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Study Abroad: Beware of the Freshman 15!
Karan Gupta
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August 21, 2007

You've packed your bags, sailed across the seven seas and are about to have your first tryst with freedom. You're excited and waiting for the adventures to unfold.

But soon, you realise that all is not as rosy as it sounds. Coping as a freshman (first-year international student) in college is not as easy as you thought it would be.

If you are an undergraduate student, don't be surprised to face many problems in your first year; the academics, social life and culture will all be new and different for you.

And on top of all these other concerns, you have to be careful that the Freshman 15 bug doesn't bite you.

The Freshman 15, as it is referred to, is the number of pounds that many freshmen gain in their first year of college. When students are up half the night trying to finish assignments and projects they dial 1-800-I-HUNGRY and call for pizzas or other junk food.

The fast-food option is the gateway to these extra pounds. You also miss your home, room, friends and, most of all, your parents. Sometimes this sadness causes overeating. The anxiety and emotional stress of being thrust into an uncomfortable situation can result in weight gain.

And if you use food to substitute emotional needs than the freshman 15 will become freshman 50. Not to mention the meat eaters who in India have mainly eaten chicken and fish will now find unhealthy stuff like cow and pig meat served instead. On the flip side there are some students who tend to lose weight as they are vegetarians with few options available.

Your grades may also suffer in the first year due to the difference in the education system. The teaching in classes is very good, all you have to do is go to class, that is, attend. That's another thing our college students have forgotten. FYJC and SYJC students here strive to meet the minimal attendance required not to get in the blacklist.

If you do not attend lectures at your university, it's your loss as the main learning is through class interaction and not through textbooks. Most of us have been used to rote learning and all of a sudden when you are asked to think and apply your knowledge, you are lost.

Thankfully, the teachers abroad are generally aware of this and are ready to help you adjust. There are quizzes nearly every week (depends on the professors) and then mid-terms and finals. At most universities, the bulk of your grade depends on exam grades and large assignments, such as research papers.

Doing your home work is as important as attending class. Once you get used to the grading system and homework submission and exams, you pretty much know how to manage your time. Students sometimes get in a fix, especially during their first term; but don't stress, you can figure everything out within a month of attending class.

It might take you a while to adjust to the new culture as it is very different from our own. People from larger cities like Mumbai will not usually have a major culture shock. You need to be aware that you should have a more open attitude towards "alternate" lifestyles. There will be live-in couples and you are bound to encounter (openly) homosexual people while studying on a university campus. There is no place for homophobic people, and there are laws designed to prosecute intolerance called "hate crimes." However, in general, people are extremely friendly and they do a lot of masti too.

Another aspect that will require some adjusting is the social life. According to Saurabh Mundra, an undergraduate student in the US, "Your new friends become family in your home away from home. They are the ones who are going to be with you for the next four years. Weekdays are extremely busy which leaves little time for socialising but weekends are meant for having fun! Students from major cities might find the smaller towns dead as there is generally not much to do. Especially during winters it becomes very hard to move out and everything is dead by five in the evening." If you do have family, then it's different because all the Indians abroad are very active in celebrating festivals.

As for finances, let us just say "Indian kids, parents paying; American kids, most of them in debt." You know that your parents are already being burdened with the high tuition costs so you may feel that you should minimise your personal expenses and work extra-hours on campus. While this may be a very noble thought, the reality is that if you work too hard, your grades may suffer. Remember, your primary focus should be the education you have gone for, everything else is secondary.

The daily expenses of each student vary tremendously. Hemal, a first year student studying in London [Images], says that he spends around $700 to $900 a month (About Rs 28,000-38,000). This includes his electricity bills, water, mobile, and all other small expenses. "I hate eating at home and therefore my maximum money is spent at restaurants".

Then there are other minor things such as the accent which is different and hard to understand for some people. Some students might find the cold during the winter months unbearable and may long to bathe in the Mumbai sun.

Coping as a freshman might not be easy but there are support systems available there in the form of friends and tutors. The first year can be taxing due to the many changes, but once you get settled down you are pretty much set for the next few years. While college life may be hard and daunting, it's also a lot of fun. It's the place where you will make friendships which you will cherish for life.

Karan Gupta is an overseas education consultant and can be contacted at Join him tomorrow, August 22 at 2:00 pm, for a Study Abroad chat.   

~ 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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