International Students Feature: Mauritius

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

The Republic of Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean located east of Madagascar, and although it is less than 800 square miles in area, it is home to many different ethnicities, religions, cultures, and languages. Doorvesh Santbakshsing Sid, a first year electrical engineering student, is from Quatre Bornes, a city in Mauritius. Santbakshsing arrived here in August 2016, and he says that one of the first things that he noticed was the difference in proportion; in his words, “everything was so huge.” Because of the big transition, Santbakshsing says that at first, he was really shy and mostly kept to himself. “During the first semester I was kind of shy: I just stayed in my corner, I just did my own thing.” One thing that made him feel cut off from others was his accent. While he spoke English, he found himself having to repeat himself frequently. “Every time I go to McDonald’s, it’s always ‘What? What? What?’ It’s embarrassing because people think I don’t know how to speak English.” It frustrated him to no end, especially after months of living here, when he still had to write things down in order to communicate. In addition, the election of President Trump made him feel even more like an outsider, saying that, “With the new president and all, it’s kind of in my head that people think weirdly about people like me.”

When interviewed, Santbakshsing said many surprising things that defied the majority opinion for international students. For one, he liked the cold weather. In his opinion, it was too hot where he came from, and he found the temperatures here -- even the negative ones -- more comfortable. In addition, Santbakshsing went against the usual trend, saying that he liked American food. Specifically, he said, “I like the fact that it’s clean, and you can follow a strict diet… when I’m in Mauritius, I always get fat. There’s no balance. Here, they regulate the amount of calories in food and everything.” He also appreciated the fact that the Commons made a visible effort to accommodate the dietary needs of all cultures. “I like the fact that in the Commons, people respect every community. I eat everything, but I respect the fact that people respect that.” However, while he liked the food, he thought it was bland compared to the spices he was used to, which is a common opinion for international students. “I [tried] the ‘hot sauce’ that you guys have… it doesn’t do anything.” And, of course, he also missed some of his favorite dishes. In Mauritius, he explained, “the different religions introduce different foods. I’m Hindu, so I used to eat a lot of Indian foods.” One specific dish he missed is roti and dholl puri, which is “like a burrito” with white beans and spices.

When asked what he missed the most, Santbakshsing answered, “I miss my three dogs. I have one German Shepherd and two crossbreeds.” In addition, he missed his girlfriend (whom he hadn’t seen in months), the beach, and street food. Also, Santbakshsing said, “I miss climbing mountains, that’s something I usually did. But here everything is flat.”

Academically, Santbakshsing said that, “education is more intense there.” A gigantic exam, hosted by the University of Cambridge, puts a lot of pressure on students. The top three students, he said, win a scholarship that allows them to study abroad. Students study for two years in preparation for the exam, and the competitive atmosphere is immense. “Many people compete to get the scholarship. Those two years get really intense. It’s really part of the culture of the young people… it’s very stressful; it messes your childhood up. Let’s say you’re walking down the street, someone might say, ‘Oh look, that’s the guy who failed the exam!’”

However, Santbakshsing loved the sense of freedom he experienced when he came to the US, of infinite opportunities and true independence. “I grew up with my grandparents, and the way they treated me, I thought they were keeping me in a box. [That's] why I wanted to get out of there and express myself more freely. I saw the opportunities here to express myself, that’s what I love the most.”