How Indian students are coping in the US

Every summer, thousands of students pack their bags for travelling to the US. Seetharaman R talks to three of them to understand how they managed their expenses while pursuing the American dream

It pays to be under one roof



Gokul is currently studying for a two-year Masters degree in computer science from the University of Texas after completing Bachelor’s degree in instrumentation and control engineering. He did not get a tuition-fee waiver.



Gokul connected to the Indian student community of the University through Facebook and Whatsapp.



This support group helps students in their initial days. He selected his flat and apartment mates through this group. The group even paid the advance on his behalf to block the flat. Gokul advises that students going to the US carry at least $1500 in travel card and $500 in cash, to meet exigencies.



The student groups typically arrange transport for picking up the new students from the airport. His decision to delay his travel proved costly. “I had to take a taxi alone from the airport to the apartment, which cost me $80 for a 20-mile travel. In a group, it would have been $20.” He feels the initial establishment charges and living expenses in Texas are cheaper than other places. He shares details: “My initial establishment charges comprised the apartment safety deposit of $200 and Wi-Fi set-up of $80--shared by four of us. I bought a sleeping bag from nearby Walmart for $10. Comforter, pillows, curtains and other household-related materials cost about $400 per person. I bought a Nexus 5s for $450. We enrolled into a family plan of $25 per person for cell phone plans.” He bought a separate calling card for $15 to talk to folks back home. Gokul’s living expenses per month come to $550-600. Since the rental and other expenses are shared with others, he is able to cut down his monthly bill.



Due to a heavy course load, he did not opt for any part-time or research work. “I finished two extra courses rather than opting for internship to graduate early. Internship could have earned me $4,000-5,000 dollars per month for three months,” he says.





Too many cooks save the broth

G Prashanth completed a Masters programme in Alternative Energy and Industrial Engineering from Arizona State University in 2014. He took the help of the students already studying there to book his accommodation. He decided against on-campus accommodation since it is pricier and does not give the option to select flat-mates.



He feels that students should book their air ticket well in time. “Unlike two-way tickets which are cheap and can be booked a month in advance, one-way tickets are costly if delayed.”



The Indian student association from his University had arranged a super shuttle, which can transport five to six students, from the Arizona airport to his apartment for $20.



Prashanth feels that though Arizona is a relatively costly place, having a tight rein on expenses, can help lower expenses significantly. He avers “We had the following initial establishment charges: Rent of $900, security deposit, apartment insurance and wi-fi installation of $400, a shelf, curtains and other utensils for $500. This was shared by the five of us. Separately, I bought a comforter, sleeping bag and pillow for $40, a cycle for $100, mobile service and a calling card for $60”.



They frequently stocked up on groceries for monthly consumption. “Each of us took turns to cook food in the night for the next day. A meal purchased outside can cost from $7 to $10, so we took packed meals from home,” he says with pride. He says he managed to keep his monthly expenses down to $400-500. He took on a research assistant and grader job from the second semester. This helped him manage his monthly expenses and also recoup the $1,200 he had spent on air-travel for visiting India at the end of the first year.



Regarding internship and job prospects, he says, “job opportunities are high only for computer science major. In my field of study, Americans are given first priority for jobs due to the high H-1B cost for a non-AmericanThough I landed a job, some of my friends didn’t. They opted for Ph D or went back to India.”



Earning while learning



Akshaya, who is studying for a Masters degree in computer engineering from the University of Maryland, was helped by the university-sponsored student council of India in his initial days. This organisation arranged the travel from airport in a college bus once he reached Maryland.



An initial security deposit payment of $200 for a two-bedroom apartment was shared by him and his four apartment mates. Other utensils and bed cost $200 per head. Maryland, near Washinton DC, with its high cost of living and an off-campus apartment, two minutes away from the university by foot, did make his life harder monetarily.



He says “The rent of our park-side apartment was $1,800 and electricity bill was $40 to $70 per person. Our monthly expense was between $600 and $700 per person, even after leading a frugal life by taking turns to cook our food. There were alternate accommodations with free wi-fi and subsidised electricity. But that needed to be booked well in advance and it was 20-minutes away from the university by bus.”



Life got a bit easier when he took on a part-time job in the second semester and got a research assistant’s job during summer holidays. “After taxes, I managed to get $1,300 per month from the second semester onwards”, he says. Expenses on road trips increased from $100 in his first year to $400 in the third year alone. He is confident of getting a good job; 90 per cent of his seniors got placed successfully.



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