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Transfer Allowed this Student to Find her Purpose

October 17, 2022 Authors: Vishalinee Barendra

Transfer changes lives. Vishalinee's story describes her experience finishing her second undergraduate degree while coping with Canadian winters and a desire to give meaning and purpose to her family's sacrifices.

In her own words, Vishalinee talks about her transfer experience:

"For my first undergraduate degree, I started at York, dropped out and took a gap year to work on my mental health. Then I applied to University of Toronto Scarborough and finished a degree in Social Anthropology and Human Geography. For my second undergraduate degree, I studied at Oshawa Tech and then transferred to York for a degree in Psychology. As a mental wellness researcher with an emphasis on compassion, I find that the best way to communicate an idea is by telling a story."

As part of our commitment to highlighting transfer student voices, ONCAT developed the Community Animators on Transfer (CAT) program. The program funds Ontario transfer students to develop media projects that share their experiences, insights, and tips with other students.

What follows is Vishalinee's story.

To Jaffna with Vennilaa


image: chased

My dad drops me off at the bus stop at 6:45 this morning, just a few minutes shy of the next approaching TTC bus. It’s located just opposite to a Petro Canada gas station. I stand there with tightly curled fingers clutching the inside of my jacket pocket, shivering in the spine-tingling cold air. The cold that I never got used to, even after more than a decade of walking on icy sidewalks in winter storms, shovelling my parents’ driveway on dark snowy nights and losing sleep to seasonal depression every single winter. I stood there with my heavy tote bag, quietly wondering about appa’s expectations of me.

“This is the position that’s going to change the trajectory of my career. In two years, I’ll have enough publications to make me a competitive candidate for medical school in Canada, so we don’t have to take a large loan for my higher studies.”

He nodded with his focus on the empty foggy road in front of him. In my head, I thought that this would make him happy. More than that, I hoped that hearing all of this would make his 12-hour job with unpaid overtime seem more bearable with each passing winter.


image: achieved

I stand there staring at the snow-covered sidewalk ahead of me. I know that my usual ten-minute walk to go back home from the bus will take at least forty-five minutes judging by the depth of snow. My sister mentioned that there would be a blizzard later tonight. This was my second year repeating courses at the campus near my home. Although it was conveniently nearby, my heart ran far away from my soul during the dark winter months. I no longer knew if I wanted to chase the dreams that inspired me to enter university education. I no longer knew for how long I could withstand the dark Canadian winters. These thoughts circled my mind every time I walked home in the bitter Toronto wind.

As I near the front of my house, I see messy piles of snow on either side of the driveway have bordered an icy path to the walkway. It must have been my sister who finished off the rest of the shovelling in the afternoon. I slowly make my way through the basement door entrance when I hear a “ping” on my phone. A surge of hope springs from my heart anticipating a message from my friends back home. My frost-bitten fingers slip off the phone’s power button as I check for the notifications. 

It is an email from Harvard University with a full-time job offer as a Lab Manager.

There is only one thing holding me back. I haven’t finished my undergraduate degree yet. My gaze falls on the dried mango leaves hanging on the front door. Within seconds, my eyes moisten. There is something else. A longing for home.


image: lost

It is 2:03am, I wake up with a racing heart. I tightly hold the pillow next to me. These days, my heart wakes me up several times a night. It isn’t at peace even if my mind is calm. Somewhere inside the depths of my soul, the island home calls me back. The island I love deeply with my wildfire spirit and wholehearted sparkle. The tides, the sand, the stones, the sun, the forests, the temples and the mish mash of colours. I yearn to travel in the train under a starry sky. I yearn to wrap myself in seven yards of enticing silk elegance. Most of all, I yearn to drift to sleep beside the ocean.

It’s only been two weeks. Two weeks since I switched universities so I could finish my degree. Once I finish my education, I will go back. I promise my heart this every single winter night.

Just a little bit further, I tell myself. One more winter, eight more months, almost there.


image: redefined

My appamaa (grandmother) smiles at me as I walk through the front gate of my appa’s ancestral home. Her smile is radiant, her energy beautiful. She reaches out and embraces me in a tight hug. Appama’s blue silk saree feels soft to the touch and my soul knows it is finally safe in the warmth of her arms.

For years, I spoke only little bits of Tamil with those in my immigrant home back in Toronto. The moment I stepped on red soil, my Tamil flowed in scintillating showers of beauty; my laughter burst out with glowing warmth. Appamaa’s eyes smile bigger than her teeth. The corners of her eyes and the wrinkles on her face are more beautiful than the blue patterns on her silk saree.

I ran into the last room at the far end of the house with my feet. I pick up my silver anklets, the pair I left hidden beside the old bed closet three years ago. I swiftly wrap them around my feet and hurry outside to sit in the afternoon sunshine.

Three days later, I will start my new job as a community worker at a nearby school in amma’s village, Kopay. I want to stay here, I think. Can I? Is it realistic? Is it even humanly possible?

What would amma say? How would appa feel?

But what about my heart? The heart that wanted a home in the hearth of Jaffna.


image: found

The freshness of the ocean air, the maroon stain of henna on her hands, the soles of my feet covered in red mud and my hair covered in earthen scent of salt. This is where I belong. The rushing of the ocean waves make love to my soul and my whispering tunes of despair become whispering tunes of joy.

I stand on the big ocean rocks and gaze at the horizon. This is home. I lost my way a thousand times, and every time I got lost, I inched closer to a path back home.

To the red mud roads of Jaffna.

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