skill of negotiating the price prior to entering the vehicle. While living and working abroad students can learn about themselves–in Mendoza’s case she started appreciating all the open space we take for granted in Canada. In India she recalls her experience of commuting in the auto rickshaw–if a door of the next vehicle were to open it would most likely hit you! During the presentation she reflected on the history accompanied by the beautiful photography she captured in India.

Living Arrangements: Mendoza chose home-stay as her living arrangements. With the help of the local family she was staying with–her tourism experience was enriched.  This in turn helped her learn some lessons:

  • India is characterized by a diversity of religions but not limited to Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
  • India has a very rich culture, as there are over a hundred languages spoken in India.
  • The magnificent history behind Tibet.
  • A visit to the local market gives one insight to how the people are really living.
  • Witnessed a master craftsman who was duplicating keys–manually! (Yup, manually!)
Beautiful Photography and Great Presentation.

Position Responsibilities: Mendoza’s intern position was in the public administration sector as this granted her a chance to apply her Canadian context to Indian context, and providing her with a well-rounded understanding of the government roles globally. Having travelled to the Philippines she was really able to compare and contrast the practices. She was responsible for researching definitions, while assisting with case studies, and helping with the day to day tasks.

Lesson Learned and Advice to Students: Mendoza explains her Identity was constantly challenged as people always asked her “Where are you from?” Mendoza would respond “I’m Canadian” and the response she would mostly get is “But you don’t look Canadian.” Her identity in Canada has never been challenged, so once she explained her family history—people were more content. The best advice she offered based on her experience is to be open-minded and don’t have any expectations!

This opportunity gave Mendoza a chance to reflect on her own personality and changed her for the better, as a person she explained. It taught her to be patient as the process for the visa was lengthy, and complicated. Before this experience crowds used to exasperate her but after visiting India and seeing how people dealt with it, it in return taught Mendoza to deal with crowds and not get upset about the situation. In India Mendoza explained people value time in terms of persons as it all about coming together as a community and hospitality plays a big part in the Indian culture. Due to this experience she cherishes the personal space we are fortunate enough to have in Canada which made her realize that personal space is actually a luxury!

Escape the winter? Yes Please—well not really since I’m talking about the summer program…but one can dream right? Be sure to check out YIIP’s Facebook page. The pictures will make you wanna hop on a plane right now 😉 The deadline for summer 2014 placement was January 7th. I will start working on my application process this summer to see if I will be lucky enough to work abroad next summer! If you didn’t apply this year be sure to apply next year so you can explore the international markets to gain hands on experience and enhance your problem solving skills while demonstrating to potential employers that you acquire the skills of understanding complex issues.

Comment below and let me have you worked/studied abroad? What was your experience like and if you can offer any advice from your experience then share with me. 🙂

Bon voyage till next time!



Sunera graduated from York University in May, 2016 with an Honours BA in Work and Labour Studies.

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