life in america

Life Can Be Quite Harsh on Foreign Students in USA

Raghuram Sukumar Student Stories 28 Comments

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.


  1. Question is, what really matters for you in your life!

    Because it decides your course of life! You want comfortable, pampered, smooth life take easy route, if you want to become significant, be ready to face uncertainties, bitter moments in life! Success never comes free, we gotta pay price for it!

    Lets take a boy named Mr. India happily living life with his “bunch” of friends, surrounded by “loving” relatives, enjoying life at fullest!
    Lets assume he clears IIT JEE!
    1. His relatives will “show” they are happy BUT its jealousy that can be clearly observed and with every such successful step of life jealousy keeps on increasing, seeds of bitterness are sown and if their children do not succeed like Mr india bitterness turns worse. (generally!)

    2. Bunch of friends whom Mr India assumes closest friends since childhood, first become upset as Mr India start climbing ladder of success because “their friend no longer available to them”, and later on friendship remains just a formality. Bitterness, jealousy, enmity all things slowly become prominent in friends.

    “Group Psychology” requires all friends in group grow equally, progress equally and no one really achieve out of box (group) so that group remains intact. Such ppl if observed closely are average achievers in their career/education front. Very rarely we can see one guy touching sky of success while other friends are average achievers still they are great friends. It never happens!

    Worst of all being with relatives or bunch of friends is, a person loses his daring attitude, individuality, ability to conquer, along with other qualities which could stand him out of crowd! He hesitates to take out of box aka bold decisions, relies on others, gives importance to other ppl’s faulty opinions, fears botheration, starts loving “cage” life, end up being “successful” from indian point of view viz. getting a first class degree, getting a good paying job, getting married, begeting children, and thus being “successful!” real man is in being courageous, daring, doing out of box things!

    We are third world country ppl, our first aim in life was to survive, because if we cant survive we cant move ahead, so actions of our old generations were based on this concept. And now generations after, they have become our habits today.

    Achievers / successful ppl / extra ordinary ppl ARE “ALWAYS” lonely ppl from average person’s point of view. They love to mind “their own business” instead of hanging out with friends do silly things, talk nonsense (in relatives) because their level of intellect is above average, it NEVER let them sit with them.

    Keep in mind my dear friends, a person who wish to progress in his life always finds himself lonely. Because loneliness, struggle, isolation, poverty, fear, threat are the 6 stages in life which if conquered promises you outstanding success! Every step tests your character, courage, desire to survive and belief in self!

    Better be ready for it!

    Never sacrifice your ambitions for momentory mirages, because in long run, what remains with you, what gives you ultimate satisfaction, what is eternal is “your achievements”, nothing else! Mark my words!

    1. Success is a relative thing. To some, success is being happy with relatives and enjoying festivals with their friends, helping others, being happy and making others happy. To others, Success is just a material achievement.

      So, keep your philosophy with you. Because it works only for you.

      1. Everybody is free to decide what is best for themselves.

        But that doesnt stop me from expressing myself since there is freedom of expression. Keeping my thoughts with me or to express comes under my role discretion.

        I am not “enforcing” my thoughts against anybody’s wish! Thats why i said in the beginning of my first comment ” it depends upon what MATTERS to you” if you wanna be with friends,relatives (hopefully they revert with nice treatment) and if thats the your definition of success then you shouldnt take a route where you will feel lonely or isolated. Right?

        Here writer is in a shock over first world ppl’s behaviour and what he has experienced back home. But he has already chosen his path where he gonna experience isolation, formalities, sufferings, sense of social rejection etc. So he must carry on.
        if you have certain ambitions to achieve, you gotta be ready to face adversities.

        When i said, relatives & friends hopefully revert with nice treatment, many times what a person gets in return is disappointment i.e. real relationship is tested when calamity occures and your emotional “investment” in them is tested. Usually this investment yields zero to average fruits. But “investment” is so concentrated in “relationships” that such person gives zero to average importance to his personal achievements and later regrets, why he didnt gave importance to his achievements! It happens so often, thats why “standing out of crowd”, “out of box thinking” etc phrases became so popular.

        Lord Krishna himself tells Arjuna to shed these fake masks of “relationships” to achieve “success” in yuddha! Its lord krishna’s philosophy, not mine. I just realized it in advance thats it.

  2. indeed true , and nothing but the truth peeps, but life itself is not a bed of roses , uneasy lies the head that wears the crown , but remember, when the going gets tough the tough gets going.,im so optimistic,surely we will get there someday and ours will be the songs of victory. dont give up !NO, ITS TOO EARLY TO DO JUST THAT.

  3. those few years while you are studying are difficult but think about ur later life…
    thats better than what most of americans get…and relaxing too
    so never mind just somehow manage two years and get placement from collage life will be easy then

  4. If I complete MS in CS from USA then go for Ph.D. then how many years I will need?
    I know that the time span varies but approximately how much(eg. 3 yrs or 4 yrs etc) and range(eg. 3-5 yrs etc)?

    My second question is I have not published research papers or anything like that, so can I still get admission for Ph.D. course?

    1. Hi Harsh,

      If you are yet to pursue MS then your thinking too much ahead. Dont get offended by my words, but unless u r a super genius, prodigy you wont get into PhD right after your Bachelors. So current focus should be ONLY on MS.
      Dont take for granted, Getting into MS is not a cakewalk. It needs HUGE efforts, to create your decent acceptable academic background, awesome GRE-TOEFL scores, financial adequacy, shortlisting colleges that suit you best, getting admits, clearing visa interview and finally beginning your course. Every step has chances of failure of more than 50%. And amazing thing is that Real war begins only after landing into MS.

