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Why I Decided to Move Across the World for My PhD

Jessica Schalburg

Here's how I made it happen. 

I’m not new to the study abroad experience; I chose to enroll in a master’s at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 2015.

Moving to Scotland meant every day was an adventure and once mundane activities were suddenly interesting. I never grew tired of walking down the cobbled streets to the local grocery store, and imagining the famous men and women who did the same before me—and don’t get me started on the joys of browsing the dedicated biscuit isle.

Yet, living in a new country meant every small thing was a little more intimidating, because I didn’t automatically know how to accomplish it. Most days I was pushed a bit outside of my comfort zone, but that’s what made it so incredibly rewarding. As a result, it takes much more to throw me for a loop now.

When I returned home, life faded a bit. It was easy to fall back into old routines, and it struck me that I was happiest when challenged. I view my twenties as valuable formative years; ones to use wisely in the process of self-development, not to be squandered away in large chunks of aimless time. I wanted to continue with my education, but realized how much more I enjoyed the student experience when living abroad.

I view my twenties as valuable formative years; ones to use wisely in the process of self-development, not to be squandered away in large chunks of aimless time. 

So, when looking for a PhD program, I looked internationally. It was mostly by chance that I ended up in New Zealand. I saw the advertisement for a PhD project at the University of Otago that matched perfectly with my interests. Immediately, I sent an inquiry. I found out that the cost of a PhD in NZ is the same for both national and international students, appealing considering the firstborn I sacrificed to study in the UK.

After talking with my now supervisors, I applied for admittance and for a university scholarship. I received both. I had never visited the country before— let alone the city—but I thought to myself: 1) Worst case, you hate it and you fly home after a cool experience in the Southern Hemisphere and 2) When have you heard anyone say anything bad about New Zealand?

I accepted the offer.

Needing enough to support a visa application and the move to a new country, I signed up to work on a survey project in remote parts of northern Ontario as an archaeological field technician—that’s the grunt worker holding the shovel. Working in the bush away from friends and family was not the most exciting prospect for most, but I got paid to hike all day (something I would happily do on my own time and dime), and room and board was covered. I was able to save almost all of my paycheque and prepare for the move.

Next thing I knew, it was October 2017 and I was on a plane headed to my new home. I never really imagined I'd be moving to NZ, but I also kept my options open. Now, I have the opportunity to work with amazing people in my discipline, travel to Thailand for fieldwork, and wherever else in the world lab work or conferences may take me.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to consider studying abroad, why not just apply? You never know where you might end up.

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Published in Study Abroad Blogs
Jessica Schalburg

Jessica Schalburg is a Canadian PhD candidate at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, studying biological anthropology. When not in the office or the field, you can find her running, hiking, camping, skiing or exploring.

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