Kiana Wilson

Date: SP5, 2014
Degree Program: Bachelor of Social Work
Host University: Madras Christian College
Host Country: India

Why did you choose your host university?

I had been to India before, and wanted an opportunity to spend more time there. Madras Christian College (MCC) is the only option for a social work exchange in India through UniSA. The other two options were Philippines and Canada. Personally, I wanted more of a challenge than Canada and wanted to remove myself from western culture as much as possible. So it was between Philippines and India for me. Honestly it was a ‘any excuse will do’ type scenario for me- I was busting to get back to India, so it was a no brainer for me. 

What was the university like?

I did not undertake any classes at the university, I undertook field placement for 5 days a week. The campus is a 365 acre manmade wildlife park. There are many facilities available on campus including a library, computers, general store, doctors, ATMs, cafeterias, counsellors and accommodation. However, the campus and the facilities are quite different to what you would expect in Australia- but it’s all a part of the fun! The professors and my supervisors were extremely supportive and always available to help, offering their personal phone numbers to students. The campus has many animals roaming around including dogs, deer, peacocks, squirrels and lizards.

The Social Work Department of MCC is like one big family! The department also organises many conferences, events and camps for the students, so there is a huge sense of community and friendship within the department. Although I did not study or live on campus, I still felt very much a part of the community. 

Student Kiana Wilson - IndiaWhat did you gain from your exchange experience and has it changed the way you think or altered your approach to life?

The people of India have truly humbled me. They live in what many would consider to be complete chaos, but still manage to be some of the most kind, loving, generous and intelligent people I have ever met.  Everyday in India you see something you would never imagine you would ever see in your life. It’s like travelling to another universe. I feel as though I have acquired a lot more patience, appreciation for the people that love me and a greater appreciation for the opportunities I have here in Australia. It’s really hard to describe how India altered me. I knew that living in India for 4.5 months would change me, but it did in ways I did not expect. 

What accommodation options were available to you?  How affordable was accommodation and would you recommend the same option to others?

There was on-campus accommodation, including meals, for $20 a night in the international guesthouse or in dormitory style halls. If you want some privacy, I would suggest requesting your own room in the international guesthouse. If you want more of a ‘college experience’ I would recommend you request to stay in a hall, where you will most likely share a room with other students. Both of these options have air conditioning in the room. This is a great option if you like to have support close by and is a good way to make friends with other students. I must warn you though- although you are offered 3 meals a day, chances are you will not eat every meal on campus. The food is very spicy and repetitive- most international students out sourced many of their meals.

I chose to stay off campus in my own apartment in the city for $7 per night and cooked or bought my own meals. This was great for me as it was closer to my places of work and I like to be independent and have privacy. I also really loved living in a typical Indian suburb, immersing myself with the locals and living really basically. I rented this apartment off one on the organisations I worked for and paid cash 1 month in advance.

Both living options were basic, and may only provide you with a bucket and ladle for a shower (don’t worry you get used to it quickly!) 

There was on-campus accommodation, including meals, for $20 a night in the international guesthouse or in dormitory style halls. If you want some privacy, I would suggest requesting your own room in the international guesthouse. If you want more of a ‘college experience’ I would recommend you request to stay in a hall, where you will most likely share a room with other students. Both of these options have air conditioning in the room. This is a great option if you like to have support close by and is a good way to make friends with other students. I must warn you though- although you are offered 3 meals a day, chances are you will not eat every meal on campus. The food is very spicy and repetitive- most international students out sourced many of their meals.

I chose to stay off campus in my own apartment in the city for $7 per night and cooked or bought my own meals. This was great for me as it was closer to my places of work and I like to be independent and have privacy. I also really loved living in a typical Indian suburb, immersing myself with the locals and living really basically. I rented this apartment off one on the organisations I worked for and paid cash 1 month in advance.

Both living options were basic, and may only provide you with a bucket and ladle for a shower (don’t worry you get used to it quickly!) 

Describe your travel experiences; did you travel locally or to neighbouring countries? 

I travelled all throughout India, it is very cheap and easy to do so. I travelled by train, bus and plane on a very small budget for 4 weeks after my placements finished. I also was able to do several weekend trips to places close to Chennai (the city I was working in) during university semester. Check out www.makemytrip.com or www.cleartrip.com for booking trains, buses and planes- LIFE SAVER! There are also many neighbouring countries that are cheap, easy and safe to travel to such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Thailand, etc! I was lucky enough to make a good friend during placement and we were able to travel together quite a lot. I mainly stayed in hostels because I find it to be a great way to meet people. I never felt unsafe, but I always ‘kept my wits about me’ at the same time. 

Describe how you adjusted to life in a different country and how you met new people.

Adjusting to Indian life is hard. Almost every element of life is different there. However, the social work department of MCC is extremely supportive and the local students always take the international students under their wing right away. Every single international student I met at MCC made many friends. So I made friends with other social work students, international students and other people who were volunteering organisations I was placed at. The Social Work Department of MCC is a very social place to be. I often went out for meals, drinks, movies, shopping, sleepovers and holidays with the students. I also just kept reminding myself to relax and ‘go with the flow a bit’, and then I eventually got right into the swing of things!

Can you see any benefits from this exchange to your future career?

Yes, many! I was able to undertake fieldwork in two different organisations, whereas in Adelaide I would have been placed at only one. I worked within fields I would never have the opportunity to within Australia. For example, I worked on a grassroots level with women who had been rescued from sex trafficking. Having international experience is great for your resume, so I have been told. I think travelling in general expands your mind and perspective. The only downside is that there are generally no opportunities for future paid employment within the organisations you do work experience for in India. Many social work students, who undertook their placements in Adelaide, were offered paid employment at the end of their work experience. However, personally this isn’t an issue for me. 

What advice would you give to a student who was hesitant or considering joining the exchange program?

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and something that you will remember for the rest of your life. It’s one thing to travel or holiday in another country, but a completely different thing to work, study and live in another country. The experience is an incredible opportunity. Do your research- pick a country that’s right for you. If you’re worried about money- there are scholarships, grants and loans avaliable.  Just do it!

Top Tips:

Go to India not knowing what to expect and an open mind… And bring a jar of vegemite! 

Areas of study and research

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