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US studies: 'Get involved on campus'
P Banerjee
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August 17, 2007

With departure dates rapidly approaching, Indian students are booking tickets and preparing to leave for international universities.

To ease their concerns and answer their questions, we've asked students who are already studying abroad to share their experiences.

Today, we offer the story of P Banerjee. She studied in the US for four years, graduated and has returned home.

Hello, my name is P Banerjee. Recently, I've read many pieces on that deal with studying in foreign countries. I just graduated from a US university (May 2007) and have returned home.

I'm writing this account of my experiences to help students who are leaving for a life-changing adventure!

The first and most important thing to realise is that you will be forever changed by US studies. If you've never left India for an extended period of time, the effect is even stronger.

I went to a boarding school in Spain for two years in my teenage years, and I really believe it taught me away how to live away from home. Some of my friends at university who had never left home had so much trouble and they were often homesick.

The three areas that I will discuss are classroom issues, roommate issues and food/health issues.


There is a common misconception in India that Americans are stupid and lazy. I went to a prestigious school, Duke University, so maybe I did not see the whole picture. But, in my experiences, my US classmates were incredibly intelligent and very driven. To stay on top in the classroom, you must always be focused on earning great marks.

The biggest difference between studying in US and India is that the weight of your studies is put squarely on your shoulders. At first, I thought my professors were very vague and not informed on the issues, but I soon realised that they were just testing me.

They encourage you to grapple with the course material and urge you to do independent reading and research. Every day I had at least three hours of reading and writing, outside of what could be called normal assignments. Each year I had more and more work to do independently. By my senior year, or last year, I essentially formed my own schedule and picked my own research. This was a huge change from Indian schools!

But, also, the material isn't so 'hard' as you might expect. As long as you stay organised and stay enthusiastic, you will not have so many problems. I definitely feel some exams I took in India were more difficult than exams I took at Duke. In America, it's more about learning what to study and how to prepare than memorising whole text books! I feel that studying in India until you're 19 and going to America is the best of both worlds, because then you get teaching from two very different styles. I think the American students were behind the Indian students when looking at science and maths, especially the theories.

Also, do seek out professors and ask for help. The whole culture at US universities is about helping each other, and this includes the professors!

Just stay organised and stay interested and you will do fine. Don't fall behind, ever, as it gets very difficult to catch up.

Roommate issues

My roommate freshman year was a very strange girl who kept very strange hours. Looking back at the situation, I should have moved rooms. This girl gave me so much of problems because she was depressed much of the year and would blame me for the silliest things. She accused me of stealing her socks and slammed the door in my face, for one example.

If you do not feel comfortable to live with someone, then do not do it. The school will have many routes you can take if you want to change your roommate.

Also, many people suggest to stay away from friends as roommates, but I disagree. My last two years I lived with two girls in a suite and they were my best friends. One girl was from Calcutta and one was from America. We had the craziest times, but we all stayed focused on our assignments as well.

One of the girls, Kristin, was from Georgia (very conservative region) and she was my best friend at school. This showed me another thing about Americans -- they are hard to stereotype. Her father was a deer hunter and a big George Bush [Images] supporter but his daughter had pink hair and liked Bollywood movies. When her family came to visit they were very nice to me and asked about my parents. This is why America is so great.

Food and health

It's easy to become unfit at university. I gained eight kgs during my first year because I didn't have an exercise routine and I ate so much pizza. But my second year, my father instructed me to swim four times a week for half an hour, which I did. Also, I stopped eating late at night and cut out all the sweets.

By the time I reached home, I had lost all that extra weight plus two more kgs!

Regarding the food -- it's terrible. The food in the canteens tastes like plastic and cardboard. I personally find continental food very bland, and never used to eat it, even in my years in Spain (which has more masala than USA).

You must learn two or three dal recipes plus a few non-veg dishes. I used to cook three times a week and my Bengali roommate, Jaanki, cooked three times too. The other night, we usually ordered out (sandwiches or pizza).

Last word

Finally, get involved on the campus. There are hundreds of clubs and groups to join. I did theatre and helped with the costumes for all the plays. One impromptu group did a spoof called "Indian Macbeth" and I helped design the costumes. It was a great time and I connected with my classmates on a very deep level.

It's normal to be scared, but turn this into positive energy. If you don't stay moving, you'll start feeling homesick. Most of all, have fun!


~ Are you a student who is studying/ has studied abroad? What advice would you have for other students who may soon be pursuing studies in a foreign country? What are your experience as an international student? What were the things you wished you knew before you left home? Write to us at and we will feature your experiences right here.

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