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International perspective: a Canadian student in Ireland

Navkirat Grewal, a medical student, shares her experience studying at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

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    Navkirat Grewal

    Undergraduate student attending the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
    November 20 2023
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    I have been at the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences for the past two years and it has been the experience of a lifetime. Moving abroad was challenging and scary to say the least, but I often look back on it as the decision that shaped my entire life.

    I was born and raised in Brampton, Ontario in Canada. When I graduated high school, I had originally planned on completing medical school in Canada. I applied and accepted my offer from McMaster University

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    It was during my second year that I heard about the RCSI from family members and friends. They vouched for the university and all of the amazing experiences they had while studying abroad. They were also all practising physicians in Canada, which is where I would ultimately want to complete my residency. 

    This led me to look into the college some more, which is when I came across its direct entry medicine (DEM) programme. Having already completed nearly two years of undergraduate studies in the sciences, I would be exempt from the six-year programme and placed into the five-year. 

    I also realised I wouldn’t have to sit the medical college admission test (MCAT) and could go straight into a highly established medical school. This was really enticing for me – so I did what anyone would: I applied. 

    The application process took around four to five months. I reached out to my professors and volunteer coordinators for recommendation letters, sent my transcripts off to Ireland and dotted every “i” on my resumé. 

    As a perfectionist, I was constantly editing and re-editing my personal statement, reading it out to family and friends, and making sure I was truly happy with it. After all, I only had one shot to take on the big and daunting personal statement everyone talks about.

    After I was invited for interview and was accepted into the RCSI, there came a surprisingly difficult challenge – withdrawing from my university. It’s one of those things that makes you question whether you’re doing the right thing. Should I move abroad and be in a programme I’m unsure of or finish two more years and have a degree in my name?

    The choice was a difficult one. After many discussions with my parents, I typed up and sent my letter of withdrawal and later clicked “accept” to my dreams – and I can tell you now, it was 100 per cent the right decision.

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    I made my parents and older sister fly out with me in August 2021 to help me get settled in, and I highly recommend this to anyone moving abroad. Having my family with me made the entire process so much easier and I was relieved about spending the next five years in Dublin.

    They helped me clean and set up my room, open a bank account, get a phone plan and buy anything else that I needed. The only other thing I needed to do was apply for an Irish Residence Permit (IRP) card, which the university helped me with.

    After my family left Dublin, I suffered from homesickness and loneliness for weeks. However, finding friends and sharing with them the feeling of being away from family really broke the ice and brought my friends and I closer.

    There is one tip I would definitely give to any student studying abroad or starting college or university: go to as many school events as you can in the first couple weeks. This is how you meet other people and, perhaps, make lifelong friends.

    Although my feelings of homesickness have got better over the past two years, the biggest challenge I faced, and still face, is finding that perfect balance between school and social life.

    As a very academically focused student, I usually put social events and extracurriculars second and my studies first. It’s taken me a long time to realise that both are equally as important.

    Actively making this change has made my studying more productive and has kept me from burning out. It has also allowed me to make some amazing memories that I’ll cherish forever.

    Studying abroad can seem scary, but you’re on a journey to find yourself, and there really isn’t a better journey to be on.

    If I can leave you with anything it would be this: embrace every emotion, all of the butterflies, nerves, pressures and fears you have; embrace every opportunity that life throws your way; enjoy making a name for yourself and meeting some great people along the way, because it’s not the destination that you’ll remember – it’s the journey. 

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