Saturday, July 25, 2009

A to Z of Graduate Study in US

Guest Post By Brijesh Nair
New Bike by Krishna Kumar

Original Post here.

International students who come here for graduate studies find themselves in a totally different environment than they are used to back in their home country. Here is a comprehensive list of what you need to know when you come for graduate studies in US.

Assignment: Once a semester starts, a graduate student shall be doing at least one assignment a week. Most of the assignments may not be that easy as your undergraduate assignments back in your home country. Again if one starts working on it just the day before the submission, one may not finish it in time. For most of the courses, assignment plays a big role in the overall grades.

Bike: Bike or the bicycle is most probably going to be your mode of transportation during your study days in US. It is the cheapest and the fastest vehicle available for a graduate student to go from one point to another.

Credit Card: Your best friend in times of economic stress during your graduate studies. At least once during your studies you may be forced to use the credit card. Always remember one thing – if you don’t use it wisely it would land you in trouble forever.

Dollar: The scarce commodity in the hand of a graduate student. Always try to make both ends meet with whatever you have.

Exams: An integral part of the courses you take. Professors will be testing your practical knowledge rather than your theoretical knowledge as you are used to India. Initially you may find it tough but within few weeks you will get used to the system.

ast Food: At least once in a week you shall be eating from either Burger King or Taco Bell or McDonalds – the reasons – you are too lazy to cook or you don’t have time to go home for lunch; whatever be the reasons the result of eating from these fast foods will show up on your body in a year or so as you start gaining lots of weight.

Google: Your life as a graduate student revolves around Google. Google has answers for many of your problems Starbucks - A Popular Coffee Shop on Many College Campuses

Hourly Job: The first thing a graduate student starts looking for once he/she lands in US – some are lucky to get an hourly job that can pay for the day to day expenses.

Internship: Getting an internship is the dream of any gradate student. In addition to a good pay, an internship offers real time experience that will be very helpful in the job search after your graduation.

Jobless: When you come to do your graduate studies be prepared for the worst case – not getting any job during the extended period of your studies. The key here is not to loose hope and keep searching.

Kitchen: Never ever cooked in your life time? OK, things are about to change. You will be cooking food on your own or else you cannot survive on the money you make as a student.

Laundry: You wash your own clothes in the laundry machines in the apartment. It might be a new experience for a few.

Manage: Very important factor to succeed. You may have to do so many things (study, hourly job, cooking etc) at the same time and one has to be a good “manager” to succeed in all those.

Night Out: You may have experiences of “Night Out” during your undergraduate studies. But now be prepared for many more “Night Outs” especially during the last few days of the semester.

OPT: OPT or Optional Practical Training is the work permit with which you can work without a visa for a year for all graduates and for 29 months for some graduates (graduates of STEM). OPT process has become complex over years and you will be talking a lot about it starting few months before your graduation.

Party: Graduate study is not all about studies, it is also about parties. Friday and Saturday nights are meant for partying and you are going to have a lot of fun during these parties.

Quality: Whatever it be – studies, hourly jobs or exams or assignments it is the quality of the work that matters. Always strive to produce quality work and rest assured that you will be coming out with flying colors.

Room Mates: Don’t even think of staying in an apartment on your own when you come here for graduate studies. You may have to share a room with one or two or three others depending on the location of the school and your financial conditions.

Soda: You start drinking soda more than water. In some shops it is cheaper than buying drinking water.

Travel: Spring and summer break (total of 4 months) are for travel. You have lots of places to visit in the US and this is the right time to go. A nice way to spend time away from school and studies.

USCIS: US Citizen and Immigration Services or USCIS is the agency where you need to send all your documents for processing your visa and other immigration papers. You will be hearing a lot about this during your study days in US.

Visa: You will be force to think/talk about this almost every day you are in US. The F1 visa status places a lot of restrictions on students and you will be reminded of your visa status during your entire stay in US.

Walmart: One stop shop for all your shopping needs. You get almost all the stuff you need and more importantly at a very low price.

Yardstick: You should be keeping a yardstick for yourself all through your studies and see that you achieve those yardsticks. If you cannot, you should look back and see why you could not meet them.

Zest: The most important thing – the zest or enthusiasm to accept the challenges you face during the graduate studies and zest to overcome it. If you have that zeal everything else will fall in place.

Thank you for sharing your insight, Brijesh.
Studying Abroad/Learning Abroad Book
Cross cultural adjustment books and resources:
Culturally Speaking

Culture Shock! USA

Living in the U.S.A., Sixth Edition
Studying Abroad/Learning Abroad

Accent of Success, The: A Practical Guide for International Students.

Related Posts/Sites:
International Students Introduction to Life in America
Test Taking Trials and Tribulations in India- An American Studying in India
Indian Students in America: 83000 and counting!

