Student Experiences

Students from India who are already in the United States are encouraged to submit their stories, incidents or experiences to help prospective students adjust to their new environment. Email your submissions to SharedExperiences@indianstudentguide.in for possible inclusion in this section. We suggest you limit your submissions to about 250 words.


It All Works Out…

It was a cold, snowy Saturday afternoon in January 1976 when I was living in a third floor studio apartment in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My doorbell rang, and I trudged down two flights of steps and opened the front door. The gust of frigid air was bone chilling. There in the doorway stood this Indian student, lips quivering and body shivering. He asked to come in; of course, I let him in out of the cold. After a few seconds of catching his breath he told me that he had just arrived from India a few days prior and was staying at the downtown YMCA. He had been admitted to the winter term at the business school at a local university. He was desperately looking to rent an apartment but did not know what to do, where to look, and how to go about the whole process of finding a place to live.

I took him up to my apartment, and while I made him some hot tea I asked him how he found me, another Indian student living in a nondescript building. He said that he went to the one and only Indian restaurant in Pittsburgh at the time (now there are more than 25) and asked for help and guidance from the owner who gave him my name as another student living very close to his restaurant. The restaurant owner knew me as the kid who would occasionally come in just to buy aloo paranthas. I could make chicken curry or some other Indian dish but had great difficulty making paranthas or any other rotis.

Shankar, the new Indian student, moved in with me for a few days until we found him an apartment of his own. I also made sure to help him buy a suitable jacket to face the Pittsburgh winter.

With the Internet and the quantum leap in the number of Indian students and population in general, many of the problems that we faced 30+ years ago do not exist for students now coming to the United States. Having said that, new students still need “subjective” advice on certain things (e.g. which neighborhoods are safe, inexpensive and convenient to live in or what kind of meal plan, if any, you should choose at the college or university you are attending, etc.).

If you have friends from back home who are already enrolled at the institution you will be attending, you do not need to read further as you will have ample guidance from them. But, if you are going to arrive in the city or town where you have no previous contacts, the old true and trusted methods may still help you:

Find the local Indian grocery store—there is generally one near any major college or university—or an Indian restaurant. Seek their help and advice.

If you have a yearning for an authentic North Indian meal, make your way to a local gurudwara on Sunday afternoon for a free “langar” meal. Most major towns and cities now have Indian temples. Network with the community by visiting them.

Get in touch with the Indian Student Association at the college you will be attending even before you come to the United States. They will help you and give you tips for that city.

Visit the International Student Office at the college as soon as possible. The staff there has encountered situations that you might be facing many times before. They are culturally sensitive and generally very helpful and empathetic.

Lastly, do not be afraid to ask questions. Within a week or two, you will start feeling comfortable in your new environment. It has worked out for the tens of thousands of us who came here before you and in the “dark ages” before the Internet or cell phones were even conceived!


Indian Roommates Keep Each Other Balanced in a Strange New World

When Sahil Thakkar and Pranay Nagar came to Michigan Technological University on the remote, snowy Upper Peninsula of Michigan, one of the only things they had in common was that they were very far from home.

They are an unlikely pair. Sahil is an undergraduate, working for his Bachelor of Science in Construction Technology. Pranay is a graduate student in mechanical engineering.

Their personalities are different too. Pranay is as sedate as Sahil is energetic. Older, with a wife and a baby son waiting for him back home, Pranay is working on a graduate degree so he can pursue an academic career in India. “Teaching is what I really like,” he says. “And I definitely want to do it at home.”

Sahil hopes to find a way to remain in the United States. “Maybe I’ll marry an American girl or join the Army,” he says, only half jokingly.

When Sahil and Pranay arrived on campus, they found each other through an online bulletin board for students seeking roommates. As different as they were, the two decided to share a house because both wanted a roommate who didn’t smoke, drink or party all night. And it’s worked well for them, because together, they create a perfect balance of energy and calm, activity and meditation.

And each has brought special gifts to the university, from Asian cuisine to yoga.

As a new undergraduate, Sahil lured TV Asia’s Midwest Bureau chief from Chicago to Houghton for the 2009 Parade of Nations because he wanted Indians everywhere to know how welcoming the university is to foreign students. And he did it just days before the event. “Let’s work on that for next year,” someone older and wiser suggested. “No,” Sahil declared. “Parade of Nations is important. They need to know about it now.”

Pranay smiles paternally. “Sahil is having that quality,” he observes.

Sahil also spearheaded Khana Khazana, a wildly popular ethnic lunch cooked by international students and served weekly at the Memorial Union Food Court.

Working for dining services on campus as a part-time dishwasher, Sahil simply cornered executive chef Eric Karvonen and retail dining manager Matt Lean and informed them that both campus and community were hungering for food cooked by international students.

