America, F*** YEAH!
I am sure that those who have watched the awesomeness that is Team America – World Police will have the song playing in their heads. Before you jump to the conclusion that I have turned into a patriotic American, I want to tell you that this post is about a different aspect of the United States that I have come to love: the higher education system.
Prior to this, I posted about my life as an international student in the United States where one of my friend brought up a really interesting point in the comments section. She pointed out that unlike my problem of having no options but to fight it out, her friends were overwhelmed with options. She was obviously talking about the plethora of options in terms of classes to choose & activities to participate in. In my excitement to shed a light on my struggles as an international student, I completely lost sight of highlighting the positives that are related to academics.You might recall I mentioned how I got to love liberal arts and how I was unaware of what it meant before coming to the United States. However, my friend’s comment made me think about why I wanted to come to the United States in the first place.
I was in 8th grade when my cousin started applying to schools in the United States. Up until that point, the idea of going to a completely different country was not something I entertained. It was not until my cousin started looking into schools in the United States that I even realized that as an option. I remember reading through the brochures that he used to get and being surprised at how much flexibility a student has to carve out the academic experience that they want. “Personalized education, what a novel idea!”, I thought. However, that was all it was at that point, a cool & progressive approach to education.
It was not until 11th grade that I started considering coming to the United States for my undergraduate. In Nepal, after 10th grade, you go to “college” for your 11th & 12th grade. However, there is a significant gap in the level of difficulty between 10th & 11th grade. Furthermore, the class size is generally bigger and the curriculum is very outdated and in dire need of a reform. Since I went to one of the better institutions, I was surrounded by really smart individuals, most of them proficient in the art of grasping abstract concepts as well as memorizing them. I was not so special in that I thrived on learning through class discussions and relied heavily on the teacher. Rote learning was not my cup of tea and it was tougher for me to grasp a concept unless I had someone explain it to me. To make matters worse, there were very few teachers whose approach matched with my style of learning. Soon it became clear that I will not be able to develop in such a environment.
Another major factor for me to want to come to the United States was the opportunity to be independent. With my parents there to take care of me, I was starting to take things for granted. This was another reason why my academics suffered in 11th & 12th grade. I just stopped caring and not appreciating the opportunity that I had. The only way I saw how to fix that was by coming to the United States where I had to figure out things on my own. I knew it was going to be a challenge but I also knew that I will come out of the experience as a better individual. However, little did I know how much more I was going to learn from the experience.
It was not until I got to the United States did I realize the true power of personalizing my educational experience. With majors & electives of my choosing and projects that allowed me to delve in the areas that I was interested in, the opportunities were truly limitless. Another important part of the experience was the value of being an active member of the campus community. It is pretty common, especially among international students, to be content with getting good grades and focus only on activities that somehow relate to them landing a dream job upon graduation. I say this because I used to think along the same lines. It was during my junior year when I helped organize a jazz concert with a professor to raise money for Tsunami victims did I realize that a tiny effort on my part could serve a better purpose than just being a resume builder. As an international house coordinator my senior year, I got a chance to help incoming international students find their place in the community as well as help the American students develop better understanding of all the cultures represented through cultural events. Being involved on campus was a great way to develop skills I would have not been able to acquire from the classroom setting.
Looking back, I realize that I was lucky to have been able to get everything and more out of my collegiate experience in the United States. It was definitely tough and there were times I wish I had it a little easier but in the end, it was worth all the blood, sweat & tears. More importantly, I realize that since I came for the right reasons, they always helped me make rational decision and remain focused on learning, whether it be in the classroom or outside.