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If you're leaving to study abroad in a few months, you've already done plenty of ground work. You researched and applied to different universities, chosen a programme and secured a student visa.
But are you truly prepared?
We asked a group of returning students what they packed, how they travelled and what happened when they landed. The responses were amusing, heart-felt and informative -- let's take a look at our six subjects:
Gautam Shah, 26, grew up wanting to study finance. In 2000, he got admission at Northwestern University in Illinois, USA.
Gautam's younger sister, 24-year-old Anjali, wanted to study film and cinema. In 2002, she got admission at Denison University in Ohio, USA.
Rishi Mehta, 27, earned a large scholarship to Duke University in USA after acing his SATs. He studied to become an accountant and currently works in New York City.
Gita Khanna, 26, did her MBA at Columbia University in New York, USA, after earning undergraduate degree in Mumbai.
Ajit Rai, 20, is back in India for a vacation after his first year at Syracuse University in New York, Ohio, USA. He is studying economics and business management.
How did you feel before leaving? Excited, anxious, both?
Gautam: "I was the first in the family to go; my sister also went to America for studies. I wasn't nervous at all. I did not prepare properly. I thought it would be easy. I couldn't have been more mistaken. I almost quit after my first year. Outside of a few Indian friends, I was a total recluse. It wasn't until I made some American friends who were interested in cricket that I truly felt comfortable. I should have done more research and taken it more seriously."
Anjali: "I cried on the way to airport. I cried on the flight and called my parents when I landed, telling them I wanted to come home. My older brother had a not-so-nice experience. Funnily enough, at the end of the first year, I was sad to go home, even for a few months! My brother and I were completely opposite. He acted all cool leaving, and then called home every weekend. I couldn't stand leaving, and then found myself right at home. Denison has a large Indian population, and that helped tremendously."
Rishi: "I've always been a brave person, but leaving made me very nervous. I was also worried about how people would react to me -- my accent, my clothes, my food. I'd never been to America, so I only had the experiences of others and the movies to go by. I was determined not to be the 'nerdy Indian', so I read up on American football and other sports which definitely made me feel comfortable when I arrived."
Gita: "I felt pressure, for the first time. I realised how much it meant to my parents, how much it would affect my future. I took pictures of all my loved ones and created a photo collage. I e-mailed two Indians studying at Columbia, which was a great decision. They really put me at ease, telling me about cooking rotis in the dorms and how they celebrated Diwali. After that, I was fine."
Ajit: "It was only a year ago, but it's been such a journey. Now that I look back, I see how little I actually knew. At the time, though, I was actually more confident than I am now. It's funny, but ignorance is bliss! I had no idea what I was getting into. I should have tried social networking online, because it seemed that some students had known each other for years. In reality, they had never met face to face, but online groups had given them a head start on making friends and all."
How was your travel experience? Packing? Any advice?
Gautam: "It's so funny. I packed absolutely nothing, and then realised how much I needed when I reached. From Tiger Balm to little idols to proper incense, I needed it all. I spent too much on clothes, and not enough on things that reminded me of home.
"I flew non-stop from Mumbai to New York, then on to Chicago -- my first long flight. It was horrible. I recommend a stop in Germany [Images], but not in London [Images]! And bring $ 1 bills in American currency; you need them for tips and buying little things at the airport. I didn't have any; it was so embarrassing."
Anjali: "I was so devastated to leave my family. So I made a collage of photos and mounted it on a board. It was a great decision. Whenever I was lonely, I'd look and see my family at the Taj Mahal in Agra [Images], my grandfather in our drawing room and the pani puri walla on Marine Drive. It reminded me of home. On my first flight out, I cried my eyes out. Subsequent flights weren't bad."
Rishi: "Do not fly US Air or Delta, if possible. I found them completely racist towards me, or maybe they were just rude in general. Anyway, the flight is long, but can be used productively, like taking notes and reading through the information the university provides in pamphlets and printouts. I should have brought my colognes; it's so expensive in America."
Gita: "Don't buy and pack winter clothes! It takes up so much room in your baggage; it's all junk anyway. I was in New York, and it was far too cold for the jacket I brought. I ended up shopping for new stuff.
"I visited relatives in London, stopping in England [Images] for two days. I was so excited and nervous, so the flight went quickly. Later, flights were so boring and terrible, especially a direct flight from New York to Bombay on Delta.
Ajit: "Don't bring electronics in your carry-on luggage. The American authorities confiscated my digital camera when I arrived, and did a special search of me. I told them it would get broken in my normal baggage; but they didn't care. After three hours, I finally got it back. Be prepared for bad attitude and rudeness from immigrations and customs officers. They act like everything is your fault."
Part II -- 'Homesickness hits you right in the face'
~ 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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