“He was so enthusiastic and so sure he could make it work that we decided to let him give it a try,” says Lean. Khana Khazana is a wildly popular weekly event now, featuring dishes cooked by international students from many countries.

A native of ruthlessly hot western India, Sahil also plays the wintery game of broomball for the International Club. “A totally new experience, new game, new rules,” he recalls. “And all on ice! I was worried that I do not break my bones. But I enjoyed as soon as I landed in the rink.”

After earning a diploma in electrical engineering in India—the equivalent of an associate degree in the U.S.—Sahil was accepted at four universities.

“I am thankful to the School of Technology that they accepted me because I really like doing the hands-on work,” Sahil says. “Ever since I was a young child, I was loving mechanical things—opening them, breaking them, trying to fix them.”

Sahil had never seen snow before December 2009, his first winter at university in the U.S. During the first snowfall, he stood gazing out the window of their second-floor apartment for so long that Pranay asked, “Sahil, is something wrong?”

“He is never quiet for so long,” Pranay explains.

His mind always in overdrive, Sahil replied: “I want to produce energy from snow.”

Pranay, a devotee of Shaja yoga, teaches free workshops on the meditation technique on campus. “It’s a very easy way to realize and experience one’s inner self,” he says. “It is not a religion nor an ideology. Some of the benefits of Sahaja meditation are good health, mental and emotional balance, better concentration, stress relief, self knowledge, and peace.”

“Sahil motivates me, and I calm him down,” chuckles the 31-year-old Pranay.

Sahil, 22, considers Pranay part friend, part parent. “He makes food for me and keeps it ready when I am out at work or meetings. He himself cleans our room. He takes care of me like his young brother—and sometimes like parent. I am really thankful to god that I got a roommate like him.”

God was not always so important to Sahil. When he was studying for his diploma in India, he admits, “I was drinking, smoking cigars, doing things I should not do.”

Then one day, as the young man went through the motions of saying prayers with his father, mother, and younger brother, “suddenly I felt that I wasn’t worthy to be part of my family. I started following the path of Jalaram Bapa,” an Indian saint who grew grain to feed the poor. Sahil credits his passion for cooking to his patron saint, pointing out, “He fed people too.”

The Indian roommates still are stunned—although delighted—at some of the differences between India and Houghton, Michigan. Back home, Pranay worked fourteen hours a day, six or seven days a week, prepping students for the Graduate Record Exam and other qualifying tests. “Here,” he says, “people only work from 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. five days a week, and some of them complain about that.”

Sahil, who learned British English in school, says he sometimes has trouble pronouncing words American-style. Take, for example, the last letter of the alphabet. “It’s zed,” he protests, “and Americans say zee.” But what struck him most strongly is Americans’ “honesty, their innocence, the eagerness to help. If I walked on the road in India and smiled and talked to everyone, they’d think I was crazy. Here everyone smiles and talks to strangers. It is a good way to do.”


Experience as a Spouse

I first came to US as a 3 months old bride of a Graduate student. I came here with no expectations what-so-ever, because I knew nothing about this country, had practically known nobody in this country ever. I was on a dependent visa, which made me incapable of finding work here. I was left alone for most of the day because my husband would spend most of his time at school or studying at home. This made me sad and slowly I began thinking of myself as a loser, wasting her education and qualifications. Thoughts of returning home came rushing, but staying away from my husband for a long time (My husband is enrolled in a PhD program, of 5 years duration.) seemed almost impossible. Then I found out some new ways to keep myself busy and expand the horizon of my knowledge. I started making friends with people from all over the globe, this way by the end of the month I knew many people who would help me, talk to me, and teach me new things about their cultures. I learnt some interesting French, Chinese, Gujarati, and South Indian recipes. Sometimes I would get dressed up in some traditional Chinese, Japanese, or European dresses. I celebrated various festivals like the Chinese New Year, St Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving, Easter, Diwali, and Holi with my new friends. After a while I started to volunteer for some NGOs. All of this gave me loads of things to look forward to each day and increased my knowledge. I was no longer feeling depressed and sad about being “dependent” on my husband, because I found a new IDENTITY as a volunteer, a friend, and an International spouse who was spreading the Indian culture.


New found Confidence, Independence and friends:

My coming to the United States as a student has definitely broaden my horizon about life and knowledge in general. I have gained much confidence and independence than I could have, if I stayed with my family in India. I have already stated cooking full fledged meals for myself and will soon start driving, back home in India, driving was never required. I am no longer dependent on my family to make important decisions in life. This instills in me a sense of achievement and confidence which I never felt in past. Though being away from family and loved ones is tough, one can find friends for life here. At one occasion a total stranger helped me move some furniture, I badly required. It would not have been possible to do it without him. I have made friends with Americans, and they are as pleasurable as anyone else. They are not at all the way they are perceived in India. I participated in a picnic in an all-American group where, everyone was helpful, and willing to share their knowledge and showed me around. An American has as much sense of culture, religion, and service as any Indian.


