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US studies: 'Don't be too proud to ask for help'
Matthew Schneeberger
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July 24, 2007

Yesterday, we examined ways that students can network at their US universities before departure.

Today, let's discuss another way those leaving for US studies can prepare themselves before ever stepping foot in a classroom -- international student orientation programmes.

These programmes are offered by US universities as a 'crash-course' in American culture, campus life and academic expectations. They usually last between two days and a week, and feature campus tours, multimedia presentations and personal experiences from older international students.

Nearly all US universities offer these programmes, and many schools make participation mandatory for incoming students.

Let's let former US students weigh in on their orientation experiences. Did they find it useful? Was it boring? Do they wish they would have paid more attention?

I'm bored�

Many students find the orientation sessions boring and remedial.

Hazeem Akram, 26 and originally from New Delhi, thought the orientation programme at Syracuse University was condescending and pointless.

"It was really bad and insulting. They spoke slowly, as if we didn't understand English. They told us to use deodorant and bathe regularly. From my experiences, American students were the ones needing showers."

"In fact," he continues, "they told us not to eat with our hands. They kept stressing how Americans have notions of privacy and manners, yet I found them very uncouth on the whole. It was degrading and worthless."

Simran [Images] Shah, from Mumbai, echoed these concerns.

"If I was from a village or something, maybe it would have been useful. But I've lived all my life in one of the world's most dynamic cities. I didn't need to be told that 'my classmates might wear shorts and t-shirts.' Still, there was no harm in attending the programme as I got to meet the other new Indian students."

Very helpful

Not all students find the programmes a drag. Salma Esufali, from Chennai but now in Mumbai, said the orientation was useful.

"All these kids think that, through television and media, they know everything there is to know about life in America. I was also guilty of this when leaving for New York University in 2002."

"Upon landing," she continues, "I realised how ill-prepared I truly was. I didn't understand the academic system, but older students and a few advisors carefully took us through the whole process. The Grade Point Average system is so different from the percentiles we have in India. The explanation for that alone is worth all the time you spend in orientation."

Aneesh Krishna, also from Chennai but now working in Mumbai, said that the programme at Harvard was, "...absolutely outstanding. I found the directors very sensitive towards Indian culture. At the same time, they were firm in the changes we would have to make as students."

When asked if she would recommend the programme to incoming students, she didn't hesitate. "Certainly. You must be well-informed and prepared to earn top marks in a US university. Being at a prestigious university, you know that your American classmates are extremely intelligent. And they are familiar with their surroundings. So, any little bit of help or assistance you can get is of tremendous value. Don't be too proud to ask for help."

Finally, Karan Kumar, from New Delhi, said he regrets not taking full advantage of the programme during his initial week at the university.

"I was paranoid about becoming the 'nerdy Indian'. So, in order to bolster my image, I was somewhat defiant and cocky throughout my first few months. I always had a 'been there and done that' sort of attitude. It was only during final examinations, when I couldn't figure out how to calculate my marks and how to organise a schedule, that I realised how badly I had mucked up orientation."

"To all you leaving for school," he says, "do not make the same mistake I did. Ask questions and get involved. This is the only time that the information will be right in front of you. The rest of the year, you'll have to run around campus trying to find this kind of information."

Start now

Write your international student coordinator and ask for all the details relating to the international student orientation programme.

Many universities have separate programmes for parents. If your parents are assisting you in moving in, make sure to find out how they can participate during orientation week.

During the rest of the year, you'll be treated as just another student.  It's only during this orientation period that you'll get special attention and assistance, so use it to your advantage.

Also, while you're learning helpful information and adjusting to a new environment, you'll be making great contacts both inside and outside the international student community. The first few weeks will feature the sharpest pangs of homesickness, so it's nice to have a few friends to commiserate with you.

If you wind up at your US university and find yourself wanting to give the international student orientation programme a miss, just remember Aneesh's advice, "Don't be too proud to ask for help."

Part I: Leaving for US studies? Better start networking

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