Ruminations of students-past and present

So far, we have used this space to highlight issues pertaining to education, voiced from our perspective. It is time to create some space for the primary stakeholders of our education system, its end consumer- the students. We will run a sporadic series of write-ups as reflections and think-alouds from our students, college-going students, to begin with, as they have a certain level of maturity that comes from retrospection and exposure to diverse education formats.

Over to you guys…

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This article has been long due. I have always been searching for a medium to express myself, my perceptions and notions about studying in a foreign land.

Like hundreds of Indian students each year, I came to the US to pursue a Masters degree from a US university. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about the words of Prof. Vohra, one of the strictest professors in the college. He had written my recommendations and before leaving India I met him. His parting words were – “You are in a strange dilemma now, if you stay here with your family and friends, you’ll always think about the education and career you could have got while in the US; if you do go, you’ll always be worried about your parents well-being”.

To go or not to go

After completing my Bachelors in Engineering in India, I had three avenues to select from:

1. Work in India for a software company and get paid peanuts,

2. Prepare for CAT along with 200,000 students for about 2000 seats; or

3. Apply to a foreign university and force my parents to spend a fortune.

One day, while working with TCS (one of the foremost technology companies in India), I got a call from a close friend who was pursuing Masters from Oxford University. She said to me, “In India, we will never be appreciated for our capabilities; we will end up appearing for exams designed to manage crowds, a 3 hour exam would seal our, destiny. Apply to a foreign university, at least they will look into your past experience, skills and knowledge base before rejecting you”.

The decision was finally made. I had to get through a good US university. The application process was stressful, tough and kept me awake many a nights. I appeared for the GRE, TOEFL, prepared a Statement of Purpose, resume, got Letters of recommendations from my Professors, selected appropriate Universities for my chosen course, prepared the application packet and when the final calls started coming, selected the University I wanted to join…. phew.

US – perception vs. reality

People feel that US is the land of dreams, huge salaries and comfortable living. But that’s half the truth. The salaries paid are no doubt much more than the ones anywhere in the world, but then, so are the expenses. The US is a consumerist society, and the concept of saving does not exist, atleast did not exist till this current recession. I know many people who came here with a rosy portrait of America, but within a few days the reality of life started sinking in. Living hundreds of miles away from home, family and friends just takes its toll. Believe me when I say, you may be the best cook in the world but you just can’t have food cooked by yourself every single day. When you have to repair your own bicycle, you miss the days when you could have paid Rs.10 and got the whole thing done by someone else. Cleaning my house every weekend has helped me develop even more respect for my mother.

US vs. India – an unfair but unavoidable comparison

At times I see myself as a sales man who has come to the US to sell an image of my country and to clear the minds of the populace of the wrong notions and ideas about India. My nationalism has grown manifolds during this period and I keep comparing the US system of education to its India counterpart; trying to defend the Indian system. The one question that I specifically mull is that was it justified preparing for years at a stretch for an Indian IIT or IIM, or spend a year completing the application process for admission here?

The best part about my class here is that I find myself discussing, arguing and working on assignments with students from all over the world. Students have been handpicked from across the globe to enhance and enrich the “class experience”. I have learned a lot from them – be it difficult topics in probability, their cultures, traditions, religion or how to give a presentation. But this experience has also made me realize that India is many countries in one. It has a desert, snow covered mountains, beaches and dense forests. The language the people speak and the clothes they wear changes as we travel from one state into another. If I would have joined an IIM I would be sitting next to the smartest people from a huge country with a population more than 1 billion.

I think the major reason why US universities are better is because of the level of research that is being pursued here, which is supported by US industries and universities; known for recruiting some of the finest brains from all over the world. But then again the Indians are in no way inferior to anyone in the whole world. I feel the main difference here is the research grants that the universities get from government and industry. The Indian government just doesn’t have the money to sponsor huge projects that would be instrumental in shaping the future of the country. This is where the Private sector should step in. We are ranked high in the service sector but when it comes to the manufacturing sector, India is far behind in the global race. The private sector in India needs to invest large sums of money in research so that we can have comparable cutting edge research work being pursued in our country. With the right impetus, India might turn out to be the place where foreign students pay huge sums of money to come and study.

I feel responsible to take back all I have learnt here, back to my country. I dream of an India, where the magnitude and quality of research work is unparalleled, where people from around the world come for education, where everyone’s literate, a country which the world respects not only for its prowess in the services sector but in the manufacturing sector as well. All we need is to work with a vision, together as a country and I am sure that day is not far.

Contributed by Chinmay Dubey
M.S. Operations Research (2008-09)
Dept. of Industrial & Systems Engineering
Georgia Tech, Atlanta (GA) – USA