Just imagine a scenario – you’re a good student, well-settled in your home country, close to your family and friends, you plan to study abroad because the universities in your country are just not that recognized internationally. You apply to every good university there is, put in a word for scholarships and just hope that somehow everything will lead you to the right path. After days and days of anxiously waiting for universities to write you back, you finally get a response. One of the universities you applied to, have accepted you. This number turns to two, then three. Then, all of a student, you are spoilt for choice. Which university suits you best? Where should you go? What experiences can you expect? All these questions take a toll on you and you start to think. Obviously, this is a matter of your entire future, you have got to make things right. You finally choose a university, give your college exams, get your result, pack your bags and go. Surely the worst has passed now, right? This is where you’re wrong.

As an international student, the exciting yet overwhelming experience of completing your degree in a whole new setting only begins the moment you set foot on foreign land; into the unknown. The experience of studying in a foreign university is true, one of the most thrilling, appalling, captivating, exciting, tiring and equally amazing experiences one will ever face in their lifetime. This is the time where you’re free to make your own decisions but at the same time, there is no way out. You just have to, one way or the other, make it through to the finish line.

The story of Kealan Branellec – an international student studying at the University of Waterloo is an incredible one. Not only does it describe the challenges a typical international student is expected to face, but it also provides a guide as to how, if one has the right mindset, challenges turn into opportunities that ultimately help mentor one’s own self and provides a platform to really begin the journey into excelling in life.

Kealan Branellec is not your ordinary international student. Kealan has experienced “internationalism” in its truest essence. He is the melting pot of various cultures, a gypsy who likes to associate himself with many different parts of the world. As a child, he was born and bred in Toronto before he moved to France where he spent almost 11 years. Growing up, Kealan gained
the opportunity to study and understand different cultures and because of his rather extroverted nature, he soon developed a love for travelling and exploration. Kealan moved to Trinidad & Tobago before setting on his most recent abode, to Waterloo, Canada.

Kealan Branellec

“Perhaps, one of the few wise decisions I took back in 2016 was not to rush things. I soon realized that choosing the right program in a university is most likely going to affect my entire future. And so, I remained patient. I saw the potential of an international program and chose the University of Waterloo’s International Development degree. Back in the day, I had very few
resources to be honest, but I had made up my mind that no matter what, I had to make some sacrifices and more flexible in terms of my living situation. And so, with the constant support of my mother, I took the jump. And even though, I was born in Canada, everything seemed so new to me. For the first time in many years, I was nervous.”

During his initial period at university, even an extrovert and a travel enthusiast, who loved making the unknown, known, faced some challenges that would often make him anxious. “The first few months were full of anxiety and stress. “I kept on questioning myself whether I had made the right decision. At times I just wanted to fly back to Trinidad. But with time I began to realize that I didn’t come here to let myself and my entire family down. I knew that something had to be done”. Kealan sought refuge in familiarity. He was quick to join the Caribbean Association Club that made everything feel more comfortable and familiar. After the spring term going into the second year, Kealan was quick to turn to his hobbies and that really made things much better. “It was now time for me to step out of my comfort zone. I turned my focus to trying out new things. I joined the Salsa Club, learnt a new language and started to spend more time in the gym. Soon enough, I became a personal trainer as well. I started to meet new people, and after a fairly long time, I started to finally enjoy the experience.”

The real turning point in Kealan’s journey occurred when he accepted a few things. “The first part is to really remove yourself from the state of denial. You have to accept the fact that feeling sad and anxious, is definitely normal. Everyone needs to remind themselves that these are just feelings, you do not have to identify yourself with them. I soon realized the fact that how one feels is completely temporary, so we just have to hang in there, be patient and stop ourselves from making any rash decisions. There will also come a time when back home things will not be well. The same happened to me. But I tried to console, reminding myself that some things are honestly out of our hands and so it is only best if we focus on what lies ahead of us and do our best”.

Throughout his time, Kealan learnt lots of key lessons. He believes that international experience is definitely worth it, but this does not mean that it will be easy. “Things are going to be tough. But good things come to those who wait, and honestly speaking, I waited. I would advise everyone who’s going through a tough time in a foreign university to do what I did: become friends with good people, surround yourself in a positive environment, pick up hobbies, focus on your goals, pay attention to your financial situation, practice decision making, join clubs, value your work, value yourself and most importantly, remain patient. Remember that you were sent to the university for a reason, and indeed you will make it through!”