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Strangers in a foreign land

Unable to cope with cultural and social pressures, many Indian students drop out of foreign universities and return home without a degree or a job.

education Updated: Oct 08, 2013 13:08 IST
Jeevan Prakash Sharma

A mother from Mumbai used to call up her son, who was studying at The University of Northampton, UK, to wake him up every morning, so that he did not miss his morning classes. Had the mother not done that, he would have dropped out and returned home sans a degree or a job.

Ranjit Ghosh, a B Tech student from Kolkata, went to pursue his MSc in management from City University, London. He dropped out of the course after the first semester, because his financial ­planning went horribly wrong. He ended up losing Rs. 5 lakh.

These are just a few stray instances which suggest that going abroad to study does come with its own set of risks. Experts and ­admission counsellors ­say that around 30% to 40 % Indian students remain isolated from other students and struggle to ­effectively handle financial, cultural, social and academic pressures. Some of these ­students are so depressed that they give up their ­education half-way through.

Shweta Chawla, whose son dropped out from one of the leading foreign universities in the UK, says, “My son was a protected kid who never took any responsibility for his life. A few months after moving to the UK, he alienated ­himself from other students, and his grades fell. We brought him back to Delhi and admitted him to one of the DU colleges. He might have been under pressure and was, perhaps, unable to cope with the responsibilities that come with staying in a new place.”

Be self-reliant
Many admission counsellors believe that Indian ­students are not culturally ­groomed to be ­self-dependent. “A majority of youngsters are ­unable to take their own ­decisions because that has been done ­traditionally by their parents,” says Shalu Bhuchar, India ­admissions manager, Vancouver Institute of Media Arts.

Adjustment is key
One way to effectively adapt to a new environment is to avoid having preconceived notions about the new place or its people. Ekta Lad, a student from Pune who is pursuing a course in regulatory science at the University of Southern California, says that the culture shock quotient forces many Indian students to either shut ­themselves off completely or turn into raving party animals themselves.

Education counsellors also are of the view that cultural adjustment is as important as academic preparedness and a good financial planning. “In an international university, you will meet people from diverse backgrounds. Savour the environment, be curious without being judgmental,” says Adarsh Khandelwal, ­co-founder, Collegify, which specialises in admission ­counseling.

Says Jeremy Hutchinson, director, ­academic affairs, Les Roches International School of Hotel Management, Switzerland, “The number of Indian students who return due to their inability to cope with any kind of pressure is only about 1%; ­cultural diversity poses a real challenge, if you cannot adapt to it.”

Plan your finances
The second most important reason why students drop out is bad financial planning. “Students should take a calculated financial risk and always have something to fall back on. Many students take education loans, thinking that they will get a part-time job, but it may not work out,” says Jaivani Bajaj, chief mentor from International College Of Financial Planning, Delhi.

Ghosh agrees: “When I went to City University, London, I thought I would get a part-time job and earn around 700 to 800 pounds every month. I managed to get a job which fetched me just about 300 pounds. I had to drop out, as I was unable to manage my expenses or pay EMI on my education loan.”

Be participative

The academic style at most foreign universities is different from Indian institutes, it’s more process-driven and hands-on. “There is not much emphasis on grades in good foreign universities, where the focus is more on actual learning,” says Khandelwal.

According to ­students in ­universities in USA, only those who isolate themselves feel the academic pressure. So participate, mix freely with everyone, and most importantly, focus on your goals.

Some dos and don’ts

Start being responsible for yourself. Your mom, dad, brother or sister is not going to wake you up and cook for you. Deal with it
Learn to do your laundry, fold your own clothes and clean your own loo. Don’t wait for someone else to clean the bathroom – no one’s coming to do it
Experiment with a few basic dishes that’ll ensure you don’t go hungry and are not eating out every day
Learn to manage your accounts and finances. Practise the basic etiquette of communication in India itself – close loops, revert to email communication promptly and within time, etc
When you join college, be accountable for timelines, ­communication, delivery and quality of assignments you turn in
Have fun, hang out with your friends, but remember their ­culture is vastly different from yours. Observe, absorb and then adopt those nuances that leave you
confident – not guilty
You may find yourself in the company of friends who drink alcohol. Do not succumb to peer pressure. Do not indulge in such habits if you are not comfortable with it, because it might dent your confidence and make you feel guilty
Don’t miss/bunk classes because it makes you seem “cool” or because you had a mother of a hangover. You are a mature adult, so act responsibly
Stop comparing yourself with others as it can impact you ­negatively. Yes, you will meet people who are fairer, dress up better or are smarter than you. Take it in your stride and have a sense of humour about it. Focus on the reason why you are here and work towards reaching your goals
By the way, every student is equal: nobody there cares about whose son/daughter you are. So drop the pretensions and the obnoxiousness
Be on time. Pipe up! Learn to ask questions and get your doubts
clarified. Stay committed to your work/education
You will receive feedback – constructive and positive. Accept both gracefully, and work towards improving your negative areas