In my parents’ generation and for generations before that, studying abroad for an Indian was considered a status symbol, and the mark of an elite family was a degree from either Cambridge or Oxford.
While we have come a long way since then, the glamour associated with studying abroad has not died down among the Indian student community. For many, the opportunity to go abroad is the chance to travel and see the world, experience a different culture and to also try their luck at settling permanently in a country with better living conditions on offer.
For me, the reasons to study abroad were no different. Most importantly, I loved the confidence that there were no geographical limits to what I could achieve and that the world was my oyster.
Thus it was that at 26, I set foot outside India for the first time, to study in Cambridge. Just as an infant opens their eyes to the world for the first time and tries to make sense of a world outside their mother’s womb, I felt that I had been transplanted into a different world altogether.
Studying abroad is much more than travelling the world and making new friends, and unlike the leisurely globetrotting which is glamorised by blogs and the internet, studying abroad also requires a lifestyle and mind-set change which we are seldom prepared for.
The things which we take for granted in our home country can seem like an effort when living abroad as a student- I took time to adjust to the food, weather, accent and long distances covered on foot. While these may seem trivial considerations, they can have a big impact on how you get along in a place.
A misguided notion which many of us have when applying to universities abroad is that everything will be hunky-dory from the moment we step into an international university. We fail to appreciate that we are moving out of our comfort zone into a world with its own etiquettes and definitions of socially acceptable behaviour.
Fortunately, humans have the ability to adapt to changes and we inevitably learn to adjust to our new surroundings and also enjoy the freedom which comes with living in a new country, where we are the masters of our lives.
We find people who share common interests ranging from sports to cheese, and end up challenging ourselves to try new things like rowing or volunteering at music festivals.
You also come to realise that studying abroad at an elite university by itself is not enough to guarantee you an excellent life experience…it is what you make of that experience that determines how successful your stint abroad is.
International students spend an exorbitant sum of money to study abroad and when the experience falls short of their expectations, they may wonder whether the decision to study abroad was indeed worth the money and effort expended. This is especially true in cases where international students fail to land a job in the UK to pay off their education loans.
However, if we start evaluating our study abroad experience only in terms of its job prospects, we would completely overlook that studying abroad is as much an opportunity to grow personally, as it is about increasing our employability in a global market.
The success of our study abroad experience should be measured by the life lessons we learn, which changes how we view the world.
In the words of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, “Once your mind stretches to a new dimension, it never goes back”; this is what I hope to take back from my study abroad experience.