In US, Diffrently Abled not Disabled!!

As a student with a disability, I am quite impressed with the U.S. disability laws and how they affect the lives of people with disabilities.

During the fellowship period, I had ample opportunity to interact with the faculty and students on a formal and informal basis. I found that people were keen to know about all aspects of Indian life and culture. I shared ideas about the situation of special education and people with disabilities in India. Other topics of discussion focused on the role of women in India, and in particular the role of women with disabilities. On several occasions people in the United States were surprised that I, being a person with a disability, had come under a Fulbright fellowship. In fact, the Fulbright Program has awarded grants to many people with disabilities.

Before leaving India, I had made all the necessary arrangements for accommodations, and for using a wheelchair and computer. I wrote to the university’s housing office informing them about my disability and requesting a wheelchair adapted flat. I also made all the necessary travel arrangements. All the people-from the host family who came to pick me up, to the professors and the accommodation office, to the wheelchair rental office-were helpful and I had no problems settling in and starting my studies.

Here are a few suggestion for all students, including students with disabilities:

  • Make necessary travel arrangements, including planning if there will be long waits in airports between flights.
  • Plan for someone to meet you at the airport and take you to your accommodation.
  • Arrange for special mobility appliances, if needed (most universities have disability services and they are very helpful with this and other matters).
  • Inform all relevant staff about the disability and its extent and the type of help that may be required.
  • Remember to keep in touch with family at home and the sponsoring agency.
  • Be prepared to work hard and be ready for an enriching experience.
  • Always have a contingency plan and do not panic in new situations.

Pre-application planning:

When I decided to come to the United State for my graduate degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences, I was a bit confused as to where to apply. I started to do some research online about which universities and colleges had strong programs in my area of interest. Besides the general education web sites, I found www.aacp.org ( for Pharmacy ) and www.usnews.com very useful. US News web site provides college rankings for various fields.

I established contact through Facebook with students from my college in India who were already in America and sought their input. Next, I visited the specific college web sites and studied the profiles of various professors to see what types of research they were doing. Before even applying to the colleges of interest to me I emailed selected professors. I sent them my resume and told them about my interests. I wrote to quite a few professors. Not all replied but some did. I then applied to those schools where I was able to establish some regular communication with professors that had common research interests. I am extremely happy with my selection of the college. I strongly recommend this to fellow graduate students who are planning higher education in America.


New Marriage, New Country

I came here as a graduate student enrolled to do a PhD, with no expectations what-so-ever. Having come here on a stipend and along with my three months old bride, life did not seem easy at first. Both of us had to make many adjustments to learn the ways of an Indian-American life. We were babies at managing a household, and that too so far away from home, without all those people to help and guide. With the initial hiccups we moved ahead taking one step at a time and being extra careful, something none of us had known before. While treading our way carefully, we made many friends–Indians, Americans, European, Asians, et al and each one brought a new set of knowledge. This helped us mature as a family, and take independent decisions, manage the monthly budget, live peacefully taking care of the others needs before self. One important advice that another couple who had come an year before us and were just three months into marriage helped us go this far—”Spend only on necessities for the first couple of months, like food and bills; when you know how much you actually are left with then spend on not so important things like biscuits, clothes, utensils, household goods, etc.” Life in the US has been good so far, it could not have been better, but be sure to come here with a positive attitude and enthusiasm to adjust. You have wonders waiting for you!


Spouse to Student

I came to US in fall ’06 on a F2 visa when my husband started his graduate studies. It was not easy for us initially, to manage our day-to-day life, without a car and credit card, but things improved quickly. We did get help from the seniors in my husband’s department, from the Indian Student Association on campus and from new friends whom we met after coming here. Now, I like the place and people here. I’m happy to be around extremely warm and friendly people. I took my GRE after about two months of coming here and I gradually involved myself in some course projects to keep in touch with studie. It was easy for me since I and my husband were from the same background (B. Tech in Comp Science). Eventually, I joined in as a PhD student in Fall ’07 and it has been great so far!


The Essentials

When coming from India, people will suggest you should carry this and that. My personal view is travel as light as possible. You may want to bring the few bare necessities for the first few days/ months, but then on you will get used to the new place and will realize that things are cheaper and better quality (especially western wear like jeans, T-shirts, skirts, shoes, joggers, both branded or otherwise; blankets, pillow, bed sheets, pots and pans, dishes, tooth paste, brush, belts, woolens, jackets, electronics, towels, watches, stationery etc) here than in India. Of course, I am not talking of the Indian food and groceries.