We have covered substantial ground on the diverse aspects of ‘Studies Abroad’. The elements of preparation for overseas studies, various qualifying tests, sources for financial aid, centres of excellence, programs and courses of study, and life abroad are some of the topics we discussed. We should keep in mind that the facts given in the articles are indicative and not exhaustive. Each aspirant has to gather further details pertaining to the area of his/ her choice, before seeking admission in foreign universities or other institutions. Let us now try to summarise the important points we should keep in mind while seeking admission abroad. This can be in the form of a few checklists that would come handy for any Indian student interested in overseas studies.
PREPARING FOR OVERSEAS STUDIES
Preparation for studies abroad has to be both mental and physical. We can sum up the mental aspects of preparation as follows:
• We should be prepared to live in a ‘strange’ country where we have initially no friends. The language and culture may be different from ours. Even if the language is English, the accent, usage, and phrases could be different.
• There is no reason for our feeling isolated, when stationed abroad. The world is getting more and more connected. Communication among countries has become easy. People there are strangers only once. We will quickly know them more and more. We should not try to belittle any foreign culture. Nor should we try to glorify ours. ‘When you are in Rome, do as Romans do’. We may in general, avoid putting personal questions to our acquaintances on relationships, or marriage, or family income. It may be taken as rude behaviour in certain cultures. Shoot anyone’s pictures only after taking his/her permission. We should avoid discussing gender roles and comparing the merits of different religions.
• We should try to enrich ourselves by imbibing fine aspects of culture in the foreign country where we live.
• it is a good idea to live in moderate style, and not go for show-off or extravagance. Women may wear bare minimum jewellery. Use the facilities of public transport systems. Learn road rules and regulations on not littering or spitting in public places. Polite behaviour and frequent use of ‘Please’ and `Thank you’ should form part of our habit.
• Imagine the tremendous advantage we would gain by enhancing our confidence, independence, and self-reliance through living away from home. Of course, this is in addition to our educational enrichment, consequent enlightenment, improved academic qualifications, and brighter prospects for job placement.
• Never take studying abroad as an escape route to save us from the hassles at our home university. The same hassles may appear there as well. • We have to consider studies abroad as a normal extension of our studies in India. The teaching style and evaluation system may be totally different. We may be accustomed to a single annual public examination that evaluates our studies; but in many foreign universities we would come across continuous evaluation based on assignment, projects, presentations, and surprise quizzes apart from declared tests. The focus of universities may be on imparting knowledge and skills, and not issuing a terminal degree certificate, after cursory assessment through a single written examination.
• We have to be prepared to develop cross-cultural interaction in foreign campuses. A new world awaits us. • We may have to engage ourselves in part-time work to earn money to meet our expenses. Parents back home may not normally be able to foot our bills in full.
• If we have to learn a new language, like German, French, Japanese, or Chinese, for pursuing studies overseas, decide that we will learn it. If we think that something is difficult to attain, we stand to lose opportunities. If many others can do something, why not me?’ “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right , said Henry Ford, the great pioneer of the automobile industry.
• We should develop the quality of patience, since we may have to wait for weeks or even months after submitting the application for admission, to be blessed with a reply from a foreign university. They may have their own procedural formalities to complete before giving us a reply indicating acceptance or rejection. Further, a rejection may not lead to our dejection. Perhaps there are better candidates with them at the moment; other doors will certainly open before us.
• We should be mentally prepared to spend a lot of time for detailed study of opportunities abroad, and for systematic correspondence with various universities.
• There should be no surprises; we have to leave our home, parents, siblings, and local friends for a long period. We may have a feeling of homesickness and a tendency to compare everything there with everything here. This phase will soon be over and we will be in a stabilised condition after staying in a foreign country for a few weeks.
• Launching our studies abroad is a significant decision in our life. We have to learn in full the diverse aspects of our commitment before plunging into the crucial decision. Perhaps we can dream about the day we come back home after overseas studies, as a more educated person endowed with far better confidence and skills in facing the challenges of life.
PHYSICAL PREPARATION FOR OVERSEAS STUDIES
• We saw the aspects of mental preparation we should make in order to launch our program of studies overseas. Let us now look at the physical aspects of preparation. There are several do’s and don’ts. We have to plan well.
• Decide the subject and level of education we intend to pursue abroad. We need not go abroad just for the sake of being in a foreign country. There are indeed several quality institutions and programs in India. As an elementary principle, we can keep in mind that we may not gain much if we try to go overseas for undergraduate studies. However, many graduate and research programs abroad will have substantial advantage compared to most programs here.
