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Esha Grewal

she/her
SFU Alumni
Bachelor of Arts 2023
Arts + Social Sciences › Political Science | Arts + Social Sciences › International Studies
SFU Global Community
Canada Revenue Agency

Program:
Field School
Being abroad helped me learn more about myself and changed the way that I view my career goals.
Experience Details
Semester
Summer
Year
2023
Skills
Introduction + Preparation
Previous Experience

Last year, I had travelled to Europe so I had experience with the culture of Italy and Belgium. I had also taken a course about NATO prior to leaving so I felt prepared heading into the program. 

Location Research

I did little location research since I already had travel experience in some of the cities we were visiting. For the others, the field school organized everything so I felt safe and comfortable. It is helpful to research languages, rideshare and food delivery apps, and places to visit in your free time. 

Financial Preparation

Since I was going to be in Europe for seven weeks, I researched travel cards to take with me instead of cash. Canadian credit cards charge a 2.5% fee on all foreign transactions, which adds up after many weeks of travel. Instead, I got the Cash Passport from Canada Post which allowed me to load money onto the card in select currencies, acting like a debit card. It was extremely helpful and I felt safer carrying less cash. Of course, I brought my Canadian credit card and some extra euros just in case. 

Packing

The field school had paid for one check-in, one carry-on, and one personal bag to be taken on flights so that's exactly what I took. I opted to take a medium-sized check-in bag instead of a large one to make my travelling a bit easier since it's not fun taking large luggage on cobblestone streets. I made sure to a pack a versatile wardrobe since the program was mainly business casual/formal and in multiple different climates. Be sure to pack comfortable shoes for all dress codes because there will be lots of walking. Also, bring a nice dress/suit to wear for a nice formal dinner. The most important thing I did was leaving room in my suitcases so that I could bring things back home!

Travel and Transportation

I booked a roundtrip flight out of Rome since that was where the field school was starting and that was the cheapest flight that I could find. Since we ended in Brussels, I gave myself around 11 days to travel and find my way back to Rome. The rest of the transportation in field was arranged by the field school.

Preparation Tips for Future Students
  1. Read the news - this is the best way to stay informed about NATO and international politics.
  2. Pack smart - see my tips above.
  3. Leave time at the beginning/end of the program to travel!
During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

Prior to leaving, we had to complete various orientations either through Zoom or on Canvas. We had two weeks of virtual programming before we met in Rome to get familiar with one another and ask all the questions we needed to. It was a great way to ease into the program.

Accommodation and Living

This was also completely handled by the field school. The only prep you might want to do is reach out to someone you know is going on the program if you would like to be roommates with them. I personally did not do this and it worked out great for me because my roommate and I are great friends now. 

Day to Day

The day-to-day of the program was diverse and constantly changing. Our schedules were only given for the present week and even then it was subject to change. The days usually consisted of briefings from various professionals and military personnel. We would often take field trips to historical places and receive tours of highly-secure institutions. After about a week, we would have an afternotes session all together which consisted of us discussing what we saw, heard, and learned. 

Expect long working days with no free time during the week. We usually had one free weekend in each place we stayed to travel and explore. During the week, we made the most out of our evenings with dinners and going out!

Learning and Adaptation

I had to learn how to be very flexible during this program as things were often changing and happening on the fly. As someone who likes things very structured, learning to put my faith in others was difficult but ultimately beneficial. Being able to adapt to new circumstances is a key soft skill that is valuable in future careers. 

Additionally, I had never lived with roommates before so it was a learning experience to do it with two others for six weeks! I had a great time with my roommates and loved living with them. 

Accomplishments and Challenges

It was challenging for me to meet fourty-four other new people and spend all of my time with them. I sometimes struggle in social situations so making so many new friends so fast was difficult and really put me outside of my comfort zone. Eventually, I became comfortable with everyone around me as I learned that we were all in the same boat. 

I really enjoyed our simulations during the field school because I felt like it was an opportunity for me to contribute academically in a way that I was comfortable with. Most of the academic work during the field school is done with groups, so this was a fun time to show your personal abilities. 

Cultural and Environmental Observations

We visited six different countries, each with their own cultures and languages. Italy had the best and cheapest food, although it was crazy busy with tourists. Latvia and Estonia were less popular, but incredibly beautiful. Both countries gave a slightly medieval, old-town vibe with very culturally important histories. Belgium was by far the most diverse which was fun and familiar to see. More importantly, the waffles and chocolate were amazing! We were in Germany and Luxembourg only briefly, so I wasn't able to really experience the cultures in both countries.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

During the week, there wasn't free time during the day to explore since we were crazy busy. To make the most of our time there, we would often go out for dinner or drinks in the evening and explore the city like locals! We usually had one free weekend in each place that we stayed, so we would use this time to do day trips to neighbouring cities. In Rome, I visited Tivoli and in Brussels, I travelled to both Ghent and Bruges.

The field school arranges lots of field trips and cultural/historical visits during the week as well, so it's not entirely all work during the days.

Reflection & Tips
Reflection

The NATO Field School was an experience that taught me a lot about myself and really changed my perspective on a lot of different things. I now have a new outlook toward my future career and definitely want to go abroad again in the future. The program allowed me to visit places I don't think I ever would have been able to on my own. I'm happy to say that I now have fourty-something new friends and connections that I can't want to see again.

Advice for Future Students
  1. Make as many friends as possible - the most valuable connections that you will make on this program are with your fellow students, not just the people you meet with fancy jobs. Be friendly, hang out, and have fun!
  2. Stay updated on current events - read the news and know what's happening around you. You don't need to know everything about NATO or political science, you just need to simply know what's happening in the world. 
  3. Pack as light as possible - this is hard to when you are travelling for at least six weeks, but it's a lot easier to bring a versatile wardrobe and then do laundry once you're in field. 
  4. Travel! - if you are from Canada and travelling all the way across the Atlantic, make the most of it. Spend some extra time before or after the program to explore. There's not a lot of time to do this during the program, but when you have the opportunity make sure you take it.

Author

Esha Grewal

she/her
SFU Alumni
Bachelor of Arts 2023
Arts + Social Sciences › Political Science | Arts + Social Sciences › International Studies
SFU Global Community
Canada Revenue Agency
visibility  273
Jul 21, 2023