Indian Roots, Canadian Blooms

Written By: Dr. Anju Bajaj, SCWIST Manitoba Chapter Lead

Someone once said, “We all make choices but, at the end, choices make us.” How true is that? Today I am here to share my journey so far. I want to talk to you about my Indian roots and Canadian blooms.

I was born into a close-knit family with a brother, sister, and parents within the northern part of India. The education system back home was designed differently from that of Canada. School started early as two years of preschool and then developed to 10 years of middle to higher studies. University/college required 3-5 years to be completed to achieve an undergraduate degree and an additional three years to complete a masters, with the opportunity of adding another 5 years to complete a Ph.D. As for me, I followed this same path. As a child I was extremely studious. I would be eager to get home and complete all my homework. In fact, I would be so keen, that I did not even change clothes or eat until I knew all my work was fully completed. Additionally, if I were assigned two chapters, I would do three. Eventually, I started to read the books before the school year even started. I did well in school and my interest in studies drove me to complete three masters degrees: music, dietetics, and physiotherapy. While I was completing my physiotherapy degree, I was offered a job to become a physiotherapist at a local reputable hospital. However, I declined because I knew I wanted to pursue my Ph.D.

Dr. Anju Bajaj, SCWIST Manitoba Chapter Lead, over the years

I got married during my studies and my husband, along with family, were very appreciative of my interests. Even though it is uncommon in India to study after marriage, I received all the support I needed. After completing my degree, I received an opportunity to be invited as a visiting scholar in the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba. I still remember my first day in Canada, which was full of hope and dreams. I did not understand the term “culture shock” until I had experienced it. I felt as if I was on another planet. Everything was foreign to me – names, clothes, food, measurement systems, and the list goes on. It took time to become accustomed to even small things such as the conversion from rupees to dollars, kilograms to pounds, and things such as driving on the right side of the road. Driving on the right side of the road was particularly challenging, as driving on the left-hand side was normal in my life prior to coming to Canada. I am sure many of you would agree.

Among all these new experiences, seeing the snow for the first time was a memorable experience for me. I was staring out of my window in awe, thinking to myself how beautiful it was. I went outside and remember taking many pictures. I didn’t know till the next day that snow is not as beautiful as I thought. If you are a true Winnipegger, I’m sure you are well familiar with the brutal snowfall and wind chill. I was living on the campus and I used to walk to work every morning. One day after a snowfall, I was walking to work as usual – now, remember I did not have snow boots – and I was walking with my regular sneakers. Then, I stepped on something that looked like water to me and in my next step………….woooooooo! I fell all the way down and found myself at the foot of the snowy hill. It was a smooth slide except I had so much pain on my forehead and scraped my arm. WOW, what a beautiful way to discover a BLACK EYE and need for snow boots! Regardless of this experience, I completed my post-doctoral training at St. Boniface Research Centre in 2007 where I got my dream job as a Research Scientist. As time went on, I worked on getting my permanent teaching license through some courses at the University of Manitoba, which led me to my job as a full-time teacher. Now, some of you may be wondering what drove me to leave my job at SBRC and become a teacher, but that is a story for another day.

As a result of my decision to come to ‘Winterpeg’ I gained many things, but at the same time began to miss many things back home. I missed my family, talks at the dinner table, birthdays, weddings and festival celebrations, the warm hugs, listening to my native language and even small things like the crazy traffic. Even though I missed all of these things, it was because of my choice that I was able to experience new things, develop my skills, and learn about a new culture. Through my journey, I met many wonderful people who have affected me in ways I cannot measure. They have had a special effect on my life. I am blessed to have had the opportunities to grow myself personally and professionally. When I sit back and weigh the things I have gained and those that I miss, I reach the conclusion that everything in life has a price. Life itself is a series of tradeoffs and my decision to come to Canada was no exception. While India is a land of spirituality, Canada is a land of material prosperity and opportunity. India is a land where high thinking and simple living is exemplified, but in Canada, it is the freedom to become anything you want to if you are willing to work hard. It is a land of opportunities and you need to show your devotion. While India gave me roots that penetrate deeply, Canada gave me the wings to fly and catch my dreams. It is with immense gratitude and pride that I say that I have the best of both worlds and I love them both.