The size and influence of RSU International Students’ Association (ISA) has expanded exponentially over the past years, and one of the reasons behind it is ISA’s ex-president Amanpreet Singh Grewal (pictured). His accomplishments were recognised at the RSU Academic Ball this spring, where the British student received the International Student of the Year award. “When I started, ISA was reaching for the stars. Now they are practically touching them,” says Amanpreet. Caught before the graduation ceremony, the dentist-to-be shares his thoughts about five years in Riga, his devotion to alma mater and future plans.
How did you decide to pursue a career in dentistry?
Growing up I really did not have much interest in medicine. As a child, I dreamt of working with animals, and as I grew older, I became more interested in science, devising experiments, and working in laboratories. It was at high school, where we had to gain practical work experience, and I was selected to go and observe a dentist at his practice, when I was first exposed to dentistry as a profession. Even though I found it very interesting, still, I was more focused on science, so I did a Bachelor in biomedical science at Northumbria University, which is in my home city, Newcastle upon Tyne. My city was about to become a ground-breaking scientific centre, and I was heading for a competitive and interesting career, but unfortunately at the time when I graduated, the recession hit the hardest, and the intended grants and funding were suspended, and employment opportunities were limited within my field.
At the same time, one of my parents fell unwell and I had to take over part of our family business, a chain of fish & chips takeaways. I ran the business for a while and realized that working in a lab might not be for me, neither was working in the food business, which demanded long hours of hard work, late into the nights and weekends.
More and more I thought about dentistry, reading a lot about the profession, and coming to the understanding that this is where my future should be. I applied to a number of graduate entry programs, had a few interviews, but no successful applications. It was then when I realized that I should try to apply abroad, and an agency that deals with this recommended Rīga.
Good for RSU. Over the past five years you have been one of the top activists among our international students. You have founded societies, volunteered in numerous projects, excelled ISA’s performance both as a member and as a president of the association. So, mister ex-president, which ones of these extra curriculum activities did you enjoy most?
All of them! It’s been hard, of course – lots of late night studying, many e-mails, phone calls and meetings at strange hours. Still I would not change anything during these past five years, nor would I rank one over the other. Already in my first year I joined ISA, initially as a member of the board, then in successive years I was elected the treasurer, vice-president, and then the president. Alongside my work within ISA, I represented international students at RSU Constitutional Assembly, for a number of years I also represented my course at the board of Cavum Oris, and co-founded the British & Irish Students’ Society. I’ve been my group leader all these five years, and a year-group leader for part of the time too. Together with other students, I was part of the RSU’s student led popular scientific journal Semper Anticus, and among other activities at RSU, I also took part in PASCL (Peer Assessment of Student Centred Learning) project which aims to assist in implementing student-centred learning strategies and approaches at university level.
That’s a lot of hours of voluntary work. What’s in it for you?
The thing is, I was never good at public speaking, nor at maintaining a large network of friends and acquaintances. During my bachelor years I had a small group of close friends, and after the classes I would go home and help in my family business, and high school wasn’t much different. I never pushed myself out of my comfort zone. It was just work and study. Upon arrival to Riga I thought – I’m at a new university, I might as well have a fresh start and throw myself really deep into activities that force me to improve communication skills, get out there and meet new people and do things that were not just related to learning. This strategy has paid its dividends.
You’ve been an active part of the international student community over the past five years. How has the voice of international students changed?
It has definitely increased in volume. When I first arrived, there was only ISA and the Asian Society. Today there are many organizations under the ISA umbrella, and more are setting up each year.
This has given strength to the voice of international students within the student self-government, and is a key driving force of making changes for betterment of students at this university. There has also been an effect on other critical issues, such as integration with local students, which happens through cultural exchange, as well as more vivid and inclusive sports life.
Over the past five years, which ones do you see as the most important infrastructure developments for dentistry students?
The resources available to dental students, the technologies and facilities, have undergone a tremendous change since I first arrived here. We were one of the first groups to try out the new equipment like the 3D simulators and the new dental pre-clinic. Looking back at the five years that I spent here, I can say that the development has been exponential. For example during the RSU’s Scientific conference this spring me and my friend went back to the simulators, just to see what it is like and how much the pre-clinic has changed since we were last there, and I was astonished to see that the 3D simulators’ software improvement has been amazing. What we had is completely different from what the year above me had, and I can only imagine how the dental education will develop here. You can really physically see how the university is changing. Also the new Paediatric clinic, and the surgery rooms, at the Institute of Stomatology are well equipped and it’s been a pleasure working in them.
With your graduation only a few days away may I ask about your future plans?
To a great extent it depends on the decision of the Latvian government on improvement of the certification procedure of foreign dentistry students. Currently in order to receive a certificate after the graduation one needs to pass the Latvian language C1 exam – basically at the level of a native-speaker. Much progress has been reached during the past year since the university, the student self-government and a group of foreign students worked together on this issue. A policy document has been signed by the Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis and the Minister for Health Anda Čakša, and soon the final changes to Latvian law will be presented to the government. The question now is when the government will change the law and whether it is going to be applied retroactively.
Once it is done, I plan to apply to the registry back home. If we have the unfortunate situation, where the law will not be applied retroactively, I will have to continue to learn Latvian until I reach C1 level.
But for now I am happy to be preparing for the graduation ceremony, even though there are a lot of ifs and maybes at the moment. Dentistry is where my heart is. I want to become a recognized member of my field, and in the years to come I see myself excelling and pushing boundaries.
I see myself making people happy, working with patients after trauma and those patients who wish to restore their bite after years of caries and tooth loss. Most importantly working to educate patients and prevent caries, so that extensive treatments are avoided in their future.
The smile is one of the first things you see in a person, it defines how a person expresses emotions, as it all comes from facial features and smile is integral to that. A nice natural smile, and functional dentition can do wonders for a person’s self-esteem and quality of life.