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  • Writer's pictureOindrila Ghosh

“How was the experience of adapting to a new country?”: From an International Student

Updated: Nov 20, 2022


(This article was published in the CPRC SETAC Newsletter, Spring 2021.)


Name: Oindrila Ghosh Current position/degree: Ph.D. Student University: University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)

1) How many years have you spent in the US as an international student?

I came to the US in the Fall of 2017. I was originally offered a Ph.D. position at the Texas A&M University. I took courses and worked at the Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) for a year and then took a transfer to UMBC. I was a direct admit to the Ph.D. program in the Chemical, Biochemical and Environmental Engineering Department at UMBC and have been working with Dr. Upal Ghosh since the Fall of 2018. So, out of my four years in the US, I have spent my first year in Texas and the last three in Maryland. Overall, it has been a very rewarding experience.


2) What have been some of the challenging aspects of adapting to a new life in a new country? Did you face any challenges with transitioning to a new or different academic and research culture? If so, how did you overcome these challenges?

When I started off at TAMU, I was offered admit to an interdisciplinary program. The transition from a classical style of education in India to an interdisciplinary curriculum, was like a breath of fresh air. But there were other complications. I was assigned an advisor from the Department of Geography and she did not have the funds to accommodate me at the time. Hence, I was encouraged to gain some research experience at TWRI where I had another advisor in charge of a funded project. The whole situation of accountability was very complex for me to start with. With the absence of any conveyance of my own, I had to manage my time between being at the TWRI office and attending my classes in the main campus, which was about 3 miles away and using the scheduled shuttle service to travel within the campus. Also, it was the first time I was starting to get paid in my career and figuring out the payroll papers took me two straight months, meaning, I started getting paid quite late. This and the timely ending of the tenure of the project made me lose out about three months of payment. In the meantime, I had to borrow money from my parents and that was an added pressure of guilt. All of this was coupled with cooking my own meals for the first time, staying oceans away from my family, tax filing at the end of the year, and then an ugly episode of me being annoyingly gullible to fall into the trap of scam calls and almost lose $4000!

At the end of my first year, I decided to take a transfer to UMBC because of two reasons; firstly, the research done at the Ghosh Lab was more suited to my interests and expertise and secondly, my boyfriend was doing his Ph.D. at UMBC and I did not have any local guardian or emergency contact other than him in the US. I had realized by then that doing this journey would be difficult without a proper support system.


3) Can you highlight/give examples of (professional/personal) aspects that you have learned or improved upon through your experience as an international student in the US? For e.g. Any new technical or soft skill sets that you have picked up on, any areas of personal growth etc.

When I switched to a more application-based research project at the Ghosh Lab at UMBC compared to the work I was doing at TAMU, I felt a lot more confident about myself. I realized that being flexible about the kind of work you do, did not always mean compromising your zone of comfort and that finding balance between these two was the key. The first year in the US had taken a massive toll on my confidence and I would find it very difficult to initiate conversations. I thought the issues I was facing at work or in life were unique. Gradually, I realized the importance of staying well-informed about the work happening around you. Spending about 10% of your time outside the lab, in the corridors, in the lunchrooms or coffee, helps you develop a network, know about the problems others might be facing in their research, share any ideas that you might have to solve them (it is totally okay if you don’t have any) and tell them about your experiences. This can come in handy while coping with all the obstacles that one might frequently face during a PhD. Also, striking the right balance between ‘small talk’ or more humanitarian conversations and the real ‘work talk’ and how to diffuse from one to another is the key to a good professional behavior.


4) What are the most uniquely American things that you appreciate the most? Are there any aspect of your home country or your life back home that you miss the most? If so, how do you make up for these aspects in the US?

I have always been a very indoors kind of person and have grown to be the most comfortable inside my home and with my family, even in the most rebellious phase of my teen years. So, it is only natural that I miss home and family quite a lot. Over the last four years I have visited them twice, not more than two weeks in a stretch. But the one thing that I have not missed is the politeness of the people around me. Even on a busy day, I have been greeted in the most American way with a ‘Hello, how are you doing?’. I have to admit, though it took me some time to realize that people are not looking for the most honest answers in reply to that, it does lift up your mood and can be a nice conversation starter on less busy days. I have been amazed by the innumerable options at the grocery stores; eggs, bread, cheese, butter, oil, onions, potatoes, you name it! India was once a British colony and so the English I learnt as a kid was British English. I love how extra letters are so easily dropped off in the American English; makes your life so much easier! However, I have never really understood the obsession of people flying with their pets. I still like keeping my Indian tradition of carrying a big jute or cloth bag to carry my grocery and keep a cloth to wipe surfaces in the kitchen that I wash every week.


5) Do you have any advice that you would like to share with other international students who are new to the US or those who are planning to start their studies in the US?

You came out of your country to venture a new life. It is a big change. Take things slow. Do not rush into expecting too much out of yourselves. Being able to survive one day without doing anything substantial is not a day of failure. The aim is to live with yourself at the end of the day. There is no one bigger than yourself that you are accountable to. If you are satisfied with the amount of work you are putting into something, that means a lot. That does not essentially mean you would be satisfied with what you achieved in the process of putting that much effort. Not being satisfied is only a thirst for perfection and it will only make you a more striving person to keep that thirst alive. Developing a hobby, taking enough breaks to uncoil is what will keep you motivated to go to work with a fresh mind the next morning. For me it is painting. Take advice from the right people, people who have gone through similar situations

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