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Study US: No iPod, no TV, get yourself a cell phone

By Shailee Mehta
Last updated on: February 25, 2008 17:49 IST
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As part of Study Abroad, we complement articles by experts in the field with articles by students who are currently studying abroad.

These articles cover experiences, tips and other information that students planning to study in a foreign university should be aware of before taking a decision about universities and courses, admissions procedures, visa issues and other aspects of the process. Here, Shailee Mehta, an ex-student of the University of Southern California, shares some useful tips. 

Coming to United States for the first time can be an emotionally and physically trying journey. Like many Indians in the United States, it is an experience that I find very hard to forget. When I look back now, there are so many things I could've done differently, that would've made a difference.

Although I had it a lot easier than most other people at that time (I came to my close friends (all a year senior) from engineering college), I still know what my not-so-lucky friends went through.

The emotional aspect is something that no one can really prepare you for. However, accepting early on that you are leaving the comforts of home, to go to a totally different place makes a difference. Preparing for some cultural overhaul helps to acclimate and fit in a lot faster than a lot of people do.

Also understanding that even though it is you who are making the move, it is equally (if not more) trying for your family and friends; being sensitive to their sentiments is good idea.

The physical journey has more logistics tied to it, than you actually realise. From the experiences that my friends and I went through, if there is anything that can be learned it would make all that agony worth while.

Read up and connect
The first thing that I would recommend is "research". With the advent of the internet, there is nothing that cannot be researched online. Research the university, the programme, and the people and in general the place you plan on coming to.

I would be surprised if there were any University that does not have an Indian community; reach out to them before you get there. They will usually make sure that you have a place to live in, at least temporarily.

They are your best resource, and are always willing to help; in fact, that is what most of them are set up for. Most of them have websites, forums or groups, to make it easier for you to post your questions, and get help (try various social networking sites, or just your University website).

If possible, it is a good idea to connect with some other people starting out with you. This way, you can probably figure out your "roommate" issue, and maybe even split the list of basic necessities that you would need to carry with you.

Most major universities (USC, Syracuse, Texas A&M, UT Austin, Cornell, etc) have meetings where the in-coming students can meet and get to know each other. News of such meetings usually spreads by word of mouth, so keep listening! If there isn't any such meeting in your city, trying to make it one in another city, will be a trip well made.

Another thing is to research the locality; type in your university address in Google and you can find the nearest Indian restaurant, maybe even an Indian grocery store, a regular grocery store, a hospital, a temple maybe, just about anything of importance to you.

You will be living in or around campus, so your University address should serve as a good "default" location. Looking all this up will give you a better sense of what will be hard to get and what will not; makes you better prepared.

Be prepared
The second thing is to know the weather! Coming from India, we may not realise it, but weather is big factor in your transition. Most places here get pretty cold in the winter time, yes even places like Southern California, require warm clothes in winter, if you are not used to temperatures in the teens. 32°F is 0°C, and cold.

Some places, like Upstate New York need more than just a sweater or light jacket, and gear for such extreme weather is best bought from here. However, getting some things to get through the first few weeks of winter is strongly recommended.

Packing don'ts
When deciding what to bring with you on your first trip, it is imperative to remember to that you are not coming to a drought-ridden land. Everything that you will ever need is available here. People coming here fill their bags with items like salt and sugar and spices etc, which are all available here.

When you first come here, you will be staying with someone, and no one is going to mind you using their groceries for a few days. Getting some ready-to-eat food, to get you through the first few days is okay. Thereafter, you should make sure that you make the trip to the local grocery store to get what you need. The sooner you get acclimated and mobile the better it is. Even carrying Indian groceries like tea, and dals, and spices is not really required. If there is no Indian grocery store near your university, there are on-line stores ( where you can buy your groceries.

The all-important paperwork
A very important part of the whole transition is staying organised. Come with copies of all your paperwork (passport, visa, I20, etc) and carry most of your finances in Travelers checks, and have copies (front and back) or all the checks. Scanning all your documents and emailing them to yourself or anyone else is also a very good way of keeping a copy.

One of the first things you should do is open a bank account. This also means that if you have never written a check or a deposit slips, make sure to do so; it is the same process in the US and in India.

Remember to open a back account, and get a debit card. This card is similar to a credit card, only you can spend only what is in your account. It is also a lot safer than carrying cash around.

Since this is a different country, almost everything is different over here. Try to get used to some of the terminology before hand. Being able to communicate easily is also always an added advantage. Know for example, traffic signal is now a traffic light, petrol pump is now gas station, crossroad is now intersection, the ground floor is now the first floor, pincode is now zip code, and so on.

Also learn the currency: a penny is one cent, a nickel is five cents, dime is 10 cents, and a quarter is 25 cents. Knowing the currency makes it easier to carry out transactions, and reduces the chances of being duped.

Staying connected
Sometimes, people believe that an iPod or a TV is a better first buy than a cell phone. But, that's not necessarily true. Having a cell phone makes it easier to connect with your relatives, friends and prospective employers. You don't have to spend an exorbitant sum of money on it, and can usually find basic phones that come free with a service, and choose a monthly plan that doesn't strain your resources.

Earn while you learn
Also, be ready to take on any odd job you may get on campus, even if it is washing dishes or just cleaning the cafeteria. No job is too menial, and this first job is your first step to establishing your identity in the United States; it's like opening your United States account.

This job will give you a Social Security Number (SSN) which you will soon realise is the single most important number in your life in the US.

These may all seem like minor inconsequential things, and almost inane, but they can really make your ride a lot smoother. Be prepared for some serious change, leave all your inhibitions at home and get ready to sacrifice a little to gain a lot more!

Have you studied abroad? Do you have advice for students heading abroad? Helpful tips on how to tackle the visa interview or applications process? Did you encounter unexpected roadblocks when you applied to a foreign university but managed to overcome them? Are there paperwork issues that students should know about but don't? Write in to with your advice and we'll publish your tips right here on

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Shailee Mehta