Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sewa

Days like today when I’m tired and my whole body aches from my 24 + hour shift at the hospital that questions about life pop into my head. I wonder why the sacrifice- time away from family, friends, being young and enjoying the world, given up for work. Is it worth it?

I once had someone tell me that work is not everything, that focusing on my career would not bring me happiness and that at the end of all these years of school (6 yrs done, 7 to go) I will be left unfulfilled and will have wasted away all my time. There is a part of me that worries that this is true- that all these years of sacrifice will be for nothing. I know that work should not define you, that you should not let it take over your life, but medicine does require an extreme amount of dedication to be successful. I also know that work is not what this person believes it to be. That work is not a waste of our life- It’s sewa. Each day I study I learn so that I can help someone. I learn so I can write exams to be able to save someone. Each day I work I meet people and I encourage them to keep going. Sometimes I get to help them from helping in their surgery to moral support, to providing a listening ear, to changing their medications. I get to make a difference. 

When you wonder what you are doing in your life just think about it. As a mother or father you are doing sewa. You are providing for your children. These children are going on to interact in the world. You are raising them, teaching them, shaping their values. Each person is doing something that’s necessary for the other, and we are serving Waheguru. I remind myself again, happiness comes from within. It comes from the intention in your actions. From remembering that this is a sewa. Remember God, in every thought, word and action. If I am doing God’s work, why would I ever be unfulfilled? 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

How do you become a doctor?

A lot of people ask me about a career in medicine. I am so proud to see so many more Sikhs of my generation studying to become doctors! Many families are confused about the process of becoming a doctor in Canada. I have had people say their child is in “pre-med” when they are actually still high school students, or say they are in “medicine” when they are doing their undergrad. On the other hand, some people don’t know that going to medical school means becoming a doctor. Many people don’t know about the whole process so I thought I’d take out the time to explain it here.

The Canadian medical schools are: Memorial University of Newfoundland, Dalhousie, Laval, University of Sherbrooke, University of Montreal, McGill, U of Ottawa, Queen’s, U of T, McMaster, Western, Lakehead, U of Manitoba, U of Saskatchewan, U of A, U of C, and UBC. Some of these programs have smaller sites. For example, UBC has 4 sites (ex. Prince George). The programs are quite competitive and often people fill out multiple applications before they are accepted.

In Canada, you can’t go right to medical school after high school. You must do at least 3 yrs of an undergraduate degree in university (and many times finish your degree which is 4 years because there are limited spots for applying after 3 yrs) before you go into medical school. We don’t really have “pre-med” programs like they do in other places- you do an undergraduate degree in a certain area, usually a Bachelor of Science. This is becoming more flexible as programs are accepting students who did undergrads in areas other than Science like psychology, English, etc. You also have to do prerequisites- these are required courses that each medical school decides you have to take before you can apply to their program- for example first year biology, chemistry, etc. Each university has somewhat different requirements which you can find on their website. In addition to these requirements, you write the MCAT exam. This is an exam that many people write in the summer in after their second or third year of their undergraduate degree. The universities have different cut-off scores so if you don’t get enough marks on it, your application will be denied. You can rewrite the exam multiple times.

The application takes into account your marks, your MCAT, but also volunteering and life experiences. I have had very smart friends with good grades not get accepted to medical school because of lack of volunteering experiences. They want to be able to see that you have people skills that are needed to be a doctor. A doctor can always look something up with the right resources, but if they aren’t able to be compassionate and caring, they haven’t done their job. This is the part of the application that takes into account research, work experience, sports, volunteering, travel, etc. There is no formula to getting this right. They want a well-rounded person. Not everyone needs research experience. Not everyone needs travel. But they want you to show you have the qualities they are looking for- communication, collaboration, professionalism, etc.
The application timeline can be confusing. It takes a whole school year to apply. That means you usually submit application in late/summer or fall and you get into the program the next fall. So people who want to get into medical school next year (2016 September) would have done their MCAT already, sent their applications, and are going to be finding out if they got interviews sometime between December 2015 and Jan 2016 (sometimes later). Interviews are Feb-March ish 2016. Then they wait until May to find out if they got into the program.

