Pressure cooker and other tips for US-bound students

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS
Monday, July 12, 2010

NEW DELHI - American youths like space and so, keep a “talking distance” of at least 10 yards while speaking to a peer on campus. Keep a pressure cooker handy. Those are among the crucial lifestyle lessons being offered to US-bound students from India.

Lifestyle classes are becoming the key to overcoming culture shocks on American campuses for the increasing number of under-graduate and post-graduate students to the US from urban middle class homes and smaller cities across India. On an average, 10,000 students go to the US every year from across the country.

“If American classmates enquire ‘how’re you doing’, do not gush into a litany of woes. Most likely, you’ll be snubbed. The one-line quip is a standard American way of greeting on the campus,” lifestyle instructors Sameer M. Pathak and co-instructor Gurveen Chadda chanted like mantra.

They were addressing 103 US-bound students for the fall term at an orientation programme in the capital. Several students were from the smaller tier-2 cities of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.

The pre-departure orientation conducted by USIEF (Education Advising Services, United States-India Educational Foundation) at the American Center educated Indian students on cultural differences, greetings and even body language.

Other issues included sensitive political issues, leisure activities, university and academic modules, honour code against plagiarism and admission procedures on American campuses.

Lifestyle orientation is mandatory for Indian students who enrol in American universities post-school, said Renuka Raja Rao, country coordinator of USIEF.

“Their lives can be disrupted by the cosmetic difference in lifestyles between the US and India - the American dazzle and the challenges posed by the changing global order,” Rao told IANS.

She said the number of Indian students to the US has increased this year with the economy showing signs of recovery.

“Last year, it had dipped as recession forced spending cuts. Higher education in the US still continues to be a magnet,” she said.

For most students, “food, clothes, safekeeping of documents, housing and cultures” are the areas of concern and adjustment, said moderator Rupali Verma, education advisor for northern India.

The lessons are down-to-earth.

“Keep the passports with the 1-94 and 1-20 forms (departure and citizenship records respectively) on person and the rest of the papers either in a file and stored in computers for easy downloading,” Steven King from the US Department of Homeland Security advised the students.

Those who go up north to smaller university towns should carry a good Indian pressure cooker because at the end of the day most students want to eat Indian food.

“It cuts cost for PG students boarding off-campus and ensures better health.

Almost all American towns have shops selling Indian spices,” said Pathak, who has been hosting the pre-departure session for last four years.

Carrying pirated CDs, DVDs and university course books is legally banned. “Nearly 80,000 people are detained by the US authorities at the ports of entry every year for carrying pirated merchandise,” the counsellor said.

This year the Indian freight service, DHL, is offering 30 percent discount to transport campus baggage from India to the US to avoid excess fee.

Money, however, is no longer a problem for Indian students in the US unlike a decade ago when they counted their dollars.

“The increase in remuneration of government employees in the country has given middle-level officers more financial leverage space to send their children abroad to study. American degrees are sought after in the Indian wedding market,” Pathak told IANS. “Undergraduate students splurge now,” he said.

(Madhushree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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