By: Fabiha Islam

I was born on a rainy afternoon in the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. My birth was somewhat atypical as rainfall is the last thing you’d expect from Saudi Arabia’s dry and hot weather. Strangely, the rain led to many of my relatives making the comment that the desert might not be the place for me.

Unbelievable but true, a simple brochure from my father’s workplace about one of the world’s top universities turned my life upside-down. I got to know about this amazing university with cutting-edge research opportunities known as McMaster, and wanted to be there.

My endless insisting finally made my parents agree to send their daughter to a completely different country in the farthest continent from home.

In the airport, my parents were concerned if I’d be able to undergo the immigration processes myself, as travelling alone wasn’t exactly what a women In Saudi Arabia would normally do.

On my first day in Canada, I faced an unworldly snowstorm. Snow always fascinated me since the only place I would ever see it was in movies. However, little did I know of the harsh weather the beautiful snow brings with it.

When I saw McMaster in person for the very first time, the word “home” was the first thing to come to my mind. The campus had a sense of deep intimacy as it covered a beautiful, little area with all of its buildings so close together.

Despite being covered in snow, everything on campus looked beautiful, and I knew that I made the right choice.

I lived in Les Prince Hall in my first year and was proud of myself for being able to live, eat and even walk alone, without my parents around. Saudi Arabia never let women go out without any assistance, so it may seem strange that I hadn’t even walked alone to the corner store next to my house until coming to McMaster.

Although I didn’t have any problems with the language since I was brought up in an English-speaking environment, it took time to adapt to the weather and cultural differences. I struggled quite a bit in my first days due to constant snowstorms, icy roads, different food and how everything goes quiet after 9:00 p.m.

Back in Saudi Arabia, the city would wake up after 9:00 p.m. as the desert was burning hot during daytime, restricting any outdoor activity. Entertainment was very different from what I experienced before and so initially, I actually struggled to have fun.

In my opinion, cultural differences will forever exist but it is not what should controls our sense of closeness and familiarity. In a new culture, it is crucial to be open to exploring new ideas and trying to find out specific things from the new environment which are suited to your own expectations.

I developed a more positive attitude and felt at home when exploring made me realize that there isn’t any major difference after all.

A major difference is only when there is a change in the key component of our survival, that is, human interaction. Despite different language, food and weather, human beings were always the same to me.

The way you perceive a person is completely subjective and depends on our own minds other than any certain culture and fortunately, my mind and thoughts were still unchanged.

I would like to thank McMaster University for being so dear, inclusive and family-like. The incredible openness and friendly attitude of the campus community makes me feel completely “at home” despite being miles away from my family!


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