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On August 20, Gaurav Balani* leaves for University of Virginia's Darden School of Business to study for an MBA in Entrepreneurship.
Though his departure date is a month away, Gaurav has already communicated with all of his professors and nearly half of his classmates.
"I use Facebook, LinkedIn, e-mail, forums and other networking tools on a daily basis. The Internet has changed everything," says Gaurav. "Living on different continents is no longer an excuse; you only hurt yourself by not getting involved early."
Those leaving for US studies should heed Gaurav's words -- use the Internet to network before you go.
Contact administrators, professors, alumni and fellow students to prepare you for academic and social success before you even step on campus.
Regardless of your university or programme, there are three administrators you should contact: the international student coordinator, the registrar and the dean of students.
The international student coordinator -- there may be more than one at a large university -- ensures that incoming international students transition smoothly. Your coordinator will help you with immigration, travel and adjustment concerns. It's important to befriend this person early, so that you'll be remembered specifically instead of by name or number.
E-mail him or her and provide your visa specifics, academic programme, housing details, contact address in India and arrival flight number.
Next, contact the registrar's office. The registrar's office processes academic requests, keeps track of student credits and creates student schedules.
Write the registrar or someone in the office and create/confirm your academic programme and course schedule. If you have transferred credits from another school, make sure it has been documented.
The dean of students oversees student affairs at your university. Make sure to write a brief e-mail to let him or her know that you are excited to study in the US and that you hope to meet after your arrival.
US universities stress the importance of student participation in the classroom. American teaching methods emphasise the back-and-forth exchange of information between professor and student.
This trend has evolved to include interaction outside the classroom -- students and teachers regularly fraternise in professors' homes, restaurants and in cyber space.
If you have your academic schedule, complete with course details and professor names, start preparing now. Contact your professors by e-mail and let them know your name, country of origin, academic programme and reason for taking the class.
Also, be sure to inquire as to what steps you can take before class commences. Ask for readings, internet resources and any other information that will allow you to get acquainted with the course material.
Professors, by and large, prefer enthusiastic students willing to engage on a personal level. Make yourself memorable by giving feedback and participating in course activities. The best way to establish this kind of relationship is to communicate early and often.
Most students don't realise it, but you must remain focused on your future career throughout your studies. This holds especially true for those who want to stay in the US after graduation, because H-1B visa competition is so fierce.
Plugging in to your university's alumni network is the first, and perhaps most important, step towards becoming a professional.
First, find the international students alumni association or the Indian alumni association. As soon as possible, make contacts and nurture relationships; it will benefit you for the rest of your professional, and perhaps personal, life.
Aside from giving you practical wisdom and advice, members can also serve as personal references and write recommendations on your behalf.
Make sure to contact the alumni group associated with your academic major or specific degree programme.
These groups are very close-knit and career-oriented. If you properly network, you'll likely find internships and other job-related opportunities through members. The effect of this is two-fold -- you'll bolster your resume and gain professional experience.
For instance, Guarav has already been in touch with four graduates from the Entrepreneurship programme at Darden Business School.
"I used LinkedIn, which is a great social networking site designed for professionals. The alumni I've contacted have been very gracious and helpful. They've given me tips on the programme and the university, telling me which courses they did and didn't like. They've all stressed the importance of networking for budding entrepreneurs and invited me to stay in touch throughout my studies. One guy even offered to take me out to lunch my first weekend in America!"
Though all university contacts you make are important, networking with your fellow students is essential.
Contact senior Indian students for advice about housing, campus life and adjusting to America. These veterans of life in the US will become big brothers and big sisters to you throughout your experience. Do avail of them, as they've been there and best understand the problems and concerns of a new international student.
First, contact your university's ISA. This stands for Indian (or International) Students Association. Surf the web site (if there is one), sign up for e-mail newsletters and write to the group's officers.
Let them know your personal information, academic programme, housing situation and flight arrival details. You'll be surprised -- students may offer you a ride from the airport, old textbooks at bargain prices or a helping hand during the first week at school.
Being alone in a new country is intimidating. It's great to have the Indian Student Association, who organise cricket matches and Holi celebrations, to keep India in your heart and mind -- no matter how many miles separate you from your family.
Another tool you should utilise is Facebook, the social networking web site that links millions of students around the globe. Once you receive your university e-mail account, use it to sign up and join your school's Facebook network.
The popular 'group' feature allows users to create and join groups that range from 'Chocolate Lovers United!' to 'The Leo Tolstoy Appreciation Club'. Use the search function to find and join groups for your university's international students and your specific academic programme.
Also, do contact your roommate if you've already been assigned one. As soon as you receive his or her contact information, write an e-mail containing a greeting and a short biography. The sooner you engage in dialogue, the sooner you'll feel comfortable with one another. Also, you can iron out what each of you will bring and some basic ground rules for the room.
Finally, if you are planning to live off-campus but haven't yet found a room, use the internet to hunt for available properties around your university. Talk with fellow Indians; they may be able to connect you with a good landlord or find you some students in need of a roommate.
'It's not what you know; it's who you know.' This old adage certainly applies to US studies. Even if you are thoroughly prepared for your course work, substandard organisation and networking will leave you in a tizzy.
If you're not prepared by the time you leave, you'll run around campus trying to catch up to your fellow students for the first few weeks. Instead of giving yourself this unneeded tension, make your contacts well in advance.
Embrace the Internet as a social networking tool and start things off on the right foot!
* Name changed on request
~ 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we will feature your experiences right here.
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