Amanda McKenzie is a recipient of the annual Staff International Experience Fund (SIEF). The award allows staff members to travel and engage in collaborative work with international partners and institutions.

Amanda oversees the Quality Assurance Office and Office of Academic Integrity. She often meets with students from diverse cultural backgrounds, and was curious about how perceptions and standards of academic integrity and academic scholarship vary across the world – particularly in India.

In November 2016, she visited six universities and one high school in four cities across the country, including Mumbai and New Delhi. While she was there, she was able to better understand how students in India learn about citations, academic integrity and preparation for university.

What was the purpose of your trip and why did you choose India?

We have a lot of international students at Waterloo, and I was curious to know more about how students from other parts of the world learn about academic integrity so that we can better support them here at Waterloo. Expectations can vary not just between countries, but between institutions within countries. Indian students make up the second largest group of international students at our University, hence when I learned that a colleague at Simon Fraser University was planning to explore academic integrity in India – I asked to join her!

Jo Hinchliffe is an Associate Registrar and Academic Integrity Coordinator at Simon Fraser University and has been very active in the field of academic integrity for more than 10 years. Both Jo and I have managed the Canadian branch of the International Centre for Academic Integrity over the last four years. I was fortunate to have the chance to join Jo as Simon Fraser has a large Sikh-Indo population, and a greater number of established connections in India. Travelling with her opened more doors and introduced me to people and opportunities that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

How did the SIEF award provide professional development related to your role at Waterloo?

The SIEF award gave me a better appreciation for higher education in other countries. During my time in India, I learned about the many universities in India, and that competition is fierce in order to get a spot at a highly ranked institution. Given the very limited access to such prestigious universities in India, it’s no wonder why pursuing a degree in the UK, United States or Canada is so attractive.

In addition, education is a big business and a huge market, which Indian and foreign agencies target to get students to study abroad. There are ads everywhere – in newspapers, magazines and on billboards. Seeing first-hand how important higher education is as well as how academic scholarship and integrity is practiced in India has helped me to better understand how students in India prepare for university.

India is a dichotomy of many things, in particular their infrastructure for sanitation, water, roads and buildings could be described as poor, yet on the other hand, a number of schools use high-tech biometric scanners of student’s thumbprints to track class participation and the writing of exams. This practice is something we have yet to embrace in North America. India is behind in some ways, but way ahead in others.

What surprised you most about your experience in India, both professionally and personally?

A lot of the stereotypes I had before I went to India were broken almost immediately. Something that surprised me was the driving. I heard that driving in India was pretty crazy and loud, as everyone communicates using their horn, but what was surprising about it was that no one seemed to have road rage. There was no yelling, swearing, fist-shaking or violence towards one another. In a North American setting, if we drove the way they do in India, many lives would be lost daily from road rage. Even outside of driving, I never once saw any overt displays of anger, violence or heard anyone raise their voice and yell. 

One thing I definitely wasn’t prepared for and surprised me the most was the pollution. The smog, or “fog” as they like to call it, is horrible. It just hangs in the air. In fact, the week before my trip, schools and businesses had closed in New Delhi because the air pollution was so bad. What was so fascinating is that despite the severe pollution, flora and fauna still manages to thrive, and tropical flowers still bloom wildly and beautifully all over the country. Again, another example of the polarity of this country.

What was the greatest lesson you learned in India?

This goes hand in hand with what surprised me the most about my time in India. Breaking all of the stereotypes I had was a huge lesson for me. It’s so easy to go somewhere and have an idea about what a place is like based on what people tell you or what you hear in the media. For me, I didn’t truly understand India until I went there. The country is such a contrast – in so many ways, it’s growing in leaps and bounds and is technologically advanced, and yet it lacks the basic needs for some people, like access to clean water.

Moreover, it’s so diverse – with more than 1.3 billion people, 15 official languages and 700 unofficial languages, you just can’t judge a country of this size and scope by one part of it. You really need to travel across it to experience it for yourself. I think this is true of many countries, and I am very glad that I brought a journal to write down my experiences so I wouldn’t forget anything.

What do you want other people to know about the SIEF award?

Just go for it. Chase what you want and make your case. Seize the opportunity, because it truly is a once in a lifetime experience.

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