Interviews are usually a format called MMI- multiple mini interview. This is when you go into a room for 10 minutes or so and deal with a scenario. It could be someone asking you questions, it could be a video, a picture, an actor, etc. You do multiple stations. Some schools have combined MMI and panels (old-style) interviews.

Medical school is 4 yrs with the exception of McMaster and Calgary (3 yr programs). In a 4 yr program you do 2 yrs of studying at the university (example studying about body systems, histology, anatomy, etc.). You will likely have some but very little clinical time in proportion to the studying. You write exams on these topics. Then the next two years are your clerkship. You are at the hospital full-time learning as a student. You rotate through the wards in third year. For example you do a few weeks in pediatrics, a few weeks in maternity, etc. and write your exams. In your fourth year you do electives, fill out your applications for residency programs and write your final exams. Although you get an MD degree at the end of medical school and your title is “Doctor” you can’t practice medicine yet- you have to do a residency program.

Residency programs range in lengths with the shortest being 2 yrs for family medicine. So if you want to be a family doctor in Canada, after high school you probably did 4 yrs undergrad + 4 yrs medical school + 2 yrs residency= 10 years! Many of the specialities are 5 yrs or longer. Unlike getting into medical school, a computer program matches you to where you will be going based on where you applied and what the programs thought of you. So you don’t get multiple offers- you get told where to go.

People are seeing these ads (including on punjabi tv programs!) for “Canadian” medical schools that involve going out of the country. The only real Canadian medical schools are the ones I listed above, even though others exist that are IN Canada- they are not Canadian schools. That means you have to write exams to practice in Canada. That also means you have a lower chance of getting a residency program. That’s something to think about before you go onto to do these types of programs. Although its easier to get in, you will have a harder time coming back to practice medicine in Canada.

I encourage people to go into medicine because it’s an amazing career. You are doing the amazing sewa of saving people’s lives or improving their quality of life. It’s a stable job and you are well-paid for your time.

I think there’s a side of medicine people don’t look at when they think about entering. Even the first two years of medical school we were in class 8 am – 5 pm each day and had to go home and study each day for exams and do our preparation for our sessions the next day. You will be under a great deal of stress with extremely long hours. For example working a 32 hr call shift at the hospital. This means missing out on life events and making a lot of sacrifices. You study and work at the same time, you write exams for yrs and yrs, and you are criticized by your superiors. I have seen people struggle with finding time to eat and sleep. I’ve seen people burn out from not being able to let go of what you have seen, at the end of the day. Most of the time people ride it out because at the end of the day they are doing something they love and making a difference. It’s something for people to think about before they fill out their application. If you think it’s too much stress for you, think about other healthcare careers (there’s LOTS of them! X-ray or ultrasound tech, nursing, etc.)

Medicine is an amazing career choice and I encourage my fellow Sikh Youth to think about this career. It's not for everyone, but if your dream is to become a doctor then I say go for it and Waheguru will help you get there. Don't give up!


Monday, October 12, 2015

Celebrating the birth of a girl

The following article is from: http://www.kaurlife.org/2015/09/29/pinkladoo/

by Raj Khaira
Equality Is Sweet: Pink Ladoo campaign launches to encourage British South Asian families to celebrate the birth of a girl.
The long-standing South Asian tradition of celebrating the birth of boys by distributing sweets called “ladoo” within the community is finally being updated, with the launch of the “Equality is Sweet: Pink Ladoo” campaign, which will create a much needed tradition to mark the birth of a girl.
South Asian sweet shops across the UK have agreed to offer pink ladoo to their customers in support of the campaign.
The campaign launches on Sunday October 11 2015, International Day of the Girl Child, a day that has been demarcated by the UN to promote girls’ human rights and highlight gender inequalities that remain between girls and boys.
The day will be marked at Birmingham Women’s Hospital, where every baby, boy or girl, will be given a box of pink ladoos. The aim is to encourage families to take pride in the birth of all children irrespective of gender and to celebrate the births of boys and girls equally.
There are only two women’s hospitals in the UK, in Birmingham and Liverpool. As Birmingham has one of the largest South Asian populations in the UK, it was a natural choice.
The founder of the UK campaign, said: “Currently, there are no traditions to mark the birth of a girl but many to celebrate the birth of a boy. This gender-biased practice sends a message from birth to South Asian girls that they are worth less than their male counterparts.”
“I want to raise the status and value of baby girls and transform attitudes towards women by changing this tradition. They’re not just a sweet, Pink Ladoo are the symbol of a protest against established South Asian gender-biased norms.”

