The University Network

Study Abroad: An Indian Student’s College Experience in the U.S.

Are you thinking of studying abroad? If so, I would encourage you to go ahead.

Up until I was accepted into Sarah Lawrence College in New York, my only education had been in New Delhi, India. Coming to the U.S. meant that I had to adjust to a new culture with an entirely different education system. After just the first week of university, I realized that the difference in education between the U.S. and Indian system lies in three major areas.

1. Learning Environment

The learning environment in the U.S. is diametrically opposite to that in India.  

Let’s start with the student-professor relationship. In India, students and professors have very formal relationships. In Indian high schools, students address their teachers as “Ma’am” or “Sir.” In Indian colleges, students address their lecturers formally as well – “Ma’am” or “Sir,” ”Dr.” or “Professor” are normally how you greet them.  

It’s much more casual here in the U.S., which could come as a major shock to students used to a formal environment. I’m speaking from personal experience. On my first day at Sarah Lawrence, my fiction writing workshop professor introduced herself to the class and told us that we could call her by her first name Mary. That was a shock to me. I found it challenging to call her by her first name, but her casualness definitely made it easier for me to approach her for help with my writing assignments.

I also found the teaching style very different in the U.S. Most of my classes back in my New Delhi high school were lecture style, where the teachers stood in front of the class to teach while students took notes. Classes took place with minimal interaction, and we had to raise our hands and wait to be called on, if participation was allowed. I’ve heard that some universities in the U.S. use the same style of teaching, but that’s not my experience at Sarah Lawrence. The difference could be due to the size of the university. Sarah Lawrence is a small private school with a preference for small seminar classes that are highly based on casual and conversational discussions. In my first semester at Sarah Lawrence, I found it challenging to participate in class discussions because that was out of my comfort zone. As time went on, however, I found myself slowly getting used to the seminar classes and now prefer them over lectures. 

2. Grading Policy

Another significant difference I noticed is in the grading policy.

Sarah Lawrence has a unique grading system that is not only different from Indian schools, but also unlike many other colleges in the U.S. Sarah Lawrence places more emphasis and value on student evaluations as opposed to test results, so professors assessing students will take into account their participation, attendance and effort.  

Indian schools, on the other hand, rely entirely on percentages. Indian students, therefore, are under tremendous pressure to do well on tests and exams, as their grade is based solely on how well they do on their tests.  

I like the grading policy at Sarah Lawrence College, which does not rely strictly on test results. I feel less pressured knowing that my grade doesn’t depend on the tests I take.

3. Writing  

I also found early on that the rules of writing are different in the U.S.

During my first semester at Sarah Lawrence, I was assigned a psychology research paper by my professor. I had written a few research papers back in high school in New Delhi, but the formatting and citation requirements for this assignment were very different. In India, I was required to cite my research papers in MLA (Modern Language Association) format, and I knew that layout style quite well. However, my psychology professor at Sarah Lawrence wanted us to cite sources APA (American Psychological Association) style, which meant the entire layout of the paper would be changed. I was having a hard time structuring the research papers, so I decided to visit my college’s writing center where the tutors helped me research, write and edit my papers.

By the way, all colleges have writing centers to help students. Don’t ever hesitate to reach out to the writing center at your college if you are struggling with the mechanics of structuring your paper or just need someone to look over your work!

Adjusting to a New Culture

It’s not just the educational system that’s different. The U.S. culture also came as a shock to me. I went to a high school where students were mostly Indian and had the same set of beliefs and values, but at Sarah Lawrence I came across students from different backgrounds within the U.S. as well as students from other countries. I felt out of place initially, but I slowly adjusted to my new environment and came to appreciate the diversity. I am now convinced that diversity enriches our college campus and improves the learning environment. 

Studying Abroad – Totally Worth it!

As an international student in the U.S., I had to make many adjustments. It’s all worth it though! Furthering my education in another country has been so liberating for me. I have enjoyed every moment of it, even the challenges. The whole experience has also helped me grow as an individual.  

If you choose to study abroad, you will do fine as well! Just remember that as an international student, you need to crawl out of your comfort zone. Once you accept change with an open mind, you will unlock yourself to endless opportunities.