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Grading the American College Experience

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February 2003
Grading the American College Experience

Compiled by LALITHA SRIDHAR

?Interacting with

world cultures?

Sowmya Venkatramani

Third year Graduate student

of Physics at Brown University, Providence

?I did my Masters at IIT, Madras and had some wonderful teachers who inspired me to pursue higher studies. No doubt research can be very demanding ? there are long hours of work, frequent deadlines and extreme pressure from peers. But in spite of all this, the work itself can be very fulfilling. What impresses me a lot about education in the US is the interdisciplinary program. Take my own case ? I am in the Physics Department, my advisor is in the Department of Physics and Engineering and I I?m on a Fellowship from the Brain Science Program in the Neuroscience Department at Brown!! Students have a lot of freedom to do what they want, this helps them to be more creative and at the same time, very productive. Apart from all the work, we get the opportunity to interact with people from very different cultures and backgrounds. That offers more education than any textbook!

It does get very lonely at times and having a couple of friends in such times of need definitely helps. Also there are lots of things that we learn. From managing accounts, to paying utility bills on time, to registering for classes, we have to do everything. We learn to be responsible for ourselves. We do make mistakes, but we are quick to learn from them.

Even after staying here for 2� years, I still feel very homesick. I?m sure I will feel the same even after 20 years. But I guess there is a price for everything. I?m happy that I?m one of the fortunate ones who have been able to go back home once every year! Five years from now, I see myself in a research lab in India, enjoying the work, talking in Tamil and at the same time, having hot dosas with sambar for breakfast, lunch and dinner.?

?The way to experience the US is as a student?

Ruchika Joshi

Recent graduate with a Master?s degree, School of Journalism at the University of Texas, Austin

?For me, the decision to come to the US was sudden, it wasn?t something that I?d been planning from the moment I was born. Things just fell into place and I am glad they did. Sure, I worked hard to get here ? but I didn?t have the lifelong craving to bite a piece of the American Pie..

Why the US and not Australia or the UK? Simple. If you?re coming here as a Master?s student, you can most definitely find aid. I didn?t pay for a single semester ? it?s perfectly possible and relatively easy. Can?t say the same for any place else. The application process was grueling though. The first thing I said to myself when I touched the US was ? is s this it? There was nothing formidable about the place nor was it exuberant. I could be anywhere.

Like most things in Texas, the University is large ? perhaps the largest in the US. The experience of being a student in the US is really worthwhile, simply because the opportunities seem to be plentiful. There are so many courses you can pick and choose from. You determine which way your degree should go and you suffer alone if it doesn?t go the way you thought it would. You learn that procrastinating can lead to your demise in academia. You fight your way through mounds of assignments, research papers and get that degree and you excel ? that is the greatest feeling in the world.d.

I really appreciate the fact that as a Master?s student I am taken seriously in my field. I think that is a really big plus. There is a certain respectability for all professions in the US, which is admirable because it gives one the freedom to do what one wants without an overriding fear of society.

For those of you who want to experience independence in the true sense of the word, you are in the right place. You pay your bills yourself and if you don?t, the creditors dig you out from your grave and ask you to pay up. You find out after you sign your first ever lease that there is no way out of there. You set up an apartment from scratch and move every year if you are not happy with the location. It?s a nomad?s dream!

I also think that the way to experience the US is as a student. You get more holidays; you have little money, so you end up traveling cheap, which makes the experience all the more colorful. You have more friends and they have the time to travel too! Being a student knocks off the formalities that the work environment clouds you with. People who come here to work straight away tend to miss out on the little things.

It doesn?t strike you immediately but the negative side of the US hits you a few months down the line. The medical system here is the very worst you can possibly imagine. You can forget walking up to a doctor one fine morning to have your throat checked out because you will be slapped with a $100 bill for that. God forbid if you have a fever! Those are privileges one misses. Insurance is the mother of all evils here. Old age is a curse, because insurance companies wait for you to get older to milk you dry. I would much rather gray gracefully in India.

Public transport in the US is as bad as you can imagine. New York City, Chicago and Boston are a few of the well-connected citadels, but the rest are dependent on shuttles that are limited both in route and time. You need a car to survive, which may not be such a bad thing ? if you can drive..

The other thing that hits you much later on is, how lonely a place this becomes ? however, the feeling is very subjective. If you have left people behind in India whom you genuinely cannot do without, you will be hit the hardest. I was. I still am. I miss family. I miss friends I could call on at any time of the day or night. I miss having people over for lunches and dinners every weekend ? there is little time for that here. I miss people. I miss Diwali get-togethers and weddings. I think it is incredibly important to have at least one person in the US you can open your heart to. Talking is something you will miss the most and it is something you should be able to do regardless. All-in-all, looking back, I am glad I did what I did, when I did it. I wouldn?t trade the experience for the world.d.?

