Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, May 11, 2006


Studying abroad the flip side

By Tawsif Salim

To many of us, going abroad to college seems to be the ultimate get-away. Well if you think in terms of living in the dream campus of your dream college, all on your own, without your parents' leash around your neck, it surely adds up to something that you've always wanted. Right?

Those of you who are holding this impression of a utopian college life abroad, it's high time you stop watching all those teen movies. Unless you are tough and prepared to bite the bullet, you won't make it much far.

Case Study 1 dealing with life.... alone
Nira is your average spoilt brat of a rich dad, the type that needs an extra maid just for the sake of getting her a glass of water. Anyway, she managed to get a hefty scholarship to a good university in Canada. But after only a few weeks, she realised how tough life is without being treated like a princess. Unable and unwilling to cope with the situation, she came back within two months.

The case of Nira is quite common. See all of us might not be spoilt in that sense, but how many of us teenagers actually help around the home these days? When it comes to cooking a few guys are stuck with making coffee, while many girls go as far as 'preparing' jelly sandwiches (as Ronny puts it). When it comes to washing our clothes, most of us even don't make the effort of dumping those in the washing machine. But when you go abroad, it's the same bunch of work in the house, minus your mom, and the maids. It's a place where you realise for the first time, if you mess up something, it remains messed up until you make an effort.

Case Study 2 Making ends meet
When Nayeem cancelled his IBA admission and wasted a year for an admission to the states, he had little idea of what was to happen in the next few years. “I have taken a few extra credits this semester, so that I can finish off and get out of this hell as soon as possible.” Nayeem works 11 hours a week in the campus for a part time living. “I knew I'd have to do part-time jobs right from the beginning, but didn't know it would be like this. I've to wake up at 5 in the morning and wash these plates, and it's the only shift where I managed to get a work. Worst of all, I get to clean up the dinner dishes, which happen to be the most gross lot of all.”

Those of you who are relying on part-time jobs to cover your expenses, keep in mind it can be a problem. While some get better jobs in the libraries or as assistants to the professors, most are left with the gruelling labour in the kitchens. So not only do you have to wash your plates, but others' ones as well. Add to that the messy eating habits of some college-goers.

Case Study 3 all's cold in the western front
When Rifat started applying to the colleges, location and weather were the last things in her mind. “I was so obsessed with getting into a good university in Canada with aid, I never stopped to consider anything else.” Now into her 7th month of staying in this country, Rifat is still not used to coping with the weather. “I did not have the slightest idea winter could be this COLD! Last week I slipped on the ice and sprained my right foot and I still got the plaster on, and my tonsils getting worse every day. Sometimes the chill gets so depressing, it seems the Dhaka summers with its load-shedding and Aedes gangs were much better than this frozen hell.”

Ignoring the climatic conditions is a common mistake made by most students. The northern winters are cold to the extreme meaning of the word, and not everyone is able to cope with it. So when places like Alaska and North Dakota offer handsome aid packages, take some time to ponder before drooling over it. Remember, the most inconvenient places are likely to offer the bigger aid packages, in an attempt to lure the highest number of students. So unless you are totally desperate, avoid these baits as much as possible.

Case Study 3 The grass is greener on the Bangladeshi side
Arif, into his second year as a major in Engineering, did not have to face much of what Nayeem had to. Though his aid package was quite modest, his family was more than capable of paying for all his expenses, including his own car. But ever since he came to this place, he had been suffering from this feeling of not belonging. “I'm not used to this culture, it's very hard to single out any particular reason, but it's just that I feel I'm totally the odd one out here, and I know I can never get used to this. Although most people here are very warm and friendly, there are few racists who give the whole area a bad name...” Arif misses his friends at home, and Dhaka now seems to be the best place in the world. “It's so easy to mess up your life, being so far away from your family and relatives. Back home I hated being policed around all the time, and now I hate my freedom coz it's so easy to get into trouble while enjoying it.”

No matter how polished your accent is, or how fair-skinned you are, the fact remains that you are just another south Asian living in a foreign country. So the idea of settling in can be quite far-fetched. Recently one of my friends was supposed to come back from UK for a short vacation, so when I asked her the day before if she had finished packing, she replied: “I haven't really unpacked my luggage since I got here.” Apart from that adjusting with the cultural barrier is one heck of a problem. Either you end up being labelled as a total anti-social person, or you end up getting laid in your first prom night. Only a few manage to walk the fine line.

Final words... gnawing through it all
Other than their challenges, Arif Rifat and Nayeem also have one more thing in common. When asked if they would like to come back, each of them wagged their heads in negative. “It's about overcoming those challenges, and running back home like a wimp was never an option.” said Nayeem. “I wish I had known life would be so tough.” Arif added. “I wouldn't have changed my decision, but it would certainly help me to at least prepare myself mentally.” In fact this article was written not to discourage anyone from going abroad. The idea was to make you aware of the hurdles that lie ahead. In spite of the odds, it's probably worth grinding through those 3-4 years, for once you come back you are looking forward to a six figure salary, which even the best universities of Dhaka can't ensure. In fact, a degree from a third-tier US university makes a much better impression over here than any private or public ones.

Lastly, I'd like to add that everything is not as grim as it may seem from reading this article. Living abroad offers a whole new set of things, which just happens to have two sides just like everything else. So hope for the best while preparing for the worst, and happy college hunting!


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