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US studies: 'Network before you leave'
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July 10, 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 provide an interview with Aparajita Saha-Bubna. She received her Master's degree in Journalism from New York University and now works for Dow Jones & Co. in New York City.


Hello Aparajita, where are you from and when and where did you study abroad?

I'm a Bengali but I grew up primarily in Delhi and Mumbai. I attended New York University in 2001 and graduated with a Master's in Journalism, specialising in business and economic reporting.

When did you first entertain the idea of studying in another country? What was your motivation?

I first thought of studying abroad after Class XII or Junior College but, at the time, my parents thought I was too young to go abroad. Oh, the perils of being a protected only child!

After graduation from college, I was even more determined to go abroad. My motivation was two-fold: one, a whole bunch of my classmates left to study abroad after graduation and there was this underlying pressure to follow suit.

More importantly, I knew that I wanted to be a journalist and believed a degree from a well regarded institution would lay the foundation for my career, particularly if I wanted to work in a foreign publication.

As the date for departure approached, how did you feel? Were you nervous?

I was definitely nervous because I don't think the enormity of the situation sank in until a month before I was leaving. I think I was most overwhelmed by the thought that for the first time in my life I'd be truly alone.

But the nervousness was offset by the excitement of having this opportunity to make it on your own and start from scratch in an unknown city and country.

How did you pack and prepare? How was the flight?

I pretty much went with the essentials -- clothes, some utensils, toiletries, stationery and linen. And yes, some great walking shoes.

One of the most useful things that I carried turned out to be my CD collection -- the familiar tunes really came in handy during particularly acute bouts of homesickness.

The most useless thing I carried was some heavy textbooks. I thought they'd come in handy but schools here tend to update their books lists frequently -- many titles of which we aren't familiar with in India.

As for the flight, it would make sense to book as quickly as possible since August and September are peak times. I was lucky with my travel experiences as I coordinated my travel with a former classmate who was returning to school from a holiday in India. 

Did you network with fellow students and faculty from your university before leaving? If so, how and to what extent? If not, do you wish you would have?

Networking is one thing that I'm not particularly good at, but it would have come in very handy at the time.

I know students who got in touch with seniors, faculty members and friends of friends before leaving. I was diffident and didn't really go the distance so I felt I was less prepared that those who did some additional groundwork

I'd definitely recommend networking as much as possible.

What happened when you arrived?

I was again very fortunate in this department. My best friend from high school and college was already in the States and came to get me in the airport and I stayed with her for a couple of days. There's honestly nothing as comforting as a familiar face when you get off the plane in a strange and unknown terrain.

What kind of accommodation did you have at university?

I was in a dorm for the first two semesters and I think it was the most sensible thing I did. Though it wasn't the cheapest option, it was the most helpful because I was dealing with so many unknowns and new things. Having campus housing made it much easier for me.

After I became familiar with the city and my routine, I switched to a more affordable option.

Did you have a roommate/s? Any advice for those still debating on the roommate dilemma?

I did have one roommate -- a Taiwanese girl. She had led a very sheltered life back home so she was very excited about everything, especially not having a curfew! At the same time, she was very considerate and we did a lot of things together � shopped for groceries, cooked, hung out, cleaned and studied.

I met a whole bunch of Taiwanese and Korean friends through her.

My one advice to would-be students is don't, please don't, go with an Indian roommate, especially someone you already know. One of the best experiences of leaving home is the fact they you're shaken out of your comfort zone.

So make sure you consciously stay away from the familiarity that may prevent your from exploring the unknown or getting to see a different culture first-hand.

I had loads of Indian friends, but thanks to my roommate and my classmates, I also got to know a lot of things that I wouldn't have if I had stuck to my Indian clique.

Was Indian food available? Did you cook your own food or live on continental cuisine?

My parents did their best to teach me the basics of Indian cooking and I stubbornly resisted. I pretty much consumed all the frozen food I could find for the first couple of months -- a couple of pounds later and wise, I cut back and reluctantly asked my folks for some basic recipes.

The problem I faced was that I'd cook for an army and then get stuck eating the same thing for lunch and dinner days on end.

One of the solutions: share cooking duties with your roommate. There's nothing like eating food cooked by someone else, especially if you're a novice. Also, sandwiches, milk and cereal and eggs were a steady staple!

Any last pieces of advice? Any final things you know now but didn't know then?

The first thing to do is: get maps of the city and university and spend any spare time discovering your surroundings. Join activity groups and try to meet as many new people as you can. At the same time, don't be too trusting -- you have to watch out for yourself.

Try travel in groups for the first couple of weeks -- there's strength in numbers

And no matter what you're buying, always ask if student discounts are available -- it's amazing how much you can save with your student ID card.


~ 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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