Recently, read an opinion article on ET about “The charm of American education is over“. The author expresses her opinion on how the American education is embroiled in issues such as restriction of student visa extension, reduced employment opportunities after graduation and Trump administration’s myopic approach towards limiting scholars and students from other countries like India and China. I do agree that a lot has changed since 2015, when I started my grad studies, and I can compare how difficult it has become to pursue education in US especially for international students.
Even though the charm of American education might be over considering the enormous employment opportunities students used to have after completing their education. But still, there are many things which stand unique in American education as compared to education in other countries like India. Some of which are obvious such as high quality of education, huge funding opportunities for pursuing a Ph.D, or even the high-tech campus with all the latest infrastructure, lab facilities, digitized library etc.
But I find something more interesting in American education which simply does not exist in India yet. And that is the on-campus work opportunities. Yes, this might sound trivial for a student life, where parents or society in India generally expects students to just study hard, excel in exams and find a job. On-campus jobs or work is not yet a culture in India. But in USA, this is considered a part of education curriculum. Everyone works or atleast prefers to work on-campus for few hours in a week to pay off their rents, food expenses or other living costs. Though international students have no option but to work to reduce the financial load over their family, but even wealthy American kids do work on campus even though there is no real need for them to work just to earn money. This is because working on-campus is considered a part of student life, as a process to become independent, to grow out of school life and transition to a college life. For them, its also a way to become more adjusted to real life, where we need to earn our own bread and butter. I find this very interesting and hence, I became appreciative of this part of American education.
So, when I landed on the university campus, I immediately started looking for on-campus work. I did end up working on couple of things in my two years, and I consider this to be one of the best part of my American education experience. While working as a writer and correspondent for University newspaper, I discovered that I liked writing. I could see how a bunch of college kids were running a newspaper, a radio station on campus and whatever they did was amazing! Later, when I started working for University Dining, I learnt the importance of hard work, because the work in food industry was really strenuous. Serving students with food menu, slicing pizzas, scrubbing floors or washing utensils, certainly demanded a lot of physical work. But all of the people working in the Dining were students and I felt a part of team. Usually, I never would have done such work alone, but when we are with a team of fellow students, it becomes a great team work. After doing that work, I became aware of the food industry, and how much efforts it take to run the dining/catering service.
In this process, I made a lot of friends and contacts. In India, I used to be a shy introvert guy, but after experiencing this work, I became more and more social. I realized that all the differences between people, be it color, gender or race are superficial. I could see girls doing the same physical work as I used to do, which shattered any notion that physical work is only for guys! When working as a note taker for Disability services, I could feel the hardships of ‘specially abled‘ people, and I became more empathized. I also realized how fortunate I am that God has given me a normal physique.
I even had all types of managers, including a young girl studying bachelors ( I was a Masters student) while working in newspaper, and a military vet who was specially abled while working in Disability Services. Then, I had a very humble African American woman as well as an kind old White dude as my managers while working in Dining. All this led to acceptance of all kinds of people. I dropped any artificial ego, or concepts which I had in my mind regarding working under a certain group of people. I had excellent relations with all of them, and they all liked me so much, even though I was neither an American, nor a white or black guy. I was just a brown Indian guy but this never became any obstacle to find the work, or even do my work gracefully. I performed well, and I understood this hidden aspect of universal acceptance for hard work, and impartiality towards any race, color or gender, which exists amongst common Americans, unlike what is portrayed by Trump or his supporters. I came to understand that while working with common Americans, the American Dream still exists and it is only due to selfish governmental policies on visa, or immigration that has corrupted and destroyed the path of American Dream for the non-Americans.
Anyways, hence, on campus work is one of the nicest part of American education, which still does not exist in India. I hope this culture to work while studying, to reduce financial load over parents, and to drop any superficial concepts of lowering of prestige/image while working on-campus starts in India as well in coming future. Because apart from earning money, it really makes us professional in a student life. It makes us become more social as compared to being hidden behind a pile of books. It makes us value time, as both work and study go hand in hand. It makes us understand the importance of hard work, and that no work is small. All work deserves equal dignity and with that we even start appreciating those working in restaurants, or cleaning services etc. In short, on-campus makes us a better person.
Hence, the charm of American education is not over, but just has become difficult to achieve for non-Americans.