Indian students: Ready, but not prepared, for overseas studies

On January 7, an IIT Hyderabad (IITH) graduate, Shiva Karan,
committed suicide in USA. He was a student at the North Carolina State
University, Raleigh, USA. The reason behind his suicide is unknown, but his
friends said he was planning to come back to India. Kanthi Hanumanth, a volunteer
member at the Telugu Association of North America, when asked about Shiva,
said, “He used to speak with us often, but he never discussed anything about
suicide. We are probing in this matter, though his body was sent to India on
January 13, 2016.”

It can be difficult to generalize the challenges which Indian
students face when they go out of the country for higher studies. PaGaLGuY
spoke to Aanchal Chobisa, an Electronics and Computer engineering student at
the University of Portland. She said, “There is a lot of coursework to complete
in a short period of time. University of Portland follows a trimester pattern,
which makes studying nerve-wracking for me. But there are ways to cope with it.
We have free of cost recreational services which includes fitness classes,
outdoor sports, ski programs etc.”

She added, “One thing we have to worry less about, when
studying in USA, is competition. Students don’t compare grades here, and unless
you disclose your grades, your peers won’t know what you’ve scored. Also, I
think that most of this type of pressure is actually created by family and
society. They create a sense of competition and expect us to excel more than
our peers.”

Indian students are not only going to USA but also to UK,
Australia, Canada, etc. Some students have positive experiences to share and
some have negative experiences. Prof Manish Bhattacharya, Dean of Student
Affairs at IIT Kharagpur (IITKgp), who corresponds with IITKgp graduatesstudying
overseas, said, “Many of my past students are in USA for higher studies. But
none of them have reported a single problem to me.”

PaGaLGuY spoke to Maria Morris, a professional counsellor at
IITH to find out the difficulties which international students face overseas.
She said, “It is not just one scenario that can create stress. A particular
situation can be normal for one student but might trigger depression or suicide
in another student.”

Nikita Soni, an engineering graduate at the University of
Florida, said, “When I moved to USA in January 2015, I was worried about how I
will manage my studies. In India, we are told to cram topics and give the exam.
We are not asked to implement our knowledge. But it is different in USA.”

She continues, “At the University of Florida, we are graded
on the basis of our overall performance, including classroom work, laboratory
attendance, extra-curricular activities; and if I don’t maintain my grades, I
will be removed from the course.”  If a
student’s scores are less than 3 Grade Point Average (GPA), then he/she is
removed from the university, a practice carried out across most universities in
USA.

The biggest challenges an Indian student faces while
thinking of studying overseas are funding and academic pressure. In case a
student is unable to raise enough funding, they are allowed to work and earn part
time, in parallel to their studies, with a limit of 20 hours a week. However,
sometimes, they tend to work more than 20 hours to raise enough money to pay
their fees and expenses. Kanthi adds that students struggle when they work over-time,
as they get less time for studies.

Some students feel that their shy and introvert nature can act
as constraint. But Kanthi, originally a native of Hyderabad, said, “If the
student is hard-working and passionate about the course, then he/she will
manage to deal with the challenges.”

Sometimes students fail to seek assistance from counsellors,
help groups, or peer groups. Prof M.S. Sivakumar, Dean of Student Affairs at
IIT Madras, told PaGaLGuY, “Some students are unable to handle failure, which
decreases their level of confidence. When they are here, in India, they speak
to their friends and family, to discuss their problems. They don’t go to a
counsellor, so it is uncertain if they will go to a counsellor in USA. Also, adapting
in a different environment takes time, that doesn’t mean he/she should give up.”

Students go
to different countries in search of better research facilities, job
opportunities, or a different environment. Although, initial transition can be
difficult, students can gain confidence by making friends and interacting with
people from different culture.

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