Articles

Myths and Realities of studying in the USA

Common Myths

  1. People in USA earn 45 times more than people in India and hence are rich.
  2. You can save like hell in USA
  3. Studying is very hard. The syllabus is totally different.
  4. You can make a lot of American friends.
  5. You will go on a date every weekend with an American girl!
  6. You are in New York. Once in a while you can go and meet your cousin in California since he is in USA.
  7. There are a lot of Indians in your University and hence it is easy to move around.
  8. You have to bring everything from India. Things that can be brought from India:
  9. Electronic goods are cheaper in USA.
  10. You cannot take Pickles and the like to USA. Customs forbids it.
  11. You cannot work outside the campus in USA. It is illegal.
  12. You have to get the first rank and gold medal once you complete the degree!
  13. Always use cash. Do not use credit cards and others. You will spend more.
  14. You can visit India once a year.
  15. Mail all the people once a day and write twice a month!

Introduction Of late coming to USA for one reason or other seems to be a kind of liability in India. Two years back when I was in India, going to USA was something out of the ordinary. Only people with extraordinary talent and those who were studying in top-rated universities like IIT, BITS Pilani, IIM, etc. could even dream about it. For others, it was strictly off limits. But time keeps moving and my, how has it changed in the last couple of years. Nowadays, I believe that finding a family without a cousin, brother or sister living in America is a rarity. If you say to someone that you are from USA, people get down to specific details than just "Oh, America vaa". A typical conversation would look something like this (I am reminded of S Ve Shekar's Ellarum Vaanga drama).Me: Hello. Other guy: Saar, enga irunthu varinga?Me: (a bit proud) Ippo Americala vela paathuttu irukken. Leavela vanthirukken.Other guy: (a bit sarcastic) Enna, softwareaa?Me: (puzzled) Aaamaam. Other guy: (more sarcastic) Consultantaa illa permanentaa?Me: (slightly humiliated) Consultant. Bell-labs la vela paathuttu irukken.Other guy: Enga, New Jersey yaa..Me: (astonished) Aamaam. Ungalukku eppadi theriyum?Other guy: (proud) Namba Kichaa kooda anga thaan vela paakkaraan. Etho Manageraam.Me: (vaszhisal) Appadiya.. Hee Hee. Other guy: Ippo weather ellaam eppadi irukku? Ore snownnu kelvippatten. CNNla sonnan. Me: (irritated) Yea. Konjam snow jaasthi. Other guy: Kamalaa kooda rendu maasam munnadi pona. Kulir thaangalayaam. Me: (bored) Oho.. Other guy: (slightly mischievous) Atlantic City poittu vanthaachaa?Me: Illa.. Innum pogala. Other guy: (astonished and angry) Enna. Innum pogalaaya. Jora irukkume. Casino ellaam pramaadhamnu Paarthu sonnan. Avan ippo Somersetla thaan irukkan. Athu enna unga veettu pakkamaa?Me: Illa rendu mani neram drive pannanum. Other guy: Summa weekendla poittu varathu thaane. Maithili nalla samappaaa. Me: Mmm. Sari. Other guy: Appadiye pogum pothu rendu podi packet koduthu anupparen. Ange koduthudungo. Komala voda podi illennu Maithilikku ore kavalai. Enna thaan irunthaalum namma oor samayal maathiri varumaa!!!As you can see, nowadays, people seem to be more knowledgeable about USA than ever before. The marriage market seems to be in an all time high for people in USA and the jobs do not seem to reduce. Thus said, let me come to the main topic. How to survive in USA once you come here? You might have had a lot of information about applying to USA and getting into the right college and so on. But more importantly, you should also be mentally prepared to face the change in your lifestyle that is about to happen when you set your feet here. Before we tackle the various aspects of change, let me first tell you about a few myths that have been running around in India regarding USA.

  1. People in USA earn 45 times more than people in India and hence are rich.
  2. You can save like hell in USA.
  3. Studying is very hard. The syllabus is totally different.
  4. You can make a lot of American friends.
  5. You will date every weekend with an American girl!
  6. You are in New York. Once in a while you can go and meet your cousin in California since he is in USA.
  7. There are a lot of Indians in your University and hence it is easy to move around.
  8. You have to bring everything from India.
  9. Electronic goods are cheaper in USA.
  10. You cannot take Pickles and the like to USA. Customs forbids it.
  11. You cannot work outside the campus in USA. It is illegal.
  12. You have to get the first rank and gold medal once you complete the degree!
  13. Always use cash. Do not use credit cards and others. You will spend more.
  14. You can visit India once a year.
  15. Mail all the people once a day and write twice a month!

Let me clarify these myths one by one.

  1. People in USA earn 45 times more than people in India and hence are rich.
  2. You can save like hell in USA
  3. Studying is very hard. The syllabus is totally different.
  4. You can make a lot of American friends.

Aha... You cannot be far from the truth than this. Well, true that some of us make nice American friends, but as far as I have seen, I would say that it constitutes around 5% of those who come here. There are three reasons for this:

  1. You usually do not get a chance to mix with Americans unless they are in your class or in your research group.
  2. You would prefer an Indian anytime to an American if you can get a chance.
  3. Americans do not care less.

Some of you might immediately start complaining, but face it. This is usually true, though not always.

  1. You will date every weekend with an American girl!
  2. You are in New York. Once in a while you can go and meet your cousin in California since he is in USA.

