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Get Ahead reader Anamika, is currently pursuing her an accelerated Bachelors/ Masters degree in the US. She gives us an insight into student life abroad and tackles the ultimate question -- is a foreign education worth the money?
Before answering that question, there is something I need to tell you. If you have applied for admission to a university abroad, I hope you have done the following:
~ Analysed your financial situation.
If you do not receive an assistantship from the college, can you afford to pay the tuition fee with help from your family or a student loan?
~ There have been times when students could not find a job in their place of study and have returned after their Optional Practical Training period, which lasts for one year from the completion of your degree.
You should be prepared for something like that as well.
As for the question -- is studying abroad worth the money? -- I would definitely say yes if you study at a good college ('good college' will vary depending on your major).
Advantages of a foreign education
~ You have many more courses to choose from.
~ You work on a lot of projects.
~ The amount of real world applications you are exposed to is tremendous.
~ Universities also allow students to do internships or co-ops, so that they can gain real world work experience while working towards their degree.
Therefore, you come out well prepared to start your career, without needing much training from the company you join. Under the co-operative programme, students divide their semesters between college and work.
For example, in a university that follows a two-semester system, students can study for two semesters, start their co-op during the summer, and continue with it through to the fall.
Then, they can come back and complete their course work. Mostly, if an international graduate student is doing a co-op internship during the fall or spring semester, s/he also has to complete a thesis.
This rule does not apply for the summer internship.
How to earn while studying?
~ A majority of the Indian students find work on campus to pay for their monthly expenses.
These jobs range from working in a library, at a residence hall helpdesk, as a computer lab operator or in a dining hall, among others.
The average pay is between $6 and $8 ( approximately Rs 262 to Rs 349) an hour. You can choose to work between 12 and 20 hours a week, depending on the course load is for that semester. You cannot work more than 20 hours a week.
~ During the summer, if you are not taking a course, you can work up to 40 hours per week.
~ You also have paid internships or co-ops.
~ Graduate students are mostly eligible for research or teaching assitantships, though the number of positions available will differ from university to university, and from department to department.
For undergraduates, scholarships are available in few colleges, so get in touch with the administration to find out more details.
For example, some might support partial tuition fees, some will have complete funding that takes care of the tuition, salary, health insurance, etc.
Quick preparation tips
~ An important suggestion: learn to cook at least the basic daal-chawal. It will be of great help once you reach here.
~ Make sure you get in touch early enough with the Indian Students' Association in the university or college you are joining, even before you actually get there.
They should be able to help you with packing, airport pickups and temporary accommodation.
They will also give you an idea about finding permanent accommodation, the financial aid scene in the college, and typically, even your department.
~ Weekdays are by and large spent shuttling between college, course work and your part-time job.
~ Weekends are for usually reserved for grocery shopping, sleeping late, playing cricket, watching movies, and maybe cleaning.
~ Warning: People in US rely heavily on weekends to complete household chores and have fun.
You do ALL the chores like cooking, laundry, cleaning here by yourself, a far cry from the lazy (or shall I say luxurious) lifestyle in India.
As a result, you become much more independent because, even if you were working and managing your finances back home, it's not likely that you were also doing your laundry and cooking, in addition to scrubbing the bathtub, ALL on your own!
~ Indian students generally stay in apartments off-campus as they are cheaper than on-campus accommodation.
~ They use either public transport or college buses to commute to campus.
What about racial abuse?
There have been stray incidents of racial abuse, but chances are rare that one will face it.
America has been a land of immigrants, and people in general are well behaved and welcoming.
The laws here are strict but, even then, don't expect to take a stroll down some deserted or unsafe area late at night and not get robbed.
It may not necessarily happen, but you can see for yourself what the odds are.
A home away from home
~ Indian Student Associations organise events like Holi and Diwali.
So enjoy the festivities even though you are no longer in India.
~ Most big cities have Indian grocery stores where you can buy Indian condiments and rent DVDs or VHS tapes (yes, they exist!) of Indian films.
~ Indian students also make fortnightly trips to 'Indian places' close-by, like Indian restaurants where you can revive your tastebuds with yummy dosas, chaat, sweets and other delicacies you miss and wish you could whip up with your limited culinary skills.
~ If you are not visiting any friends or relatives in US during holidays like Easter, Christmas, July 4 (American Independence Day) and Thanksgiving, you can also take trips to nearby beaches or go for camping.
Needless to say, these take place once you have enough money, people and time to spare from your courses and job.
In my four years of stay here, it has been a complete learning experience, career-related and otherwise. It has been stressful and demanding at times, yet enriching in its own way.
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