Having spent a year pursuing my Masters in Computer Science at the University of Florida, here is my view of life in the United States.
First of all, your experience here is going to be a baptism of fire to the harsh realities of life, with all its compromises and sacrifices.
Most people derive a rosy picture of America, courtesy the sitcoms that clog the airwaves around the world, and in doing so, end up making the mistake that they come to regret later.
Life can be quite harsh on Americans in America even with full-time positions, and you’re a student from a foreign country, starting everything from scratch – life is bound to be a thousand times worse.
Many people I know are disenchanted over their beggarly, lonely existence here, what with most Americans, along with the citizens of other first world countries, valuing personal space over human companionship.
It would be grossly unfair to say that I didn’t feel the same at the some point of time or the other, but after giving a deep thought to the matter, I realized that I should have expected this all along – financial self-sufficiency of the locals, whether real or imagined is an entirely different matter, leads to a cocooned life with little or no interaction with other people, unless absolutely necessary.
You might term this necessity-based-interaction, business-mindedness or selfishness or anything else that you can think of, but this is a bare fact that you have accepted when living in the first world – that people will talk to you only when they need to and wouldn’t look twice at you otherwise.
International students Are No Different
And you, of course, are a student – you couldn’t matter less to people who would deem a life without a palatial residence and a few high-end sports cars parked in the garage as a life wasted.
About part-time positions on-campus, I have a part-time job as a server and cashier at an extremely popular Chinese food outlet on campus that pays me a mere fifty cents above minimum wage and believe me, my employers squeeze every penny’s worth out of me at work.
And then there’s dealing with your co-workers, who are unpredictable at best, but consistently frustrated with their lives, making such lousy money.
I must say, the compensation isn’t exactly a handsome one for an emotionally draining job as mine and that I barely manage to cover my expenses.
But it’s a start.
I couldn’t have expected a part-time job that paid me three-digit figures by the hour, thereby solving all my financial problems in one fell swoop.
A part-time position is indeed a part-time position and no more.
Moreover, it is a humbling experience in a way in that you tend to empathise with the hardship of the domestic help back home, whom we have all treated unfairly at least once in our lives.
I understand that it is excruciating to think of all those years of mindless blood, sweat and toil, fuelled by a misguided social belief that the US is utopia, only to journey to America to clear out the garbage for a bunch of people who don’t lick the dust off your shoe when it comes to pure, raw, intellect. But then as I said earlier, a part-time is indeed part-time and no more.
Brighter Side of America
On the brighter side, you are being trained by some of the best minds in the world and if the student cares to take their training seriously and does some value-addition on his/her own, can lead to a veritable boost to his/her profile.
I’m not saying that the exercise would guarantee the student the job of his/her dreams, but it would heighten his/her odds of doing so.
If the student does get the job of his/her choice then well and good.
Otherwise, it would at least fetch the student a job that would help him/her save, survive and turn an honest penny out of all those years of conditioning of the mind, which is, at the end of the day, one of the objectives of an education – the other being an exalted thought that rises above the petty distinctions that we, as humans are so good at cooking up for ourselves.
Starting your life from scratch with periods of absolute loneliness and ennui provides one with opportunities to rediscover themselves, their latent talents and harness and hone them for greater self-satisfaction.
This is, at the end of the day, the land of opportunity, and opportunities abound indeed for those who would be willing to seek them.
To end this rather long summary of my experience in the US, I would like to say that life here is a mixed bag of both good and bad.
Life’s problems and challenges are a universal constant – they only change in nature and character from one place to another. So, being of stout heart and taking life in its stride and with a smile is the best way to survive here.