Six Unexpected Surprises of Studying in the US
Attending a US college is a dream for many Indian students, given the quality and range of educational and career opportunities. Growing up in India, however, leaves many students conditioned to a certain way of life that doesn’t exist in the US. Moving to America will challenge many of your assumptions about your host nation and the world at large. Below I outline six of the more unfamiliar things Indian students face upon reaching campuses in the US.
1) Adjusting to Adult Life:
Many Indian kids, especially ones from affluent backgrounds, grow up sheltered with endless assistance from their parents and relatives at every stage of their lives. Unfortunately, this sort of hand-holding only goes so far once adulthood arrives at the age of 18. On a US college campus, all students are treated as adults, responsible for their own learning, development, and actions. Among other things, you are now responsible for maintaining your own schedule, ensuring timely submission of all your assignments and figuring out what you want to do later in life by exploring various career options.
2) Mediocre Public Transport:
With exceptions of some major cities, the US public transport options leave a lot to be desired. In fact, some of America’s subways make Delhi’s metro look luxurious. Since the US boasts a driving culture, most cities haven’t developed an efficient public transport system. Also, there are few taxis and no rickshaws for quick trips. Fret not, ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft work better than any taxi and Zip Cars can be ‘rented’ for longer excursions.
3) An Abundance of Junk Food:
So, you think India epitomises junk food mania? Wait until you get a soda at a US movie theatre–even the smallest serving size will fill you up so that you won’t want more for at least a week! Junk food and sugary beverages are so common and cheap in the US that they’re hard to avoid even if you try. Add to that the fact that everything is ‘supersized’ and your waistline will be in trouble!
4) The Extreme Weather:
I know how much you hate Mumbai’s humidity, or Delhi’s heat or cold. If you think you’ve endured the most extreme weather after that one winter in Delhi, that will change when you get to North America. With many top schools in the northeast–New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Boston, and Amherst, you will experience the coldest of the cold. Months of snow and subzero temperatures may seem insurmountable at the outset but will make you tougher in the long run.
5) The Tipping Culture:
Including an extra 10-20 percent fee on almost all services is something that we’re just not used to in India. The fact that tipping is ‘voluntary’ (but is really not) will confuse and annoy the heck out of you. Don’t worry, you’ll learn to accept the fate of your poor wallet after a few disagreeable looks from the wait staff. Note that often restaurant staff do not even earn a minimum wage because of expected tips. So their insistence stems from necessity. A related point here is that the US is expensive, for everyone.
6) Unfamiliar Conventions:
In the US, you drive on the right-hand side, write dates backwards, use alien units such as pounds and miles, and everyone arrives on time except maybe you and your Indian friends. Getting used to an entirely different set of day-to-day conventions can be uncomfortable even though you’ll get used to it in the end!
Even though you may experience many cultural differences as an international student in the US, eventually you adjust to the culture. This is when you can start taking advantage of all that a US college experience has to offer and make your time here truly remarkable.
Ayush Sharma is a guest blogger for The Red Pen and final year computer science student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)