Friday, October 9, 2015

Not good enough for my in-laws

I found this great article on kaurlife and I think it's a really good read!
by Anonymous Kaur
I write this article with a heavy heart. I do not want to come off as a victim (I am far from it). I simply want to share what I experienced as a newlywed “westernized” Sikh girl who moved in with her “traditional” in-laws. Why the heavy heart? Simply, my experiences are not isolated. The more I speak to Sikh friends and colleagues, the more I realize that my experiences are common and what some term as the “norm”. I wish to share my experiences to simply tell other women in challenging family situations that, “You are not alone”.
I am a Sikh who was married about six years ago. Before marriage, I always lived at home with my parents (even throughout university). I became a qualified professional who always worked hard and succeeded (through the support of both my parents). I played hard and worked even harder. I was independent. I was a good cook (Indian food included). I looked after all the housework for my parents and most of all, my parents valued my opinion; they saw the all-night study sessions I pulled, they saw me achieve my First Class Honors degree, and they saw me progress professionally. But what was missing for them was that I was not married – they felt that it was a great burden on their heads to have an unmarried, 27 year-old daughter.
So the day came… I announced that I had found someone. “Same religion?” Yes. “Same caste?” Yes. “A college graduate?” No. This final point was a bit sticky (particularly for my dad to accept) but we got there in the end. He accepted it and decided that the “love marriage” would go ahead and my parents welcomed my husband with open arms.
I will skip past the wedding and planning details (as that brought with it significant challenges). It was a traditional wedding, an “intimate” 600 person affair with hardly anyone I knew and of course, my parents paid. In retrospect, I should have picked up on the “traditional” nature of my in-laws at this point. However, I was blinded by my husband’s persistence that, “Everything was going to be fine!” and that his parents would love me. “They need someone independent and strong minded,” he said. I was moving into a big, over-extended family (he had four uncles and two aunts all with married children who had children of their own) and my husband felt my independent outlook would benefit his mum who grew up in the shadow of stronger, more dominant women. I, on the other hand, can count my uncles on one finger and do not need any fingers for my aunts. Suffice to say, I came from a very small family and I was moving into a new, far away town with an over-extended family who all lived within five minutes of each other. I was leaving behind everything I knew.
Fast forward to approximately one month of living with my in-laws (his mum and dad and two younger siblings) .
“She goes back to her parents’ house too much.”
“She doesn’t mix with our family.”
“She doesn’t eat dinner with us.”
“She is always in her room.”
“She answers back.”
“She does not agree with us.”
“She didn’t wash the dishes properly.”
These were the messages my husband was asked to relay back to me on an almost daily basis. In regard to the dishes, I was given a washing demonstration of the plate in question, shown where the stain had remained, and “advised” to double check once I had given the dishes a rinse. I couldn’t believe it! I was shocked that I was getting this training. This made me even more determined to “rebel”. After all, I was a highly educated woman who had a professional job and I did not need to hear such comments, I thought.
It had been my intention to go into my new life being myself – to say what I felt when necessary, help with the cooking, and enjoy my role as a wife. However I quickly came to realize that I had no place in my new family. I was constantly compared to the other daughter-in-laws and told I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t included in any family discussions or asked what I might think. Members of my new family would arrange dinners and events and not even care to add me to the invite – this treatment came from the people I shared a house with. Finally, the fact that I had left behind my parents seemed to mean nothing to them.
Overtime, I became more withdrawn and felt isolated. “If I am not good enough for them,” I told myself, “I don’t care what they or the extended family thinks of me.” I was talked about and sniggered at as being bad and disrespectful. But the truth is, I did care what people thought of me but I did not want to conform to their perception of how I should behave and act. Tensions grew and anger brewed as I was not the daughter-in-law they had dreamed of, one that would spend evenings with my mother-in-law following her lead of cooking and cleaning (after all I was completely incapable of cooking myself, according to her). It was her way or the highway and so, I chose the highway to her disappointment and rage.
