The US has long been a popular destination for Indian students wanting to study abroad for higher education. With 4000+ universities and colleges from which to choose, a melting pot of cultures on campus and a lot of independence on campus, many things took me by surprise.
Here are five things that I was pleasantly surprised by when I first arrived in the US:
1) Academic and personal freedom:
Individual choice and liberty are some of the founding values of the US. And colleges in the US are a microcosm of those values. A US college experience is designed around the central idea of academic and personal freedom.
First, most colleges don’t require you to stick to the major you may have indicated on your application. Instead, students can switch their field of study fairly easily. Unlike some other higher education destinations where both the major and the curriculum are rigidly predetermined, US colleges are incredibly flexible. There are plenty of elective courses to take within or outside a major study area. The required courses are there to provide structure, but leave plenty of room for exploring individual interests. If you wanted to try your hand at creative writing or delve deep into the world of history, this is the perfect opportunity to broaden your horizons.
Most importantly, US colleges allow a degree of personal freedom that is unfamiliar in India, because college students are considered adults. For example, girls and boys often live in the same dorm (but not as roommates), and there’s no moral policing of interactions with the opposite sex.
2) Top-quality infrastructure:
In the US, you can expect any college’s infrastructure to be top-notch, especially when compared to that of colleges in India. Expect to encounter well-equipped labs that allow you to gain hands-on skills, massive libraries that contain any book or learning resource you may ever want, modern gyms and recreation centres, as well as a health centre for medical assistance. In addition, there are few formalities or bureaucracy around student services and everything is designed to work together.
3) World-class experts as your professors:
There’s a book named Introduction to Algorithms, commonly referred to as CLRS (last initials of four of its authors). CLRS is widely regarded as the bible of algorithms and is used worldwide in colleges. Guess what? Two of the authors, L and R, teach at my college. Akamai, the company that hosts as much as one-third of the Internet, was founded by an MIT professor whose course I was able to take my sophomore year. You get the point, here you have the opportunity to have world-class experts as your professors. It’s surreal. And what’s more, you can even catch up with them after class and gain insight into their thoughts outside the classroom. You should definitely take advantage of this!
4) Diverse cultural immersion:
US colleges attract talented students from across the world. This translates to an exceptionally diverse set of peers who bring cultural richness with them. You can savour Mongolian hot pot, juicy NY cut strip steak and traditional Japanese sushi. You can watch Broadway shows and enjoy Korean Karaoke and Russian ballet. You have the opportunity to understand the US, but also witness the struggles of African-Americans and Jewish populations and even the historical discrimination faced by Italian and Irish immigrants, African-Americans or Hispanics. Making friends outside of your ethnic group also allows you to spend time with their families who often have interesting stories to share. Such diverse experiences can help you develop a more open and inclusive worldview.
5) Unparalleled opportunities:
Most people, when considering studying in the US do so on the promise of unparalleled opportunity and do I have good news for them? Absolutely. Opportunities abound on US college campuses and the sky truly is the limit. All types of organisations including established companies, promising new startups and even charitable organisations will come to your college’s career fair to recruit. Amazingly talented students will go on to become crucial connections throughout your professional life. Whether it’s conducting cutting-edge research or joining a new startup, a US college can provide a safe foundation from which to take your career further.
Coming to the US to study as an international student can be nerve-wracking, but there’s much to look forward to. Taking advantage of all that a US college experience has to offer can truly be remarkable. To begin your journey, get in touch with The Red Pen.
Ayush Sharma is a guest blogger for The Red Pen and studied computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the founder and CEO of an early-stage startup that’s focused on stealth.