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US studies: 'Learn how to cite your sources'
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July 31, 2007

Those of you leaving for US studies are embarking on a life-defining journey. Most likely, you've never been away from home for long and have never lived on your own.

We spoke with several Mumbaikars who studied in America about their experiences. They had great advice for 'fresh' students on how to adjust to new surroundings.

Yesterday, we discussed housing and roommate issues. Today, let's look at how to survive in a different academic system.

What was your first impression of the US academic system?

Gaurav Shah -- My degree was in economics, so my schedule was heavy into the maths and business. The first thing I noticed was that we spent less time on abstract formulas and more time on real-life scenarios and using logic and reason. The professors were very warm and humorous, which I really liked.

Vidhi Singh -- I was very confused at first. You're given so much freedom, even from the start that you have to be very careful and conscientious. You need to make sure your schedule fits together and that it fulfils the various requirements.

Sonali Thakore -- I couldn't believe how much books cost, up to $150 dollars a piece, or Rs 6,000! Try and get them used.

How was it different from your Indian education?

Gaurav Shah -- I think, at the primary school level the academic system in India, although archaic, is still better than that of the states. But the college education in the states is a million times better. Better resources, better professors, better courses.

Vidhi Singh -- The premium put on 'in-class' participation is mammoth! You're expected to speak in class and debate with fellow classmates. Also, you're supposed to do tons of research and question the material you're presented, not just mug up and memorise.

Akhila Khanna -- I was able to create my own academic programme, which wouldn't have been possible in India. I combined my love for media and visual arts with some a focus in business. Now, I'm an assistant producer for a few different shows on TV. My degree really helped, as I'm merging both aspects of my education

How about your relationships with professors and faculty?

Sonali Thakore -- Relationships with professors are so important in the US. I even went to dinner at my prof's house on several occasions. We sat around, those of us that were legal drank wine, and we discussed the class material. It's so important to start on a good foot with teachers and faculty, so put your best foot forward.

Vidhi Singh -- The most important point is to craft relationships with your teachers. They are not drones who spit information at you. In fact, they are dynamic, interesting people who are going to challenge you. It's in your best interest to write an e-mail after the first class, telling them who you are and what you hope to learn in the class.

Gaurav Shah -- My advisor is still a friend. That's how the relationship works over there � they are more partners than authority figures. You have to build trust and familiarity, but after you do, they are always eager to help.

Did you do a lot of academic work out of the classroom?

Gaurav Shah -- I spent a ton of time doing my assignments. That's what interesting � you only spend a few hours a day in the classroom. But then you're expected to do so much between classes. They told us, as a rule, you should do at least one hour of work outside for the class for every hour inside the class.

Sonali Thakore -- I found that the classes varied wildly in the amount of work assigned. For example, I had a British Literature class that I thought would be impossible, but we had literally no homework! Then, I took an art history class, which I thought would be simple, but I was reading 50 pages everyday. Overall, I did a ton of work.

Vidhi Singh -- I just finished my senior research work, so I did an enormous amount of work outside the classroom. Basically, my professor helped me find some resources, got me started and sent me to the library. I was poring through archives, taking newspapers from forty years ago and so on. It was unlike anything else I've ever done.

Any final advice regarding academics?

Gaurav Shah --Please, learn how to cite references and sources. In America, they are obsessed with 'citing your sources'. It's very easy to be accused of taking material that isn't yours. So be careful.

Sonali Thakore -- My final advice would be to take all the wild and interesting courses you can. If you study finance, don't just take business classes. Take a biology class and a dance class; take a world history class. It expands your practical knowledge and teaches you to think about the world in a different way.

Vidhi Singh -- Never be afraid to ask for help. It's easy to fall behind as an International student. You are juggling a new country with a new academic system -- that's a lot to ask of a 19 year old! Always go to class, else they take major points from your final marks, and always participate while your there. Don't tell lies to your professor. He or she will figure it out and you will look worse in the long run. No one wants to see you fail, so just do your best and everything will work out in the end.

Part I: Housing and roommates

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