Video Tutorials on Adjusting to Life in America as a College Student/Expat:
International Students in USA Tutorial Intro
International Students in USA - Chapter 1
International Students in USA - Chapter 2

tags: "indian students abroad", "students abroad", "culture shock", "cultural adjustment", "cultural competency", "international students", "international students orientation", orientation, "life in america","graduate students",america,"study in america","student life america","student life","college life","university life"

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bookshelf: Resources on Cross-Cultural Lifestyles and Adjustment Exploration

This post is dedicated to sharing with my readers a list of resources on various topics including Cookery - India and other Ethnic Tastes. Other topics include: Cultural and Travel Memiors, Cultural Adjustment - USA, Culture Shock/ Re-entry, English as a Second Language - English as a Culture, Etiquette, India - Culture and Lifestyle Adjustment, Indian Languages, Interfaith Cultures, International Holidays and Holy-days, Living, Working and Studying Abroad, Mind, Body, Health, Spirit, Travel Guides. It is noted that 90% of all books referenced I have personally read and benefited from!

See this store in a stand alone site, click here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Integrating Two Worlds: Life in America with an Indian Twist

By: Jennifer Kumar

This post has moved to my more popular blog, Study Abroad News. Click here to read.

Tags: "cross cultural", "cultural confusion", "cultural integration", "culture immersion", "culture shock", "hidden immigrant", "research", "reverse culture shock", "third culture kids"

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Test Taking Trials and Tribulations in India

By: Jennifer Kumar

It was 2001 November. I was supposed to have finished my final exams in May, but due to a college strike that confused exam fee payments, mine was never processed and hence it forced me back to the land of India after a few months absence to take the tests.

Today, in 2008, I found my old diary from the day of my first exam. In reading it, I impressed myself. If I had been given a test of that day itself, down to the littlest detail, I could study my diary and get full marks!

Here goes with the story...

Friday, November 9, 2001.

Today was the first day of my exams. Though the exams started at 9:30, I left the house toward the college at 8:30. I was due to walk from the West side of Tambaram to the East, over the train tracks to Madras Christian College. I was anticipating the route I used to traverse a little over two years ago when I first landed in Tambaram, before moving to Martin's Hall on the Madras Christian College Campus. I also looked forward to stopping along the way to buy a new pen- this would be my lucky pen for all my exams, including the one I was about to write.

Stopping at my favorite Sriram stationary stall, I was shown a wide variety of pens. The guys working at this stall knew me well as this was my favorite 'school supplies' store in the past two years. Because of this, they did not show me the most expensive pens because I was a foreigner, but because they knew these pens were my favorite. The great thing about buying pens at this stall was being able to try before buying. The consumer can get a good feel for how the pen writes. This was important to me, in preparation for one of four three hour long exams. Also, pens are sold singly, no need to buy in 10 piece packages. You can get as many as you need and come back for more as needed. I decided on buying my favorite pen- the cello pen, two in blue (each Rs. 15) and bic pen (rs. 5) in red for highlighting. I also purchased a 'scale,' (Rs. 5) a much needed item for making sure the answers are written in straight lines and highlighted with straight lines underneath.

In entering the room, I was relieved to see two other classmates in the same fate as me. I was not alone. We had a few minutes to catch up on news before the test was to start.

Test taking is an art in itself. I was not given any training in taking tests when I first landed in India. Yes, taking -or as they say- "writing exams" is a lot different than what I was used to in U.S.

Upon sitting down, the testing staff hand out blank pieces of paper. These white sheets of paper are about 10 inches by 14 inches rectangular. Sometimes this paper is also 20 by 14, folded in half. The papers all have one hole punched out of the top left. Then you are handed a tiny piece of string. This string is used to "tie your papers" together at the end of the exam. Generally, a student is given about 3-4 pieces of paper to start out with. If you want more, you can always request it as needed by raising your hand. It is also imperative to use both sides of the paper- no space is left blank- except the left margins.

Since the paper is unlined, it is required for the students to have a scale to place a margin on the left side, about 3/4 to 1 inch is preferred. Scales can also be used to write lines for one sheet to use as a guide underneath other sheets to make sure your writing is in a straight line and the spacing between lines is equal. The scale is also used for 'highlighting' important parts of your answer. Highlighting was not done with highlighters, but with a red pen and a scale, by underlining.

Keeping all this in mind can improve your marks. When I first landed in India, I did not put margins, keep my writing in straight lines or highlight important parts. I know I was docked for that. I was also docked for not having legible handwriting! Even then, I blamed that on e-mail! (Yeah, right!)

It is called 'writing tests' for a reason. Writing is done throughout the three hours. There was a story once of my classmate's sister who did all the right things on her test- margins, line spacing, neat handwriting and highlighting all the right parts. But, there were parts on her test to fill space she wrote about last night's cricket game! Ah, the shame! But leaving blank space or not having about 1 1/2 pages front and back per answer can also diminish your chances of getting 'full marks.' This goes to prove- "Who reads all that anyway!?"

Talking about marks- the test I was about to write would grant me 40 marks at the highest. It is rare if not a Guinness' world (or maybe in India's case, Limca's) record for a student to get 'full marks.' on a test. It was hard to be graded at 50% marks (20 out of 40). First rank or class toppers had the highest marks at 60%, second rank went to those with 50-60%, and third rank went to those with 40-50%. Those falling under that I believed had to repeat the class altogether.