The “highway” may have been overtly demonstrated and perceived by others but inside, I struggled with anxiety; the constant sickly feeling, being ignored in the house I lived in, having three women against me (after all his sisters would defend their mum), having to suffer alone in my bedroom and the stresses it put on my relationship with my husband. Going from a confident women, I can honestly say I had no self-belief left. I was made to feel like I was a terrible person and I know that I was the hot topic at family gatherings I was not present at. My confidence fell to an all-time low and I felt I was incapable of anything. I became a shell of what I was; mentally and physically, dropping over a stone with all the anxiety I was suffering.
So I started trying to be more “worthy”. I stopped going back to visit my parents. I started trying to spend more time with my in-laws, and did not speak my mind or give my opinions. I spent weekends waiting around for them to try and show them I was available; I put my life on hold to conform. I did this all in the hopes that I would be accepted and not gossiped about. Ultimately, I was emotionally blackmailed. There was a lingering threat in the background that they would complain to my parents about my behavior and I was afraid that my dad would blame me for the “love marriage” I chose. I felt trapped and alone. I could not turn to my husband as he himself was feeling the pressure for the choice he made.
One year into the marriage, I committed the cardinal sin: I bought my own house and my husband and I moved out. Though it was a mere 5 minute walk from my in-laws, they felt that I had “taken away” their only son to his own house. I had been open with my husband from the start of our relationship that I wanted my own house and I wanted us to have our own space. This was something we had discussed and agreed upon prior to marriage and something my in-laws were also aware of. What should have been an exciting and proud time for any parents (watching their kids buy their first house independently) turned into a nightmare. My in-laws refused to come to our house. My husband became withdrawn and I felt he blamed me for all the issues. It was their view that we had been dishonest and not managed their expectations about our timeframe for such a move. But still I visisted my in-laws every weekend and most evenings after work to show that we were still part of the family, but I was still suffering from all the anxiety I had living with them.
All the anger towards me came to a head when my mother-in-law did what she had always threatened to do: she called my parents and complained about me. This was followed up with a public display of fury as my mother-in-law confronted my mum and dad at a family function about how they had raised such a rude and disobedient girl. She said that she had taught her daughters well and I had been raised with no manners. They hadn’t given me any “arkaal” (sense) in how to respect in-laws, she said. They were bad people without morals and had taught their daughter to be the same, she concluded.
Rightly or wrongly, I cut of all contact with my in-laws at that point as it was the only way I could cope with it. I remember the weeks that followed were awful. My husband and I argued about it constantly. I blamed him, he blamed me and around in circles we went. My anxiety got worse and I became physically unwell. I put pressure on my husband to try and smooth it over. I set him the task of trying to make my mother-in-law change her mind about me and I didn’t want to be caste as a black sheep. In hindsight, I realize this was a mistake – my husband became more withdrawn as he had pressure from both sides.
This all happened about 4 years ago. I can’t pin point exactly how things were resolved but I believe it was a mixture of me walking away and also later learning to accept that one side is not going to change the views of the other.
Me walking away demonstrated that I was unwilling to endure the insults to my parents – full-stop. This hit a nerve with my mother-in-law. She realized that I was never going to be the “traditional daughter in-law” whose role it was to accept everything that was thrown my way. I think she came to realize that she risked losing her son and his wife.
Once the communication channels did open up (aided by a family relative from my husband’s side at our request), we did not dissect the past. Instead, we silently acknowledged that both sides had their views and these were not going to be changed – neither side made any apology for holding their views. The only apology I made was where they felt my actions or behavior had been inappropriate towards them – I am humble enough to acknowledge that the delivery of my message fueled by anger was not right.
