Skip to main content
Health Sciences
SFU Student

Dog standing next to basket with ducks in it
You must experience the destination yourself to form your own opinion and find your own truth.

In the summer of 2011, four SFU Health Sciences Co-op students, Martyna, Silvia, Lindsay and Christine went on an INCREDIBLE 4-month work term to India.  Working with Destiny Reflection, an organization whose goal is to empower female victims of human trafficking to become self-sufficient through dignified employment.  Their blog series, SFU Health Sciences Takes India!, captures some of the experiences on their life changing journey.

When I found out that I was one of four students hired for this internship/volunteer opportunity in India I was ecstatic, so unlike most people I was not modest about it and told everyone. I am pretty sure that at least half the staff at SFU Harbour Centre were aware that I was going to Kolkata. I told everyone from professors to students to security guards and cleaning staff. My brother and friends got it the worst when I rubbed it in that they had to return to university in the Fall =).

Many people were supportive and thought that this would be an experience of a life time, as it has turned out to be. Others were reluctant and feared that I would not survive in Kolkata. Every single individual that I spoke to who either lived or travelled in India told me the exact same thing, “you will either love it or hate it, but there is no in-between”. Friends, who were simply looking out for my safety, described stories that made me cringe. Everyone suggested that I cut of my blonde locks and become a brunette. This would help me blend in and less people would be tempted to touch my hair; or at least it was recommended that I wear a head piece. Others warned me about the aroma of garbage and the heat which is apparently inescapable. The last piece of advice was keep your hands in the motor vehicle at all times. A friend of a friend who travelled to India a few years ago got a limb chopped off when she stuck her hand out a car window because a desperate individual was after her silver bangle.

I don’t doubt that situations such as these have occurred to others. Around the world inhumane acts happen on a daily basis, such as those we are trying to counteract at Destiny Reflection; human trafficking for the means of sexual exploitation. However, the last two weeks in India have been very positive, hence people should not fear coming to Kolkata. Kolkata is very noisy, and you have to dodge traffic (I personally think it super fun, and get a kick out of it). Sometimes the polluted air gets stuck in your throat and you have a chalky flavoured cough; and once you step outside you are drenched in sweat from the humidity. But there are wonderful things that overshadow these environmentally unfriendly mannerisms.

Overall people here look out for you, especially women and the educated young men. On multiple occasions men have offered us their cabs because we looked confused and evidently lost. Others have helped us communicate with our cab drivers, and offered up seats when we were falling over on the rusted barely operating buses. We have our own personal traffic man that stops all the bolting cars while we cross the street to get to work. If it was not for him, one of us would have been in an accident at this point. As far as I know, no one has spewed inappropriate remarks or made me feel uncomfortable; although we do get stared at all the time because we are foreign women that are unaccompanied by men and very fair-skinned. In these cases, we either ignore the stares or we wave at the individual. This often brings a smile to their face and they wave back.

People in the Gariahat neighbourhood have realized that we are visiting for some time, and some have gotten to know us. For example the same taxi driver pulls up to our house every morning knowing our exact destination to work. The guy at the Tutty Fruity ice cream Shop commented on where Silvia and Lindsay disappeared to on the one occasion that Christine and I went out for a bite without them. The kids that live in the apartment buildings two blocks down recognize our faces and always greet us in English by saying “hello” and/or doing a little dance for us when we walk by. Even the less privileged children, whose families live under the overpass and beg as the only means of survival, have figured out our work schedule and the approximate time we pass under the bridge on our commute home from work. We have learned to always carry some food in our bags to share with them.

So for anyone worried about going to Kolkata, don’t be. People here are friendly and are almost always willing to lend a helping hand. The kids here are remarkable and have such a positive outlook on life even though they have so little. Shame is a huge component of Indian culture; therefore, if someone is being disrespectful others will call them out on it.

Hence, an important life lesson that I have learned from this experience is that there are misconceptions about many countries that are traveled to around the world. You must experience the destination yourself to form your own opinion and find your own truth.

Beyond the Blog

SFU Student
visibility  128
Oct 2, 2011

You Might Like These... Co-op Reflections, Professional Development, Career Exploration, Seeking, Work Term Extension

author, courtney, smiling
A Second Term in Government: More of the Same?

Having completed my first work term for Health Canada as a Communications Officer Intern, I was eager to try something new, and the government was not where I believed that was going to happen. That is until I was offered a position at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada...

picture of glichelle pondering a though
Surviving Workplace Politics

Ever been peeved with workplace politics? Have you ever been a victim of office politics? One student shares her experiences from the workplace with tips on how to survive.


person with their head in a book
Responsibility and Success

One of the most memorable parts of my time in co-op was the collection of accidents, errors, mistakes, and mix-ups that happened in the course of working in the laboratory.


You Might Like These... Co-op Reflections

Isabelle and Elisabeth in Nepal
Providing Free Healthcare to Those in Need

On placement with Partnership for Sustainable Development in Kathmandu, Nepal, Health Sciences students Isabelle and Elisabeth decided to extend their contribution to a community in need and enrich their learning experience, by raising resources for a Free Health Camp.

A hand holding a stick note
You Design, They Hold Stakes, We Make Cool Things: Becoming a Great Designer Is Simple, Right?
As Karen points out, students of the Interactive Arts and Technology program have been through years of design school! Designers know how to use Adobe Suite like a pro, and know to bring their A-game to the table every day, proposing fascinating new directions and brand-new visionary ideas. While designers are hired to learn and bring some ‘fresh perspectives’ to their co-op workplace, read on to learn how they can overlook some key parts of the everyday designer.
Natalie, author, smiling
Making the Most of the End of Term Project

Co-op students are required to do either a project or presentation to complete their co-op requirements at the end of their work term.  As a communications student, Natalie did not know what to expect the first time she presented her PowerPoint presentation for her project.  Read on so you can have an idea of what to expect for yours!