Student Life in USA: Guide for an Indian Student
Shifting base from India to the United States of America (USA) to study can be quite a change, especially if it is your first time outside the country. Life in the US can be quite a culture shock at first, but your student life in the USA is bound to be a cross-cultural experience that you may learn from. The atmosphere may vary according to the location of the institute you plan to study in. You can seek comfort from places which are similar to yours, or you can immerse yourself in the completely new place and learn from the differences. A culture gap will be present at first, but this can be bridged easily. Here are 10 ways in which life in the USA will seem different for an Indian student who comes here on a study abroad mission:
No matter what level of education you are planning on completing in the USA, the initial overwhelming feeling may be the same. The geography and climate vary widely in America. The kind of clothing and weather varies according to the location you are in. Take a look at the climate in the city your school is situated in, and plan your wardrobe accordingly.
The culture in America is very diverse, and you may run into more non-Americans than Americans. Observe the people around you, and act in accordance to that. You will find all types of people at your university, and it is best to adjust yourself to fit in with everybody else. To minimize any shock, it is good to touch base with friends and family from home often and it is good to find same-interest groups in your area so that you can reach out to them easily.
It will be of great comfort to find like-minded people who share similar interests such as sports, music, books or even food. Most institutes have international office support who will be able to help you accommodate yourself with ease.
Students at universities in the USA dress up in scary costumes as part of the Halloween tradition
Holidays and Traditions
One way to learn more about the culture is to take part in the holiday traditions. Some important days that Americans celebrate are New Year's Day (January 1), Martin Luther King Jr. Day (3rd Monday in January), St. Patrick's Day (March 17), Memorial Day (last Monday in May), Independence Day (July 4), Halloween (31st October), Thanksgiving Day (last Thursday in November), and Christmas Day (December 25).
(Also read: List of Federal Holidays in the US)
It is important to be direct while communicating. You should not be too hesitant or unsure while requesting or asking for anything, as confidence plays a major role in your body language and communication. If you are offered food or drink, though it is polite to refuse it, if you really seek it, say 'Yes' because it may not be offered again.
Indians tend to speak at a rate faster than that of Americans, so speak slowly and clearly, so that your accent may not distort your message.
Why Indians Prefer the US
Despite the falling Indian Rupee (which has made studying in the US more expensive), Indians prefer to study in the USA because of on-campus resources like technology, tools, infrastructure, ambience, experienced teachers, and opportunities, many of which are still in their infancy in India. It is evident that the rise in United States Dollar does not outweigh the quality of education that you can look forward to.
(Also read: 7 Reasons to Study in the USA)
The number of Indian students in the United States of America may have gone down due to reasons such as visa restrictions, the slowdown of the US economy, and an increasingly tough job market. Nevertheless, India is still second to China in terms of the population of international students pursuing higher studies and research in the United States. This is made possible also because of education loans and scholarships which are being made available.
Consistent Hard Work
Although you are planning to study in the USA, you must be knowledgeable in your field beforehand. In India, we are used to a lot of theoretical knowledge but when it comes to practical skills, we fall short. It is mostly due to the way the curriculum is designed in most Indian schools & colleges. So be prepared before you enter a classroom in an American university!
Education is more interactive and hands-on in the US, and you may find it easier to learn through this system of demonstration and visual learning. Studies are not necessarily harder, but it is different. A fewer number of subjects can mean deeper and intensive study in the subjects.
The relationships that you establish with your professors are important, but it will not help in determining your grade. Your merit decides your grade, so be prepared to study hard. America is known to be 'the land where dreams come true', but no dream can be achieved without hard and honest work behind it. The grading system is cumulative, and every paper, assignment, and test is weighed toward the final grade.
Living in the US can be quite expensive, so it is important you learn how to be self-sufficient and economical, especially when it comes to household chores (like cleaning, laundry, and cooking) and for errands (like shopping, paying the bills, and budgeting funds). Many students find part-time jobs while studying to help finance themselves. Some students even have two to three part-time jobs and work in shifts.
Also read: How to work while you study in the US
While cooking, if you are used to Indian food, it is helpful to know the basic spices which are used, and locate shops nearby which stock these spices. Indian food is well loved in the US, so it should not be too hard to find stores for them. Basic foods like daal, roti, rice, and gravy form the very essence of an Indian diet, and it is good to know how to prepare these foods.
Your accommodation can be on or off-campus, in either rooms or dormitories with other students. Most schools have campus housing offices which will assist you in finding an appropriate place to live, and also regarding roommates, and information regarding restaurants, parks, shopping avenues, laundry shops, libraries, etc. On-campus housing is convenient to both academic and social activities and many students prefer to stay within the campus during the beginning of their stay. Dormitories are also a good option because you do not have to worry about gas, electricity, water and internet. It will help if you live close to the campus so that you will not have to spend unnecessarily for travel.
Time management is an important skill to have, especially if you are staying alone or with others, as you will have to find time to manage your studies, and to manage the household chores, especially if household help is unavailable or unaffordable. Days can get hectic, and you need to know how to manage your time so that you can cope even if unexpected events occur.
Safety in any country cannot be guaranteed, but it is wise to stick to your common sense, and stay away from dark alleys. When in public, walk in well-lit areas and stick to a group of people that you know well. Many areas of the US are well-monitored and patrolled. Certain places like malls have cameras and detectors in place, so make sure you do not act in a suspicious manner which may attract unwanted attention. Though Americans are open, they can also be fiercely private. Make sure you do not divulge any details regarding bank accounts, passwords, ATM pins, social security numbers etc.
It is important to stay true to yourself, regardless of where you are. Many Indians fear losing their Indian identity while adjusting to a foreign land, but it is important to hold on to the value system and principles you have when you land. When you finally go to the US, remember your purpose, and present yourself in the best manner you perceive yourself to be.
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'13% of international students in US are Indians', Deccan Herald, http://www.deccanherald.com/content/343667/13-international-students-us-indians.html
'Indian students prefer US most', Asian Age, http://www.asianage.com/india/indian-students-prefer-us-most-674
'The USA "Way Of Life"', International Student, http://www.internationalstudent.com/study_usa/way-of-life/
'Tips Before You Go to the US', USIEF, http://www.usief.org.in/Tips-Before-You-Go-to-the-US.aspx