What this experience did do was it established that there are boundaries in our relationship – something traditional in-laws find difficult to appreciate.
Despite moving on, I look back and wonder how I could have handled it so badly. I now have a three year old daughter and I panic at the thought of her ever going through or feeling the same way I did. Feeling like a second-class citizen in what was supposedly my new home – and for what reason?
In our Sikh scriptures, women are considered to have the same souls as men and an equal right to grow spiritually. Our Gurus taught us that there is no difference between a man and woman. The Anand Karaj is defined as a marriage between equals. Why then, is there a burden on girls to have to change or to adjust to their “new family”? Why can’t we be accepted for who we are instead of being ostracized for not performing to a preordained expectation of how we should behave as a daughter-in-law? My mum calls it the “generation gap” and how this type of thinking cannot be changed. Unfortunately, there is an unnatural bias towards boys (whether we like to admit it or not). This is why the vast majority of Sikh parents-in-law (in my experience) behave in the manner that they do, thinking that it is ok for them to blame a girl’s parents for her not being respectful enough – God forbid it should be the other way round.
It is clear that many Punjabi famileis have unreasonable expectations which piles on unnecessary pressure. A friend of mine recently went to the doctor complaining of certain symptoms. After running a number of medical tests, the doctor diagnosed her with depression and she came to realise that the pressures of her married life and in-laws was the cause. Worse, the doctor told her that her symptoms were common to what he is seeing in Indian women as they live in a pressured situation of having to fulfill role expectations whilst still having the modern pressures of a professional job and equal if not the majority of financial responsibilities.
Whilst I may not agree with my mum’s explanation, I do accept it. I alone am not going to change people’s engrained beliefs: what I can do is change how I react to it. This is the message I wish to get across to my fellow sisters in the situation I was. You are allowed to have your own opinion. Everything you have achieved in your life before your marriage is worth something. You should not feel guilty for wanting to have independence in your own right. Your marriage or your in-laws should not define you. You should define you. It is okay to be you. For that, you should carry no guilt. It is not okay to be emotionally blackmailed or bullied and it is not okay to have our parents insulted simply because they are the girl’s parents.
If you are not “good enough” in their eyes, that is their opinion. Do not let their views stop you from living your life. Do not be disrespectful and do not add unnecessary fuel to the fire, but at the same time you are not there to be insulted and you do not have to accept what is wrong.
A marriage is a commitment between two people – whilst I understand that there are cultural traditions in joining into a new family, the most important thing first should be your marriage and becoming ik jot. Shared values, a shared Guru and an understanding between a husband and a wife should take precedence over all other factors. If you have a solid base, then no matter what periphery issues come up (such as the comments I incurred at the start) will not matter and you can deal with them together as a unit. In hindsight, this was my mistake – I fought for my husband to defend me against his family. We should have had a better channel of communication to air our views and understand one another before we responded or dealt with the “attacks” coming our way. Having been to marriage counselling, we have come to realise the mistakes we made.
The thought of marriage counselling is seen as a big taboo in our culture. However in my opinion this is the best decision we made. We came to understand our views in a non-judgmental environment and it has taught us to communicate our feelings to each other more productively. The relationship with my in-laws is much improved, We respect that we have independent lives, but ultimately we accept that we are all a big family – we just don’t need to live in each other’s pockets to prove it.
I still get the occasional few seconds of anxiety when I feel that my in-laws think that I am not good enough, but then I see my daughter’s face and imagine if it was her in my shoes. I realize that I should not feel guilty or be scared of being me or doing what I want. I should not be afraid to live the life I dreamed off as a girl and this shouldn’t change because I got married
We are somebodies. We are not somebody’s!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Overcoming Challenges and Finding Yourself

