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RED CARPET Indian students headed for higher studies in the U.S. allay their fears and face up to home truths at a pre-departure orientation session addressed by alumni

LONG-DISTANCE travel at the best of times can send butterflies flitting about in your stomach, especially if you are flying for the first time and that too to a country with an intimidating reputation of being security obsessed. It is precisely to allay common fears that the American Center in the Capital held a predeparture orientation session for students admitted to under-graduate and master's programmes at U.S. universities.

The session -- 'Getting Off to a Great Start: Preparing to Leave' organised by the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF) -- saw the students sharing concerns ranging from security checks to the size of bed sheets to be used, and a team of student panelists sharing their American experience.

And for the first-timers, the American experience can begin even before they board the flight, thanks to the stringent security checks that are mandatory for U.S. airlines. "Be aware of the contents inside your bag and where they are kept," advised Nikita Sachdeva, an undergraduate student studying Economics and Math at the University of Chicago. "Do not give security officials the opportunity to pick up something that you are surprised to see in the first place. Even if you carry gifts for your friends or relatives, make sure you are aware of the contents," Sachdeva added. And don't get annoyed if you feel the security officials are a little too intrusive with their questioning. "Be patient and don't ask counter-questions," Bhavana Murali, who has completed her undergraduate studies in Genetics at Ohio Wesleyan University, said. Once you move into your university, the best people to help you around are other international students, so get in touch with them even before you pack your bags. "A lot of American universities offer pickups from the airport, but for this you have to get in touch with volunteers at the international office," said Sameer Pathak, who has a master's in E-Business and MBA from the University of Wyoming.

University websites will guide you to their respective international student offices, and to connect with the Indian community in the university, type in a popular surname. "Go to the university directory on its website and type Patel or Shah. It is the easiest way to find Indian students," Pathak pointed out. But don't delude yourself into thinking that the moment you get Indian help, you will automatically fit into the American way of life and culture. The term 'culture shock', after all, exists not for nothing.

"There'll be a phase when you will crave for Indian food, have trouble understanding the Americans and get angry," cautioned David Mees, Cultural Attache at the US Embassy, and added by way of assurance: "It's just cultural shock and it'll pass." Over 104,000 Indian students are now studying in American universities and their number is next only to their compatriots from China. "U.S. campuses have seen a significant increase in the number of undergraduate students over the past decade," Renuka Raja Rao, Country Coordinator, Education USA Advising Services, USIEF, pointed out. "Before the year 2000, Indian students who went to pursue undergraduate studies added up to less than 1 per cent; now they constitute 11 per cent of the Indian student population in the U.S."

It is often adversity, or necessity, that brings out the best in students. "The best way to learn is by confronting the challenges head-on; it is also a part of the fun," said Pathak. Even simple things like knowing the size of your bed before ordering a bedsheet or learning how to cook can win you the brownie points of your roommates. "Or else you will end up washing utensils for the rest of your academic life," Pathak added on a light note. But that comes with the territory and you've got to learn to love it.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Jul 10, 2012
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