• The subject of study may be decided taking into account diverse aspects, including our aptitude and the market value of the program. We may have to plan ahead, say 15 months before the actual commencement of classes in the institution overseas. It is prudent to seek admission simultaneously in a few institutions. We can easily find international ranking of various universities or institutions. If we focus only on institutions occupying the top-most ranks, we may have nothing left with us if we fail in our mission. As a hack-up, we can try to get admitted in a few other institutions as well. The final choice can be ours.
• We can study the details of exchange programs. • We should familiarise ourselves with the functions of organisations that coordinate admission at the national level, like the American Medical College Application Service in the US, and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service in the UK.
• We should confirm the authenticity of the university/institution which we intend to join.
• It is not advisable to go to countries where there are problems of racist attacks or severe racial prejudices.
• Deans/Professors in many foreign universities have the authority to admit candidates. We can get the details of institutions, programs, and faculty from the concerned websites. Almost all the universities in developed countries keep their websites regularly updated. The email ids will be available on the sites. The professors will normally respond to our mail.
• We should meticulously prepare our CV and ‘Statement of Purpose’, which were explained in detail earlier. Also, we should get two letters of recommendations from reputed teachers or professionals in our discipline.
• When we contact the professors for admission, we should be able to convince them that we are competent and deserving candidates suitable for studies in their institutions. We should indicate that we may require financial assistance in some form for pursuing our studies there, or convince them that we have ample resources in our command.
• We should not give an impression that we intend to settle permanently in the foreign country on completion of our education there. Our approach should be that we gain knowledge and skills from there, in order to apply them in our motherland after returning home.
• We have to make a detailed study of the type of accommodation, transport requirements, living expenses, and, of course, the tuition fees, along with other related expenditure. There may be several ‘hidden’ expenses, like those on account of premium for health insurance, cost of medicine, sports fee, and special clothing.
• We should make a detailed study of the sources for scholarships/fellowships/financial aid/work study or other assistance available. Opportunities for part-time work and the related regulations in the university of our choice should also be studied well in advance.
• The academic requirements including the acceptability of our Indian • qualifications should be got confirmed by the concerned admission authorities. • If we have to produce score reports of examinations like GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, MCAT, LSAT, and SAT, we should plan well ahead, since these cannot be produced overnight.
• We should try to learn the language of the country we intend to stay, if we do not already know it. Beware of a pitfall before those who have learnt only a little of a foreign tongue. We may try to show off our knowledge of the language before a local citizen, who would start speaking fluently in that language little realising that we do not follow what is being said. So we should not attempt speaking a foreign language in such a situation, lest we get embarrassed or misunderstood.
• We may try to learn the crucial factors of the culture and customs of the country of our destination.
• Never take too much baggage. Passport, visa/immigration documents, air ticket, id card, if any, some international currency (US Dollars or Euro/ traveller’s cheques), contact numbers in India for emergencies, contact numbers/addresses/email id of our university officials/Indian embassy in the foreign country, health records/doctor’s prescriptions, if relevant, adhesive medical bandage, tablets like painkiller or paracetamol that needs no medical prescription, mobile phone/charger, clothing to suit the weather in the foreign country, fine professional dress for special occasions, and good footwear can be in our baggage. We can decide appropriately the question of carrying a laptop computer and a driving licence, depending on the circumstances.
• Learn the customs and regulations of the country of destination. Even fruits and vegetables may be taken as contraband in some countries.
• Getting in touch with the embassies or consulates, or visiting their websites, and learning the terms and conditions of visa is yet another important aspect of physical preparation.
• If we intend to get bank loans from India, the terms in various banks have to studied, for getting the most favourable terms of repayment.
• We can attend the educational exhibitions or shows conducted occasionally in major cities by foreign universities or educational consultants, and gather detailed information.
• There is no harm in getting help, guidance and assistance from professional agents who would process our papers for admission. However, we should necessarily confirm their history and credibility before entering into any deal with them. Never get cheated by a false agent. In case of doubt on anything in a foreign land, feel free to consult the embassy/high commission concerned.
• Plan ahead for the formalities on arrival in the foreign land. This would involve visas, currency, registration, getting id cards, work permits, finding appropriate accommodation (dormitory/hostel/homestay/rented house), and familiarisation with the new environments. It is often said that it would be better not to form special groups exclusively of Indian students, since that would deny us the fine opportunities for interaction with people from different countries.