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College life, wherever you go, is going to be hard to adapt to at first, and especially if you stay on campus, far away from family. But one adapts.
Many Indian students aspire to study abroad right after school. They believe that getting into a reputed college in the States or the UK is the hard part, and it’s just a piece of cake after that. However, upon starting college life, they soon realise that all that glitters is not gold.
In general, college life gets harder for students. College life gets even harder for international students, like myself, who travel over 8000 miles away from home to become a part of an extremely prestigious yet competitive college such as University of Southern California.
Being a college student is hard. Being an International student in college is even harder. The sorts and sums of challenges that an international student faces are of different shapes and sizes than the ones native students do. For instance, apart from the obvious language barrier that most of the international students face, there are a number of other predicaments that transform the definition of life for these students, in four years, from a blessing to a challenge.
One of the common challenges that often hinders the path of International students are the cultural differences. Many international students, who have no prior exposure to the lifestyles and beliefs of other cultures, often find the cultural shock as an added burden to the other transformed and troubling aspects of their lives. Often, it takes more than a while to adjust to the brand new culture with ways of living that are not aligned with their traditional values.
Happily, a cultural shock was the least of my concerns when I first started college life, mostly because I had traveled around the world with my mom and dad. I had been to different countries in Europe and Africa before — that had exposed me to people from different cultures. Nevertheless, the concern that bugged me a lot since the day I started college at USC is the foundation of my self-esteem and self-confidence.
For a long while, I found myself lost in a whirlpool of thoughts, most of which were of a negative shape and form. Every morning, I would wake up and worry. I worried about all sorts of things. I worried about the sort of clothes I was going to wear, the people I was going to meet and talk to in the entire day, the discussion classes that were going to give me points on the basis of my participation and what not.
Day after day, in contrast to my aspirations, things didn’t seem to get any better. I found myself walking, very briskly, on the path of self-consciousness. I started to over-analyze every word I uttered and every action I performed. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was becoming an under-confident, introverted girl, something that I wasn’t, and I didn’t want to be, when I was in high school. After I figured out what was going on with me, I decided to talk to my mother and see if she could help me get out of my shell and show my true self to the world.
However, after having a word with my mother and listening to the abundance of wise words and advice that she had for me, I realized that no sort of counselling was going to help me. All I needed was the willingness to take action and change the person that college was turning me into.
A low self-esteem was my nightmare when I started college life at USC. And I know it wasn’t just me. A lot of people went through similar hurdles upon moving abroad.
For some, it is just the pain of being so far away from their family and not having their moms around to cook them food or wash their clothes.
On the other hand, for some international students, it is just the language barrier. They find themselves constantly smashed back on the ground when they try their best to pronounce the words aptly or correct their grammar using the best of their knowledge.
While for some other students, these problems take the shape of an over-indulgence in socializing and partying that their grades start to reflect it. No matter what shape or form these challenges assume, it is always hard.
But the real question here is, “How can our Indian high schools ascertain that students are prepared to enter the real world and overcome the challenges they are going to face as soon as they enter college?”
One potential way to assure that our students are not at a disadvantage, especially in respect of academics, is to standardize the high school education system all over the world. I understand that it is easier said than done. However, if the United Nations is able to enforce a well-defined education system in high schools all over the world, a lot of disparities between international and domestic students doing college in the States will diminish.
International students will also gain a sort of confidence in their abilities to perform academically well and be at par with the domestic ones. Anyhow, I am not sure if the solution that I propose would have necessarily solved the problem I encountered upon starting college life.
In order to replenish my low self-esteem and to stop believing that there is something innately wrong with myself, I need something more solid. People like me need something bolder to bolster our depriving love for self. This is certainly not a problem that only international students, or college students, will face. However, it is important to tackle this problem early on in life so that when students find themselves stuck in severe self-doubt at any point of times in their lives, they should be able to remind themselves of their own worth and value.
I can’t think of a better party who can help than our educational institutions. Schools form such a huge part of our childhood and the lessons we learn within the four walls stay with us for eternity. Schools in India must focus on both the academic and the personal growth of their students. They should be constantly reminded of a few lessons in order to solidify the lessons in their minds; in the process of discovering oneself, it is important that the students do not forget who they are, where they come from and what values and principles matter to them. In the process of challenging oneself by competing with people from all around the world, it is important that they don’t forget to love and appreciate themselves for all their personal qualities and accomplishments.
I would like to end this on a positive yet realistic note. Things do get better with time. If your kid is going through something similar, don’t ask them to give it all up and come back to their little nest. Because the temporary happiness they’ll experience upon coming home will be marred by a more permanent sense of defeat. We are all going to have to face the world and the inevitable challenges it puts us through someday. The sooner we face it, the better. Because the beautiful and independent life that awaits us beyond the crease is worth it all.
Image source: flickr, for representational purposes only.