Every test is also broken up into sections. In this test the break-up in points was as follows:
Part 1 - 10 questions - 2 points each - do all - 1 to 2 page(s) per answer - 20 pts.
Part 2 - 6 questions - 10 points each - pick 4 - 3 to 4 pages per answer - 40 pts.
Part 3 - 4 questions - 20 points each - pick 2 - 5 to 6 pages per answer - 40 pts.
100 pts. total

It is not only the test that appears to be 'against' you, but the atmosphere could also appear to be against you if you're not used to it. Tests were given in regular classrooms on the campus with open windows and no air conditioning. Students sat at wooden desks, two per table, on hard wooden chairs. The climate (weather) was very moist, sticky and hot (in the 80s)- normal for that part of the country, providing a very sultry, sticky place to take an exam. Though there were two ceiling fans in the room, it is quite possible they were not in use during this exam. Because of this, you'd frequently see students take their handkerchief from their pocket and wipe their foreheads throughout the exam. As it was also quite common for the power to be cut throughout the day, ceiling fans and tube lights would occasionally turn themselves on and off throughout the day as well.

As the test nears to an abrupt end, five minutes before we are all released, the test moderator informs us to 'tie our papers and write.' This announcement assures all the students papers will be secured together with the string I mentioned earlier. Staplers and paper clips were not used. Failure to tie your paper would definitely dock marks from you as test readers would not collate your sheets- you as the test taker are responsible for that.

When the time is up, the test moderator informs us and we all get up at the same time, hand in our papers and leave the room, collecting our book bags and belongings that set in the corridor in front of the classroom. Yes, all test takers generally leave all together when the test moderator signals time is up- rarely do students leave testing rooms before time is called even if they are done writing- it doesn't look good. I learned that the hard way!

So, this is a day in the life of taking a test back in 2001 in Madras Christian College, India. I wonder how it has or hasn't changed. If you have any feedback leave it in the comments below.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Can you handle cultural immersion?

By: Jennifer Kumar

When I originally prepared to go to India to study, I read a book on an American who studied somewhere in Africa. When he returned, he referred to his parents and family members by terms he learned in the native language of the African country he studied in. No doubt, not another American soul for miles forced this type of cultural immersion. It was his personality that accepted and integrated this behavior.

I wanted that to be me, in India, all alone, no other Americans around for miles.

Maybe that was one reason, beside the financial reason, that encouraged me to discontinue my preplanned study abroad program. I had taken the time to consider how much cultural immersion I wanted. I had found out my study abroad experience to India would be travelling with a group of Americans, possibly studying in the same class with them and bunking with them also. The type of personality I am this offered me too much of a comfort zone to go out on my own and meet the locals as it were. I knew I had to be the only American in the area (for the most part) to get the experience I want, almost like the one the student above had.

Of course, that is why many students study abroad; to learn about another culture through cultural immersion. Though there are many factors to consider in your study abroad choice, the amount of cultural immersion desired should be carefully considered.

Do you want to be the only American (or person of your nationality) in your classes and in your dorm (hostel)?
Do you want to travel with a group from your college, but be in class with locals, stay with a host family or with local students in the dorms?
Do you want to travel with a group, be in class with this group and also bunk with this group?
Do you want some mixture of the above?

When I was in India, foreigners did come and spend short periods of time in the college at various degrees of immersion. Two students from St. Olaf college actually stayed in the hostel with the Indian students for a few months, following the same strict rules and curfews as all the rest. Then, there were foreign students who stayed in the guest house. These students that came in groups of 10 or more studied in the same classes together (classes did not have Indian students, though they may have been taught by a local professor), and bunked together. It was infrequent you'd see them mingling with the Indian students, especially in one-on-one situations. Looking at them, I knew if I had taken my original study abroad program through the American university, I would have been one of them. I can appreciate the difficulty in acculturating to India. It's not easy. Being in a group of Americans may make it seem like it's easier. It's all in how you look at it. For me, I know I would have been tricked by the facade of the American group- thinking I can make it in India, I have my posse with me. But, also it's hard to assimilate a culture when you're only hanging out 'with your own' - even if you are in another land!

Some people do need the comfort of that group. I respect that. It's hard to socialize with people who may not be fluent in your language or way of speaking English. I know, I been there! If you need a comfort of the group, going it on your own definitely should not be considered. Culture shock at your detriment can happen in that case. Culture shock can happen anytime you live in a place that is new to you, but when you are in a foreign country with a totally different culture learning about the rules ahead of time is not like having to live them. Intellectually knowing something and behaving out of thought or habit are different sides of the coin. This requires an open minded attitude in thought and being conscious about changing your behaviors if it is required for your success in your study abroad location.

In fact, I firmly believe once you experience your study abroad culture shock and then adjust the best you know how, you will be able to handle the ups and downs and changes of life with a different type of ease and grace than your counterparts who have not had this experience.

Related articles: Is Mine a Case of Reverse Culture Shock (Reflections on adapting back to American life after a life in India.)