The Erasmus Mundus that changed my life

The Erasmus Mundus that changed my life
In 2004 I decided to apply to the Deccan Herald for a job. I was writing for them on a freelance basis for years, but I was tired of spending my day working out of the house and wanted a full time job. The boys were in their final years of school and it was time for me to do more with my life I thought.

It was strange working in a huge office with hundreds of journalists, quite different from the advertising office I had run and the pre-school I ran too-- all out of our home. It was an absolutely new experience for me and something I quite enjoyed to a point. I enjoyed the coffee man coming to my table giving me a piping hot cup of coffee twice a day and going down to the canteen for a delicious veggie meal which cost a princely Rs 35, cut out of my salary!

I enjoyed working with a team, running around town covering food and movies and fashion shows and even flying to Mumbai to cover the Sting Concert and Mark Knopfler no less. Life was good and I was enjoying moving onto writing about the heritage of the city and making a name for myself there.

But I was chafing at the bit. Having been used to running my own office and being my own boss for 12 years running my ad agency I found the time bound day, and yes-sir-no-sir difficult to handle. I was Chief Sub no doubt, but male patriarchy was something I was unused to with a Dad who had no such illusions. We were all equal, male and female.

After two years I applied for a fellowship which happened to be sent to me by a journalist who was based in Mumbai, whom I met at one of the events I covered. She said--” Apply! And all the best! Very few get chosen!”

So when I was selected for the Erasmus Mundus Masters in Journalism, it was a dream that any young woman would give their eye-teeth for, forget me in my late forties. I could not breathe when I opened the email which said I had won a 42,000 Euro scholarship to study in Europe and to choose my countries from the list sent. I had to choose THREE countries to do modules in Journalism which I wanted to do.

I chose Aarhus in Denmark, Amsterdam in The Netherlands and Wales, in the UK. I could have chosen Germany for the final one year sem, but I avoided it. It was exciting to be applying for my visa to leave and my sister and Aunt in Australia told me about a relative who was in Aarhus, no less, since the ‘70’s. It was the most thrilling ride of my life and I grabbed it with both hands.

Denmark was wonderful and like I wrote in my stream of articles which I sent back to the Deccan Herald, I looked out of my University apartment and stared at the handsome men and women who cycled by. Every single one of them were fit and slim and so good looking, I wondered if I had got lost in some movie. The Danes are a very handsome race, not an ounce of fat as they cycle everywhere. It was the beginning of the opening of my mind to academics and life, which changed me forever.

It was in Europe where I learned how to travel in trains and enjoy the countryside rather than fly around like I was used to. Europe has the most wonderful train system ever and our student passes gave us an opening to a world we exploited to the hilt. Every weekend was a new town or city and every weekend I got food & fodder for my next article.

It was in the classroom where I was pitted against 20 and 21 year olds, besides a few my age. That really made me realise that our Indian system of education just makes kids who ‘by-heart’ information and do not use their own logic, and skills to research. I was re-educated from the bottom up and I loved every minute of it.

Tech savvy me?? I turned tech savvy after two years of the Mundus. We had to research in the most wonderful wired libraries, we had to load our assignments on platforms, we learned how to use plagiarism checkers, fact checkers, the works. I loved it -- it was such a roller coaster ride. Best of all I learned how to work with a team and make PPT presentations of our work. Stand up infront of a class of 38 of the best minds in the world and defend my assignment with my team.

I learned to use a debit card in Aarhus, there were no banks filled with people to dole out my money, like in India. I learned to buy tickets off a vending machine at 10pm at night, when returning from a group brain-storming session, in Amsterdam. And best of all I learned about art. I splurged on a card which gave me access to all 400 art museums in Amsterdam. I went to hundreds of them across Amsterdam and learned about all the masters of art in European world and wrote for the art section of the Sunday Herald. Rembrandt and Van Gogh, Monet & Renoir, Da Vinci & Raphael I was introduced to their world and the beauty of their art.

I learned to travel over the length and breadth of every city that I lived in and see and taste all the different cuisines which were on offer. I NEVER pined for Indian food like some Indian students and instead revelled in teaching my classmates how to make easy Indian dishes instead, while they taught me theirs.

I learned to keep my room and toilet spick and span or get ready to be fined. We Indians are naturally dirty. And I learned to segregate my waste and not dump it all in one container, besides learning to share my food. Cook a little extra, put a label to it and leave it in the common kitchen in Amsterdam and Wales. It was a whole new world for me and I learned the respect of other cultures and not cringe and cry for my own. That’s what studying abroad does to the mind -- it opens you to new experiences.

I made friends for life from across the world. Many were younger than me and so looked to me for help and advice. That’s part of student life and one learns to be caring and sharing. I was shocked at how some of the Asian kids would just demand things from their parents inspite of such a big allowance that we got. I instead saw the European kid work after hours to earn money by Data Entry or even cleaning jobs.And yet we Indians pat ourselves on our back and denigrate western culture, which is ridiculous.

The Erasmus Mundus changed my life. I came back every four months ‘cause I had a family and kids.The others loafed across Europe, but I did not mind as I had already done that by Eurorail, backpacking with my husband. I never chose to study in Germany for my final sem, ‘cause I heard stories of racism which I am told is not there today ( don't know and don't really care) Instead I chose Wales ‘cause Catherine Zita Jones came from Mumbles!

I loved Wales and that’s where I came into my own in the University of Wales, Swansea by the sea. I volunteered with the Sisters of Charity -- Mother Teresa’s sisters and cooked once a week at their shelter. I volunteered in church and cooked an Indian meal for students which the Parish priest relished most of all! My dissertation guide was an Indian by roots but born and bred in Jamaica. I chose her and am so glad I did as her guidance made my dissertation on Naxalism, seamless.

And I came back to my family --ready to take on the world, while I left classmates who found jobs and lived on and still live in the UK. Many years later when I did my PhD it was one of my classmates who is a professor now in Florida who reviewed my PhD thesis -- Professor Azmat Rasul.

I did not stay long in the Deccan Herald though I went back and was rewarded as Assistant Editor, instead I quit to start the Media Section in St. Joseph’s College with Fr. Ambrose and till today share my skills with youngsters doing their Post Grads.

Life took on a whole new hue after I went for the Erasmus Mundus and I am eternally grateful to the European Union to have given me the chance to change from my hum-drum life.

Forty-two thousand Euros was the value of my fellowship and in true Indian fashion I saved most of it and was able to give my son my card, so he could pay his rent, when he went to study in the UK.

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