Bharati Sethi will never forget the time a room full of strangers laughed at her goals.
“I cleaned this woman’s house for 12 hours and helped serve the meal to her guests. It was Christmas Eve and at the end of it she handed me $100,” Sethi recalled. “When I was leaving she turned to everyone and said, can you believe this poor Asian girl wants to do a PhD some day? They all started laughing. Nobody really believed that I would.
“I wonder what they are saying now.”
Today, Sethi is just one year away from obtaining her PhD. But it has been a long and difficult 15-year journey that took her from living in a one-room apartment and working 60 hours a week at a variety of jobs, to receiving many prestigious awards and scholarships and now owning her own home.
Sethi left her homeland of India alone and armed with a bachelor of science in chemistry. She made her way to Brantford after borrowing $50 from a friend in Montreal.
Struggling to find permanent work, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and living in constant fear that she would be sent back to India due to her immigration status, Sethi never gave up on her dream.
“If you stop walking you will never get there,” she said. “I thought ‘even if I die, I will have died walking towards my goal.’”
Nine years after arriving in Canada she became a landed immigrant and later became a Canadian citizen. It opened the doors for her to pursue her education.
“A lot of people don’t realize that immigrant status makes a difference,” Sethi said. “The main thing is to be true to yourself. I really worked hard.”
Sethi was able to obtain her Master’s in Social Work entirely on scholarships. She was the recipient of the inaugural Hilary M. Weston Scholarship, the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship and was recently presented the Laurier University Award of Distinction by her peers.
Her latest honour is a $20,000 Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award that will pay for her final year of working towards her PhD. She is one of only two women in Ontario to receive the award.
“I had actually given up on it because it is very competitive,” she said.
Sethi is now interested in researching the link between employment and health, focusing on how the employment experience impacts the health of minority women or women of colour.
Her passion for this research comes from her own struggles.
“I found employment has really been rough and a lot of women like me are really struggling. It is because of my struggles, that is what inspired me to look at this.”
Sethi has become a role model of sorts for other immigrant women and was recently nominated for the Top 25 Immigrants to Canada in addition to being honoured at Laurier’s 100 Alumni of Achievement.
“If you have a dream, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise,” she said. “Don’t do what is more prestigious at the time, or worry about making more money. Just do what your soul really wants. The main thing is to be true to yourself.”