Karishma Boroowa (LSE-PKU Joint MSc in International Affairs 2012) has walked the road less travelled. Born in India, she emigrated to Canada as a teenager and has spent her life living in a host of different countries. Now back in Canada, she talks about the value of learning from other cultures and giving back to your community.
From India to Canada
“I was raised in Assam, India, in a single parent family. Girls don’t get the same opportunities in the culture that I’m from, but my mother decided she wanted the best education for me and sent me to Mayo College Girls School, a boarding school in Rajasthan. Going to this school opened up the world to me. I learned English, I met people from different walks of life and I learned how to deal with change and difference.
However, my mum’s dream was for us to be able to see the world and go to places like Paris and London. So, in my last year of high school, she got a job in Ontario, Canada, and we moved there together.
Canada was a big change, but I was open to the newness of it all. The boarding school experience made me more confident in myself and I think that stood me well – I didn’t feel the need to fit into high school cliques. To me, it all felt like I was in a film – you had the prom and all the things you see in the movies. I didn’t face any hardship in school, but my life was different. I needed to help my mum financially, so I worked for an employment agency. I became an adult very fast through that experience, but I didn’t see it as something bad — it was something that built my character.
Living the dream
After High School, I was very lucky to be able to travel even more. I got a scholarship to study with the University of Ottawa in Canada, and through that also completed an exchange programme at Sciences Po (The Paris Institute of Political Studies). I then went to China, where I got my first job after graduating. I lived in Hubei province before going to Guangdong and then Hong Kong. I loved experiencing the different culture in China, and so I decided to do the LSE-PKU joint degree in International Affairs. The first year was at Peking University and the second year at LSE. The programme was so good. If I had just gone to school in the West, I would probably have only read western authors and western perspectives, but this programme gave me perspectives from both the east and the west.
This really helped me when I started my job as Asia Regional Manager with the International Land Coalition Secretariat, hosted by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a United Nations agency. My job there involved a lot of negotiations on the ground, and I spent a lot of time in countries like Mongolia, Philippines and Indonesia. I was living my mum’s dream of exploring the world and I completely immersed myself in these communities and learned how people lived.
Giving back to the community
Following my job at the UN, I did my PhD at SOAS, and then I returned to Canada, where I got a job with the Canadian Forest Service in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. This region doesn’t have a large immigrant community and, while most people are very welcoming, there are incidents of discrimination – and those incidents stay with you. I had read books by James Michener about how people can come into the community and change society forever, and I wondered how I could influence Newfoundland in positive ways.
I started a programme which helps high school pupils with learning disabilities get work opportunities. Even though people with learning disabilities are capable of working, 80% of them can’t get a job because of the stigma. One student who was in this programme now has a job with a government department, and it’s absolutely changed her world. She is thrilled to be appreciated and her enthusiasm has affected the overall morale at her work. Her parents and her family are delighted, and I feel like my work is having a big chain reaction. There are now other government departments that want to participate in this programme, and more students who want to join.
I also work with a community radio station. My mum’s instinct was to be protective and to not expose yourself as you don’t know the reaction you’ll get, but I’ve decided to put myself out there. A lot of people now write to me about experiences they face in their life and are asking for my advice. When I go to the coffee shop next to my work, people always tell me how they are trying to make a difference themselves – I feel it’s another chain reaction I have initiated.
The value of travel
When you experience different places, you bring back new knowledge and new ways of doing things. Whether you are a chef, or a musician or work in finance, it just brings richness to your community. A person has only one life to see all the beauty in the world and to understand how other people live and what they value. I believe being open to difference and newness helps make societies better."