?Americans make attempts to make us feel comfortable?

Harinath Chakrapani

Graduate student of Chemistry, Duke University

?When I stepped into the so called ?land of opportunity?, it was a mixed feeling. Some happiness that at last I get to be independent, and that I can make my own decisions and find financial security. But I was also sad that I had to leave my family and friends back in Madras and was now in an alien land, with people around me so different.

Homesickness is very common, and sometimes can lead to bouts of depression. I haven?t felt very homesick so far, but I really miss my family and Madras a lot. As I am a fantastic cook, I don?t miss food a lot...just kidding! I am actually a lousy cook and one of the things I miss most is ?Indian food?.

The course is very demanding and can be very stressful to the point where it affects your day-to-day activities and relationships. You make acquaintances and wish you could develop long-lasting friendships but, sometimes, it can be confusing and demanding to make someone your friend, especially if he or she is non-Indian.

People are in general friendly in appearance. You would be greeted on the street, but it doesn?t mean that the person wants to make friends ? it is just their behavior. Sometimes a guy would ask you ?How you doin??? and even before you reply, he would have left the scene.

Depending on the place, Indians sometimes feel discriminated against. But in my experience, Americans make attempts to make us feel comfortable, though sometimes it fails. However, I realize that I don?t belong here.

I would like to settle down in India soon after I finish my studies here and make up for the lost time. I?m sure I have a lot of catching up to do.?

?I have learnt to be more independent?

Samyuktha Jayakumar

Majoring in Engineering and Management

Clarkson University, Potsdam

?I am very grateful to my parents for sending me to USA to get a wonderful experience. I have learnt a lot in my four years here. Studying here is very different from how it was for me back home. I have learnt to be more independent. This is a place where you don?t depend on your parents for everything, but make use of all the opportunities around you.

I have met some wonderful people who have changed me for the better. I owe them a lot because they have helped me during my rough times. Other than the extreme weather conditions and occasional encounters with people who are ignorant about foreign cultures, I haven?t experienced anything negative. Besides that, to me personally, I think coming here and being all by myself from the age of 17 has made me become a better person.?

?The opportunities to learn and grow tend to overwhelm you?

Deepak Iyer

MBA at the Stern School of Business, New York

?After shifting schools eleven times over twelve years and having trudged across places as distant from each other as Munger in Bihar and Tindivanam in Tamil Nadu, I prided myself on my ability to blend and adjust into a new place. Yet September 11th, 2001 threw me off the tracks.

My stint in New York City started with the sight of the Twin Towers engulfed in flames from my apartment windows. The intense fears and anger brought the four hundred odd first year students from across the world closer in a manner a normal situation might have never done. Students from Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, India, Russia and the US all got together and in a few hours were collecting food, medicines, clothes and water for the New York Fire Department at various locations across the city. New Yorkers came together in a manner that was truly awesome.

The scene above symbolizes what my six months in New York have been about ? energy, an indomitable spirit, intensity and internationalism. While academically, Indian management schools are far more intense and challenging, going to school in New York is so much about what the city has to offer ? the musicians in the New York subway, the museums, the opera, the Broadway shows, the Philharmonic and incredible spectrum of culinary delights. Going to business school in a city that is the center of the worldld?s financial markets gives one a uniquely close and inside look into the way the capital markets function. It gives the students a chance to listen to Alan Greenspan and Jack Welch in person. You get to do a case on American Express and have Harvey Golub sit in class to critique your analysis.

The opportunities to learn and grow in business school tend to overwhelm you and yet force you to dig deep within yourself and introspect. The process of finding an internship as an international student, and a career switcher at that, in the toughest job market on Wall Street in many years has seen a lot of chips knocked of my shoulders ? IIT student, a great GMAT score, learning the ropes at one of India?s best business houses. It is a humbling experience when what has opened many doors for you is suddenly considered inconsequential, and yet, as I pen these words, there is an unshakeable urge to come out on top in the city which draws the best in the world and rewards only the survivors.

Where do I see myself in five years? Two conflicting observations ? the quality of life is undoubtedly better back in India and we as a country are incredibly content about our progress which is in no way justified. We have a long way to go to take our rightful place befitting a nation of a billion smart people and I hope to be back and playing my own little part in that. How? Your guess is as good as mine!!? o


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