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The Internal Journey of Immigrants

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10 Hacks For A Graduate Student in the USA

By Sandhya Ramachandran


Fall is here! That could mean pumpkin spice lattes and layers (East Coast woooot) but most definitely, it's the start of a school year. You've probably spent several weeks now trying to visualize your upcoming college experience - classrooms, the clothes you'll wear, the places you'll go, the hashtags you'll write! It's only after that initial excitement and string of orientation parties that you start wondering about important things like buying groceries when it snows, getting through a day without soaked socks or how to fix a leaky tap in this environment that's oh so new, expensive and sometimes downright confusing.

Here's a list of practical tips to get you through the international student life. It's the list you didn't ask for (just yet) but the one you need:

1. Get a good phone. You’ll be on it a lot. And about phone plans…
This was long ago in 2013 and I had been using a Samsung model that didn’t support 3G well and I 'adjusted' (typical Indian) for 4 months until Dec 2013 when I got my first iPhone. In that time I invariably did another typical Indian thing as a consequence - turned up late everywhere. I couldn’t use Google Maps, had to rely on Wifi, BIG Pain. You NEED a phone that doesn’t hang & can give you 4G/LTE cause you will be on it A LOT. Try a family plan. I spent my 1st year paying $80 per month for phone services partly because I didn’t know anyone else (to be taken into their plan) and also since I didn’t know about Boost Mobile & Cricket - closest thing to the concept of prepaid that exists in Asia.

2. Develop Research Skills
The reason why everyone’s on their phone all the time is because everything - from buying a kitchen appliance to watching a movie - is literally at the palm of one’s hands. If you don’t spend hours on Google/Amazon comparing prices, you will be missing out on deals. In this market, research alone guarantees you the best price! This drive to be frugal may weaken over time but for now, spend commuting and treadmill time reading customer reviews.  

3. Hair modeling
This is especially for Indian girls with long, thick hair. Prohibitive cost of a good haircut ($70 & more without tip) urged me to become a hair model for a salon. Every 6–8 weeks you get a new do & you need to be okay with whatever the hair stylist wants to do and looking edgy & fashionable (boohoo!), but they’re usually great at their job anyway. For more, check out FREE Salon Services! Volunteers Needed - Seriously, Indian hair is hot commodity here!


4. Goodwill is not the worst
Takes time and a lot of searching but thrift stores - most basic one being Goodwill - are not a bad idea if you aren’t in a position to spend money on clothes but you also need a change of wardrobe. This doesn’t exist as a concept in India but it’s worth exploring here. Additional research can lead you to thrift stores that pay YOU for your donations. Buffalo Exchange & Crossroads buy clothes but yeah, there’s a set seasonal criteria.

5. Amtrak for moving supplies
If you need to move cross country/coast to coast and don’t drive, transport your belongings using Amtrak Freight services. Unbelievably reasonable price compared to FedEX, USPS air whatever else.

6. Hang out at the public library! 
Lots of information and seminars on things like how to get a drivers license, rental insurance etc and once you are out of school - printing services.

7. Spruce up skill set: like sewing, repair, plumbing
Long shot but learning stuff like this from your neighborhood tailor, cobbler, plumber back home for a minimum fee even will go a long, long, long way here. $45/hr is what a plumber charges here so….

8. Try talking to people outside your university
That’s real America. You won’t see economic or any other kind of diversity as much if you are in a private university. Talking to everyday people will make you more grateful and appreciative of the real humans in America (not merely your elitist professors & bubble living classmates).

9. Live with a host family
This one's not a hack per se but more of 'innovate when it comes to living options'. You get an actual intercultural experience, less rent + responsibility and they’ll respect your privacy more than any 20/30 something roomie.

                                                                                  The kind of temporary hits you will need before taking a jab at the final point....

                                                                                  The kind of temporary hits you will need before taking a jab at the final point....

10. Mindset & Self Care
Don’t ever fear making mistakes and how that would make you look. People are stumbling about all around you even if you don't necessarily see it. You're not alone! Having a routine or ritual helps keep you grounded.  Whatever it is - meditation, journaling, chants, prayers, yoga -  it will go a long way in giving you that inner strength, far more than calling family/friends on Skype every other day.

This article was first published on Quora.
Listen to Episode 6: Graduate Feels where we talk about classroom experience,

making friends and cultural aspects experienced by an international student.