I was reading this shabad Chit Na Bhayo Humro Aawan Keh, and here is the translation from Sikhnet:
“Now I relate my own story of how God sent me in the world while I was absorbed in meditation.
On the site of Hemkunt mountain, where the seven peaks shine in glory
That spot is known as Sapat Saring. It is where Pandav Kings practiced yoga
There with great spiritual effort, I prayed to God- the Lord of Death
Thus I continued my meditations and merged with the Divine Being
My father and mother also worshipped the Indescribable One. And carried out several spiritual practices.
They served God with great devotion and the Supreme Guru was very pleased with them
At the command of God, I was born into this dark age of Kalyug
My mind was not happy in coming to this world because it was attached to the feet of the Lord
Somehow, God explained to me His purpose. And sent me to this world with His directive.”

Guru Ji put it so beautifully that I do not even need to explain. Do you think it was easy to leave the feet of the Lord to come into this world?

There are moments we are down in our lives. There are challenges, there are times when you feel like disappearing, hiding, and avoiding the world because its too hard to face. And when it becomes challenge after challenge, you start to wonder how you can possibly handle it. It’s as if your mind has trained itself to handle only a certain amount- beyond that, its too overwhelming and you tell yourself you can’t do it. How possibly can you overcome this?

I remind myself the challenges I face today are not the challenges faced by our Gurus. The challenges today are emotional and mental for most of us, but since our minds have become weaker, our resolve is weak and we don’t know who we are- even these minor things become huge and unbearable. Because we have lost our sense of identity, we wander endlessly wondering where to go. For Guru Gobind Singh Ji to send his children to fight and know that they would die- that is sacrifice to a level that we cannot even comprehend today. At that time he wrote:
“Tell the Beloved Friend (God) the plight of us, the Disciples
Without You, rich blankets are a disease and the comfort of the house is like living with snakes.
Our water pitchers are like stakes of torture and our cups have edges like daggers.
Your neglect is like the suffering of animals at the hands of butchers.
Our Beloved Lord’s straw bed is more pleasing to us than living in costly furnace-like mansions. “ (translation from sikhiwiki.org)

You should be able to overcome any number of obstacles- it doesn’t have a limit. And although I haven’t achieved this yet in my life, that is the ultimate peace of playing the game that is life. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that without challenges and without sadness you cannot experience what it means to be happy. The sadness is your chance to meet God. It’s your chance to strengthen your resolve. If you were happy, would you even remember God?

I am privileged. My challenges are not the same as other people in the world. I don’t struggle with poverty, cycles of abuse, and addiction. I haven’t suffered trauma. But I have experienced pain like every other human being. There are many challenges faced by our Sikh youth. The biggest is the struggle to find yourself amongst the confusion of the world around you. To even choose and stick by your values is complicated. Which values do you embrace? The ones your friends have, society has, your parents have? Sticking by what you believe in is a daily choice. The opportunities to go astray from our Sikh values is enormous. I see many Sikh youth who have lost their language, belief in God and going to the gurdwara, belief in working hard to get where you need to be, belief in sharing what you earn, and in lifting up humanity. Sure, they may have aspects of Punjabi culture like dancing and cooking, but they take no interest in our religion. And it saddens me greatly to see this happening. I don’t want to see my brothers and sisters losing themselves to Maya. I want to see them further their souls to achieve the pure joy of understanding gurbani and living the Sikhi lifestyle. 

Do not get caught in the trap of what other people will think of you, or you will be emotionally blackmailed for the rest of your life. What society thinks, what your friends think, that shouldn’t matter. I see this is a big problem in the Punjabi community. We focus so much effort on preventing other people from finding out the truth. We focus so much effort on how it will look if I do this, and how it will look if I don’t do this. We design our whole lives around other people’s opinions. Showing other people becomes everything and you have lost the opportunity that you were sent on this earth for. Until you know who you are, you are at the mercy of the whole world to control what you do and how you feel. Remember that you are the daughter/son of God and that you deserve the best treatment in your life. That you deserve to be respected. Do not ever let anyone bring you down. Do not ever let anyone persuade you from the path that you know to be true because that person is not your friend. Once you start to cross the boundary between right and wrong, you forget where right even was. Don’t be persuaded by the false promises of the world. Remember to follow in the footsteps of the two young Sahibzaade who did not give up what they believed in, not for any material possessions, not even to save their lives.


We are so lucky to be born into Sikh families. Understand that this is just a body and this world is an illusion. Few people understand that concept. This is the journey of your soul, not your body. How can we not be so proud to be Sikhs and realize our values? How can we not fight for what is right? That starts with realizing your mission on this earth. My mission as a Sikh should be to uplift humanity. In every THOUGHT and action, I should be doing good, not getting caught up in kaam, krodh, lob, moh and hankaar. I cannot afford to waste my energy on endless pursuits of momentary pleasure. I cannot afford to waste the time on this earth arguing and being used by other people. I need to act like the princess/prince that I am. I am, after all, the son/daughter of God! The decisions I make everyday should remember all those sacrifices made for me to be here today. I choose to stand by my values and treat other people with love and kindness and respect. So fight for yourself. Other people can’t ruin anything of yours if you know who you are. They can’t embarrass you, they can’t use you, they can’t touch you because you are under the protection of God. Remember why you were sent into this world.