I experienced the culture shock from the Indian Community: There will be a certain ‘Indian Student Association’ in your graduate school.
My two cents on this one. Run like Usain Bolt from them. Run as fast as you can.
Their sole reason for existence is to display their ‘accomplishments’ under the pretext of onboarding freaked-out freshers like us.
I could hear imaginary trumpets blaring when I got introduced to a couple of them. This is where your brainwashing begins, and your starry-eyed dream of an international experience begins to fade with the song-dance gala welcome party and samosas.
And god forbid you are from the meek (peaceful, I would say) southern part of India, you will probably receive ‘light-hearted’ racist comments about your ‘Madrasi’ idlis and sambhars.
These are the same folks who extend their sincere support when one Mr Khan gets questioned by the TSA and cries foul about how racism is rampant in the western world.
These guys cannot differentiate Chennai from Bangalore, Hyderabad and even Orissa. Goodness, gracious. I don’t even want to comment on the poor East Indians. Double standards are not new.
Soon after, you will mail your Indian senior graduates asking them for suggestions on courses to choose, professors to work with, and projects to work on, with the primary intent of landing a plum job with a well-known firm.
Things are often exaggerated (like the Indian weddings), and you will be made to feel something is wrong with you if you dare go beyond the norm and pick courses that your senior friend brands as ‘very difficult’ by his standards.
He will scare you enough that his ‘I told you so’ will haunt you throughout the semester. And worse, you repeat the same cycle, plant this seed into another incoming student’s head, and there, you have an entire line of Indians not signing up for a course because, oh well, seniors did not take it.
Indians here are risk averse, not because they are incapable of taking risks (foreign graduate study is a risk in itself) but because they are surrounded by a peer group that psychologically prevents them from taking risks.
I hardly see them trying out something as unpredictable as a start-up or going for that arduous PhD that they dream of.
You were perfectly capable of doing well in that subject till you decided to get that bloated advice from your senior friend.
Trust yourself to make the right call here and pick courses that you are passionate about and capable of, not because your senior friend tells you that it is ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’ or worse, that not signing up for that course will not fetch you a job.
By far, the lamest advice I have heard from an Indian senior.
The other side of this affair, the dangerous one, here goes: There are specific ‘easy’ courses in your curriculum.
By easy, it means easy grades or a lenient professor.
Well, before you know it’s easy (it takes a month to realize that), your Indian friends and their senior bum-chums would have ragged you on your incompetency for not signing up for an intellectually challenging course like they did.
Here I am, paying nearly all my life savings in tuition for a subject that everybody makes fun of.
How does that feel? It feels bloody miserable that such black-and-white judgment processes exist in a world-class university and your peers do not let you enjoy what you are studying.
Easy or complicated, it’s the learning that I enjoy.
Of course, you could always show the finger and move on, but it becomes tricky when the peer group views you as an intellectual misfit.
They are all out to prove their choices; decisions are far superior to yours. Sounds familiar?
The great Indian hype: If you are in the top 5% of your Operating System class and some nosy friend of yours leaks your grade, you are suddenly the person who wrote the Linux kernel.
You will hide in your room and probably never come out.
If you happen to have worked for the biggies back home, you are a superstar here.
Your friends hype your work that you couldn’t care much about. But then suddenly everyone thinks you are a smart kid, and nasty comments like ‘Well, you are the smart one, you will crack this, it’s a joke for you will be spewed.
And if you fail to crack it, the same group immediately writes you off, leaving you wondering what is going on.
I did not create the hype, and I did not publicize my work, but here I am, being made fun of for failing something I did not even claim I could solve!
And some frustrated fellow Indian, obviously a victim of peer pressure, will comment like this: ‘how did they get that internship? They do not deserve this!’.
It creates an endless caustic cycle of competition that can be emotionally draining.
Minor annoyance (read entertainment), the Facebook feed of your party-kid Indian friend: There is also this particular group of Indians who are one of those misinformed college kids clicking endless pictures and doing endless check-ins at every happening and non-happening place in the city.
They are another reason for you to cringe. Having never seen the US or been here once or twice on a family trip, they are these uber-excited, hyperactive social beings who make us all look like party kids, desperate for attention.
There is a flood of photos of your wannabe Indian friend with an American/Ukrainian/German/French guy/girl (Who cares! they are all a bunch of good-looking white folks anyway!) every 10 minutes on your news feed.
Go back to studying, kid. Don’t you whine later when your CS friends get that coveted job in your dream company, and you trivialize by calling a developer job a mere ‘support’ job?
The next time you brag about the new iPad you bought from the Apple Store on Facebook, I will remind you of all the ‘support’ work we did.
The disappointment and feeling of loneliness: if you are one of those pitiable Indian students with a hefty loan and with the sole purpose of learning, with dreams and ambitions beyond a job, inclined to know more about the American way of life, the history, the politics, the culture, the people, will be left wondering if you accidentally landed in India.
Worse, they will look at you with contempt if you make the slightest indication that you are not inclined to their way of life, you are different, and you want to be a part of a broader culture that emphasizes individualism rather than the collective thinking we have been brought up to accept.
If you follow the election primaries/ presidential elections, keep it a secret and pretend you enjoy Bollywood songs with your group.
It helps to bond and make them feel at home. You will be surrounded by plenty of Indian friends, but you will be unable to connect to them meaningfully.
Your friends are nosy.
They want to know who you hang out with, your grades, who you stay with, if things are okay with your roommates, the white ‘chick’ you find hot, whether you managed to get an internship, and if not, some unsolicited advice on how I should be prepared for an unpaid internship, your salary and your plans of securing a job after Masters and more unsolicited advice.
The rat race repeats, the exact reason why you left India.