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Study US: 'Homesickness hits you in the face'

By Matthew Schneeberger
Last updated on: June 14, 2007 14:25 IST
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In the first part of this article, we introduced our five 'student experts' and asked them questions about preparing and leaving for US studies.

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.

Today, we find out what happened after they arrived. While responses vary, one common theme seems to be the importance of networking and researching before you board your US-bound flight. 

What happened when you landed? How was the first night?

Gautam: "First, I didn't have money to get a baggage cart; they cost three dollars! I had two giant suitcases and my carry-on; it was a disaster.

The international advisor at Northwestern University (which Gautam attended) arranges for shuttles to pick up foreign students. I somehow missed this message, and ended up paying $ 80, or Rs 3300, for a taxi! I didn't get to my dorm until about 3 in the morning. I had to wake up the resident assistant and get my key before I could enter my room. I was completely unprepared. I think I cried myself to sleep the first night."

Anjali: "Denison arranges for each international student to be 'adopted' by a surrogate family from the area surrounding the campus. Kate, who 'adopted' me, was such a tremendous help. She was so sympathetic and nice; she even picked up Indian food for dinner that first evening! I was so homesick, but she never once got upset when I cried or called home. I didn't go to the dorm for another three days; I spent this time getting used to America from Kate's house. It was great."

Rishi: "I have family in nearby Charlotte (Rishi studied at Duke University), which really helped. They came and picked me up, treating me like a prince. Even though I'd only met them three or four times before this, they quickly became my anchor. They helped me settle into my apartment off-campus and assisted with tons of other little things, like buying a cell phone. Duke has a strong Indian community, which also made me feel right at home."

Gita: "JFK (airport in New York City) is huge, but I didn't find it too confusing. An attendant helped me get a taxi right outside the baggage pick-up area. The first night was great; I took a taxi directly to my school-subsidised apartment. From there I was whisked to the Indian Student Association where I ate pizza and met other new students. It was surreal being in New York City. I'd seen all the sights, heard all the street names without ever actually being there."

Ajit: "Syracuse University treats its international students with great respect. Still, I felt entirely out of place when meeting my room mate and others in my hall that first day. Most international students come early, but my arrival was delayed a day. So, I had to watch as all the Americans had family there to help them, while I was alone. It wasn't easy. That's when the full weight of my decision hit me. I realised I had to make the best of this crazy situation."

Any final advice about adjusting to the United States?

Gautam: "Homesickness is really strange. It either hits you right in the face, or it sneaks up on you. For me, it was a combination of both. My first few nights were terrible, but even after that subsided, I still felt depressed for an entire year.

"The food in America sucks; use tomato ketchup, hot sauce and mustard.

"Bring things to remind you of home! Things I never even considered in India, like Fusen Gum, made me sentimental whenever I thought of them. Still, I'm glad I went; I learned so much about myself and the world."

Anjali: "Do research before you leave. This doesn't mean watching Friends on television. This means using the Internet and finding out about the city, state and region you will be living in.

"Also, contact students from your university before you leave. It's so important.

"If possible, sign up for a 'host' like Kate who will help you get started.

"Be open-minded and respectful; you are in a different country! Represent yourself, your family and your country properly."

Rishi: "Don't judge Americans by stereotypes you've always heard. I've travelled pretty extensively in my life, and no country is more diverse than the US. You'll meet crazy George W Bush supporters as well as his biggest opponents. You'll hear racist comments about Indians, but you'll also find people who are fascinated by foreign cultures. It's a mind-opening experience; relax, and enjoy it.

Gita: "I'd advise e-mailing professors and international students from your university. Also, it's important to remember your life in India, but not at the expense of ruining your American experience. I would always think: 'I'm incredibly lucky to have this opportunity. My parents have worked so hard to provide for me; I need to make the most of this and learn about myself and the world.' It sounds cliched, but it totally worked."

Ajit: "Informing yourself is the most important piece of advice I can give. Read about student experiences in the US. Find out about your professors, your classmates, etc. Use social networking to get a jumpstart on your connections before leave. I was jealous of all the students more prepared than me. Oh, and don't let your Mom pack your suitcase. You have to grow up sometime."

Part I-- 'I spent too much on clothes'


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~ 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 getahead@rediff.co.in and we will feature your experiences right here.

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Matthew Schneeberger