      You would be able to decide whether to do PhD or get a job until you personally experience the academic rigour of MS. PhD needs too much patience, readiness to work for prolong hours in lab, leadership skills to handle ppl in your group etc. etc.

      You will find everything you need to know about your PhD right in this blog, just click on tab PhD on homepage.

      All the best!

      1. Hi @Akshay001 !
        Can you please elaborate on the minimum GRE and TOEFL scores that you would quote as ‘awesome’ or rather ‘decent’ to get into a good university for CS? Please reply. Thanks 🙂

    2. If you are looking for funding go for a Phd.It is big commitment of almost 5 years although.

  5. I have completed my B.E. from a good university in I.T. with distinction(73%).
    I have not given GRE but I am getting a score around 320.
    I have many questions –
    if my GRE score is around 320 then will I get scholarship for MS in CS?
    What are the chances of getting scholarship in present economic conditions?
    How many students from a particular university are offered scholarship each year?
    How many students get 40-50% scholarship or above that?
    What should be my priority – a good university or avg. university which offers me scholarship?
    Can please give me the link/URL that can elaborate on scholarships?
    Please help.

  6. What Akshay001 is 80%true.People want to be in their comfort zone, choose schools near their relatives and friends, though it’s advantageous in some way, but what kind of schools are you getting into and what are your ambitions in life.
    Personally, i have of cousins in California but considering the cost and type of schools i was accepted into, i chose to study somewhere else.Yes, when i landed here i had no relatives or friends but slowly i have build a good network of supportive people.You can also be surprised that people you don’t know are the ones that help you sometimes more than family.
    If somebody here in USA will laugh at me coz i maybe isolated/loner.Then let them, i would be rather laughed at while studying in the USA than back home, because i know where i came from to be here for and what i am aiming at in life.
    Sad but true, many internationals don’t have the money to stay on- campus, where by it is easier to build friendships and end up staying off-campus with the rest of the individualized public.

  7. Well I understand the struggle but once you get a job there in USA and start earning money, make good friends, life will be better. you are in Computer Science field and chances are high that you will get a good job there so dont worry-be happy. One more year will pass quickly and also look at internship/job opportunities right away.

  8. @Nahush..Isn’t our entire life like that? Don’t we have to face challenges and take risks through every step of life? But tell me something, if our lives were too easy, would we guys be satisfied leading it? Going or wanting to go to USA for graduation shows that you are ambitious and want to prove and better yourself. We ambitious lot can never stay happy in a contained environment of fixed jobs and family lives like many around us seem to prefer. Yeah, its sometimes disheartening to be lonely and tackling challenges every moment of your life when you can see your best friends leading a much easier and hurdle-free life. At such times, we tend to forget that their lives are missing the thing that matters the most to us. The drive to live. Some people like to lead a comfortable and easy life. But, for us ambitious ones, life is an adventure and we want to taste the fruit of our own labors and want to feel that whatever we have achieved is because of own achievements and hard work. So, nevertheless how depressing it may get in life, we have got the resilience to stand up and bite back every challenge that dares to come in our way. And, in the long run, we are much happier that we faced those challenges and realized our dreams n aspirations instead of giving in to them.
    New friends and relations will come again in your lives and if the friends and relations of your previous years were worth it, they will stand by you or wait for you. These worthy few, might be busy in their own challenging lives for now, like you are. But once, every one achieves his/her dream, they will have time for friends again. You might be lonely now, but this is also a hurdle you have to face to achieve the dream you went to USA for. So, stand rooted and grow strong. You will have your share of happiness when your day comes.

  9. Hi,

    I completely disagree with the POV being projected in this article. This is absolute non-sense. When you come to USA, first of all be prepared to have a hard time. You are not in your home country were everything is served to you in a gold plate and fed to you in silver spoons. For gods sake, don’t expect this is what going to happen to you. Secondly, you seem to have not done a single survey of life in USA before landing here. I doubt you would have talked to people who were already here about life in USA. If that was not the case, I don’t understand how no one mentioned you or cautioned you about what it is going to be like for you once you step into USA.

    Now coming to the part time job that you have described in this article. I feel you don’t understand that this part time job has helped you in taking care of your monthly expenses. I agree that working in a food cafe on campus can be tough job and it does demand alot from some one doing it. But I am sure there would be many jobs that do not require that much hard work or turmoil which you could look for on-campus.

    I am also a student and I’ve had my share of experiences of being here for last two years. And let me tell you something, I am very happy the way things have turned around for me in these two years.

    I can only laugh at the way you think about this opportunity that you have got and the way you think about it. God bless you.

    1. I totally agree! I love the life here. I feel lucky to be here. Even though it goes crazily busy all day… Come on! it has to be worth coming this far, paying this much, giving up the hugs and kisses(that’s pretty much everything I miss after coming here).

  10. Hi,
    “Nothing in life that is worth having comes easy”,
    “In life if its not worth fighting for , Its not worth having”.
    Trust me its more like 2 years of hardwork and all play after that. Every bit of effort put in during those 2 years will all bear fruit once you get your job. Firstly the jobs we get are highly paid all close to 6 figure salaries ,which is what most people out here earn when they near retirement. You have the luxury and all the time in the world along with the money to do the things you always wanted to do in your life which would have been only a distant dream had you been back home. When you earn 6 figure salaries and have more money than you know what to do with and moreover you are free every evening after 5 to do things you love doing. Moreover you appreciate the good cause you have been through the hardship.
    Alhamdullia life is good.

    1. Author

      Thanks for you comments.

      FYI – Very few entry level jobs for Engineers pay salary in 6 figures, unless you get job in Facebook in California or similar companies.

Leave a Comment - Your Thoughts Counts