Wrong again. Though parents and other relatives would tell you to visit so-and-so, it is very difficult to do so because of the following reasons:

  • The travel is expensive. It will cost you around $200 for the whole trip.
  • The person who you meet will usually be busy. Here, you get a chance to be free only in weekends and holidays. All other days, you just work.
  • You might not get that much free time since you are doing research.
  • You are just plain lazy to make the trip.
  1. There are a lot of Indians in your University and hence it is easy to move around.
  2. You have to bring everything from India.

This is not true in most of the cases. Here is a list of general things that are more expensive in India than in US and vice versa.

Things that can be brought from India:

  • BooksMake sure that you communicate with someone who already studies in the University that you got admission in and get all the books from India. Books are the most expensive items in USA and it would save you a lot of money if you get them from home. A comparison:Object-Oriented design patterns - $60 - Rs.150How to Program C and C++ - $70 - Rs.250* CassettesIf you like music, then I would strongly suggest that you bring a lot of cassettes from India that contains your favorite songs. One thing is that you do not get too many Indian cassettes around here. The other thing is that they are very expensive. A comparison:Michael Jackson Dangerous - $11 - Rs.100* Eating itemsBring all sorts of podis, etc. from your home. Not necessarily too much, but may be 1 Kg of each. Usually some universities do not have good Indian stores near them.* Toilet items - Toothpaste, soap, toothbrush, hair cream, etc. Bring these items (preferably two or three of each) from India, as they are expensive here. A comparison:Toothpaste (Colgate) - $2.50 - Rs.30Soap - $0.40 - Rs.7Toothbrush - $2.00 - Rs.10Shampoo - $4.00 - Rs.30* Dress - shirt, pant, inner garments. I would strongly suggest that you bring around 10 - 12 pairs of inner garments from India! The main reason is that the inner garments used here are slightly different to that of India and might not be to your liking! Other thing is that shirts, t-shirts and pants are expensive here. A general comparison:Shirts - $15 - Rs.300T-shirts - $10 - Rs.150Pants - $25 - Rs.500However, Jeans are inexpensive here. A Wrangler jean costs around $15 here whereas it is around Rs.700 - Rs.1000 in India. Hence I recommend you to buy jeans here than in India.* UtensilsPersonally, I would prefer you to bring the following items:Vaanali - 1Karandi - Big, Small and MediumDosai kal - 1 (useful for omelets rather than dosai)Paatharam - Big, Medium and SmallOttai paatharam - For putting fried itemsIdukki - For holding hot vesselsParuppu (dal) - 1 Kg. I would not suggest you to get a pressure cooker, though most of you would get one as you can get a rice cooker here (costs around $15 - $20). It is easier to cook in a rice cooker than in a pressure cooker. And if you are with roommates, you can share the expense. You do not have to bring grocery items like sugar, salt, etc. They are quite inexpensive.# Electronic goods are cheaper in USA.
  1. You cannot take Pickles and the like to USA. Customs forbids it.
  2. You cannot work outside the campus in USA. It is illegal.This is again technically true. But some of the students do work in Gas stations, Indian grocery stores and Fast food restaurants for cash and minimum wage. Unless otherwise you have a very good reason, DO NOT work in these places. The reasons:* It is illegal. Though it is highly unlikely that you will be caught, the pressure will always be there.
  • It will severely affect your grades, since you will tend to get tired and deviate from your studies.
  • You will tend to become greedy and work more hours and eventually lose your grades.
  1. You have to get the first rank and gold medal once you complete the degree!
  2. Always use cash. Do not use credit cards and others. You will spend more.

This is totally not true. The US of A has this strange concept called as Credit history that is not practiced in India. There is an agency that keeps track of what you spend and how much you owe. Depending on that track record, you will get a cheaper rate on any loan that you take in future. One great advantage in coming as a student to USA is that you get 2 extra years to build your credit history. The credit history builds if you spend by credit card AND if you pay all your dues on time. The following things affect your credit history:

  • Failing to pay the minimum balance on a credit card
  • Keeping a due on a credit card for a long time
  • Bounced checks
  • Outstanding balance in any account that you might have
  • Too many inquiries on your credit history. This usually happens if you try to apply for too many credit cards.

Usually, the following are the best credit cards to apply for initially:

  • AT&T Universal Credit Card - Starts with a minimum of $500
  • American Express Credit Card - Starts anywhere from $500 - $2500 depending on luck!
  • Your bank's credit card - Usually the bank that you have account in will offer a card.

It is preferable that you do not apply for Citi Bank credit card initially since they tend to say that you do not have a permanent residence. The following points are to be taken into consideration when applying for a credit card:

  • The address is the address in USA (where you live) and NOT the address in India. If you put the Indian address anywhere, they will reject you on the grounds that you do not have a permanent residence here.
  • Your income is usually the stipend + the amount that is on your I-20. You can say that you earn $8000 a year and get $16000 from family sources. This will improve your chances of getting a card.
  1. You can visit India once a year.
  2. Mail all the people once a day and write twice a month!

This is probably the most difficult thing that one can do after coming here. First you will be mailing once a day or even twice. But as time goes and routine life sets in, you will be too busy or pre-occupied to send mails to almost everyone who mails you. Others have to understand that this is not an indication that the person who comes to USA forgets those in India. But it is just that you will not have the penchant to do it. This is very hard to be understood by those who do not experience it. All I can say is, "Please keep in mind that we do not forget you just because we do not write mails to you often!"I hope that all these explanations were useful to those who aspire to come to USA. If the response is good enough, I shall write another article about the various sects of Indians, fondly called as Desis and how to deal with them in the next article.

SO LONG AND GOOD LUCK!