One evening as I strolled down the silent road at the UNIVERSITY OF THE FREE STATE Bloemfontein main campus South Africa, exhausted from all the classes, my mind congested, all I needed was to go to my bed and take a nap. My thoughts were interrupted by a sudden vibration in my pocket, a call from an unknown number. I attended the call.
“Hello, is this Thuto on the line?” enquired a male voice from the other end of the call. “The name is Thato and not Thuto!” I said. “Work on your handwriting, this looks like Thuto…. I am calling from the office of international relations, we have received your application for an international scholarship and you are among the selected to go to Portugal and do BSc Nursing, we are aware that you applied for Biotechnology, but we have space only in Nursing. Should we continue to process your application?”
That is all it took to boost my mood, I was over the moon. After we said our goodbyes, I ran to my hostel, at the time I was residing at Tswelopele boys’ hostel. I was overly excited I just could not contain myself. I was very relieved that my parents will no longer have to worry about my studies. I got to my hostel and called home to tell my parents the good news.
A few months later we were working on getting passports ready, submitting the documents needed and writing tests as the different universities in different countries demanded. In the last two weeks of July 2017, I received an email saying Manipal University in India is done processing our documents the classes will start on the 1st of August 2017. All the shortlisted students were called to be assisted in getting their visas done. Yes, that is how I found about Manipal University.
Last week of July I deregistered from the University of the Free State, packed my clothes, took my luggage and left to be with my family.
Here I was leaving behind friendships I built, in the hostel and one year six months I spent Studying BSc Ext Biochemistry and Microbiology. Diving into the world of the unknown. 29th of July I went to bed knowing that this is the last night with my family, in my room and I will see them in the next two years, Insha’Allah.
In the early morning of July 30th, my dad and I drove to meet our sponsors and my fellow compatriots. In the meeting held, it was clearly stated that we will now be the ambassadors of our country, we should go and fly the flag high. It was a bitter-sweet moment for both the parents and their children. Love, anxiety and tears were all that was felt and seen, as the students put their bags on the bus to take them to the airport.
My bags were home as my home is just on the way to the airport, my dad decided he will drop me at the airport. We drove home immediately after the meeting and now it was my turn to cry, it dawned on me that yes it is happening. I am leaving everyone I know behind, everything I am accustomed to, everything. My Family, my friends, my church and my dogs. We reached home, had some food, soon after the meal my sister brought a cushion for me to kneel on and my whole family came to pray for me and my safety. It was a heavy moment, tears warming everyone’s cheeks, with hugs, tears and kisses I left my sisters behind. With total silence, we drove to the airport. I met yet again my compatriots, the soon to be my only family, home far from home.
We checked in our luggage and exchanged the currency to Dollars and late in the night, our flight took off to Dubai from Dubai to Bangalore to Mangalore and then Manipal College bus took us from Mangalore airport to Manipal.
Just after 10 pm we arrived in Manipal, welcomed very well by the monsoon rains, astonished to see our beautiful hostel the one to be my home for the next 4 years. Those who know Manipal can attest that new international hostels are one of the best if not the best in town. We moved to our single rooms and the next morning we had to get ourselves registered in college. We had people staring at us as we walk around the campus, some randomly wanting to take photos with us, it was very weird, but since we were not the first batch from South Africa we had our seniors who have already told us that such is common around here. They helped to get us adjusted to our new home.
Classes resumed and we split into our batches, some including myself went for BSc Nursing and the rest for B. Pharm. The first few weeks were stressful, I had a lot of adjustment to do, everything was new to me, and I had a lot of difficulty in understanding the accent of some teachers and students, the same goes for them. During these stressful days of adjusting. We received an invitation to come to celebrate the international students in an event called CAIROS. This is where we get to introduce our culture to other people, it is a very diverse event. So I and my seniors decided we will meet up, practice some singing and dance steps.
It is during our practice hours that solid friendships were built, a sense of belonging was created and the loneliness was quenched. The CAIROS day arrived, this is where I saw that Manipal is rich in diversity, a home for all people of all kinds. Walls of ignorance came tumbling down, breaking the stereotypes as I learned a lot about other countries, their history, culture, food and their music.
In no time I made new friends in my class to name but a few Rinita Robert who played a vital role in teaching me corners around Manipal, and through her, I also learned a bit more about the differences between our cultural practices and lifestyles. Christon Aranha taught me few Kannada words to help go about my daily life, driven by my curiosity I also asked Christon to teach me a Kannada song, I successfully learned Bellagedu song which I later performed in the fresher’s welcome in my college, Manipal college of nursing (MCON). This was hence the beginning of my local popular status, my college mates knew me as that guy who sings in Kannada, it became a ritual for me to learn a song in a different language for every event held in our college. I as of now sang songs in Kannada, Tulu, Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil and Konkani, I have been featured in a few Instagram pages, performed in weddings and once in Daijiworldtv Konkani show called Soad-5 Mangoa.
Through music I could connect and bond with people around me, my friends (Uthembekile Mhlotshana and Mpho Nogabe) were at most times at my side, Uthembekile a.k.a Thembinator playing the saxophone and Mpho a.k.a Mustafa on the keys. We went places performing both for fun and competitions.
I felt the need to be more involved in the social activities this thought led to me being part of V.S.O and Sanjivani will forever be my favourite project of all times. I could dance, play, sing and have a good time while impacting the lives of children in the hospital. Participating in Sanjivani project helped me a lot with learning how to bond with kids, I used the same skills I acquired in Sanjivani during my Pediatric postings in 3rd year. I loved and enjoyed everything about V.S.O from regular projects like Sanjivani to special projects like Kidathon.
Manipal did not only create space for me in arts and academics but my physical and social needs were also taken care of. It is right here in Manipal that I ran my first 5km, finished 2 half-marathons and hold a finisher medal for 42.2km. Running is not easy but it is a good way to start and build friendships and to stay in shape. Staying in shape may help you get your Juliet and get you set for Feb 14, ok let me not go there. Well, right now I am also in the Manipal Runners club still trying to see and learn more about running through best athletes in MAHE.
Did I mention that I got some dance moves, you got to see me hit the floor after 2-3 shots at big shots, or Edge or # after my exams, to relax or just party with friends? It will be hypocritical of me to ignore the religious side of me, through all the lifestyle I always make it a point to set my Sundays for Church. In my initial days in Manipal the people who made me feel most welcomed were my friends from Bread of life Church and yes I keep learning a lot from them about God, music and life.
Even though I have a few months left in Manipal or India in general, I will be going home not only with my degree but also with great memories, stories and friends with me.