Studying in the US: The first things you need to do

This is one in a series of articles that I wrote to share with young people who might have some of the same dreams that I did at the time, and hope that this helps them realising their own.

When you move to a new nation, there is always a first-things-first list. As an International Student in the United States, here is a checklist of a few things that should figure in that list of first things to do when you arrive in the US.

Meet your International Student Advisor and Register for classes: As part of being an international student in the US, a requirement of your visa is that you are signed up for the minimum number of credit hours of coursework to remain in valid status of your visa.

Register with the Social Security Administration: In the United States, every individual has a credit history that is tracked back to a social security number that is unique to an individual. Without a social security number, you do not exist in the system. The local Social Security Administration office will accept Social Security number applications.

You will need:

  • your passportwith valid student visa;
  • Your I-94 arrival/departure record;
  • your letter of offer from the University; and
  • a mailing address at which you can receive your social security card.

International students can typically expect to receive their Social Security cards within 1 to 2 weeks from the date of application. A social security number will allow you to open a bank account, apply for a credit card, rent an apartment, apply for services (Internet, phone, water, gas, electricity and cable TV), and apply for a drivers’ license.

Open a bank account: Banks will require a social security number before they can legally open an account and offer you banking services. Shop around. In the US, customer is king, and banks compete for customers – however small they may be. Some banks will offer an incentive such as:

  • zero-fee checking accounts for a regular monthly deposit;
  • a credit card bundled with a checking account;
  • rounding up each debit card transaction and depositing the amount into your checking account; or even
  • a cash incentive for opening an account.

Talk to your friends as well. Some banks will give both you and your friends a little money as a referral incentive.

Get a drivers’ license or State ID: Irrespective of whether you own a car or not, having a drivers’ license is a must. In the US, it is mandatory for one to have some form of identification on them. In the absence of any US issued documents, your default form of ID would be your passport, which you might not want to carry around with you all the time. A US issued drivers’ license is considered valid identification.

If you do not drive, you can apply for a State ID.

Drivers’ licenses are issued by the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office in your area. State Identification IDs are issued by your local county, state or DMV office.

Studying in the US: Why should you do it

This is one in a series of articles that I wrote to share with young people who might have some of the same dreams that I did at the time, and hope that this helps them realising their own.

If you’re in high school or college, and a little like how I was when I was that age, you might be considering going to America to study and realise your dreams. When I was that age, I was poorly prepared, but had a lot of enthusiasm and drive. I found my way to the United States of America on a scholarship to go through graduate school, after having completed my undergraduate work in India. I made a few mistakes and learnt a few lessons along the way.

I wrote this series of articles to share with young people who might have those same dreams that I did at the time, and hope that this helps them realising their own dreams.

When I started to write this piece, I wanted to reflect on the years that I had spent investing in my education. However, it would be a little empty without providing my readers with a little context. So I guess here would be a good point to provide a little introduction of who I am, and both how and why I went to America to get a degree.

I am from Generation Y and come from an upper-middle class Indian family. As life goes, I consider myself fortunate. My father is a surgeon, and my mother made sure that home was a safe and secure place to come back to. My parents got along better than most couples do, so I didn’t have the distractions of domestic conflict at home to have to deal with.

My good fortune also extends to what life provided me in my infancy. With my father being a surgeon (and a British qualified one at that), my parents and I moved to the United Kingdom when I was an infant – and hence, my first language is English. (This helped a lot – this very turn of events has ensured that I could command attention in a conversation in a corporate environment with the confidence of a native speaker. But I digress; this is about how one makes their way to the United States as an International student).

My life had its own set of twists and turns, and when I was 8, my family moved back to India.

Readjusting to life in India had its own challenges, and by the time I had made it to my 9th birthday, I had resolved to move overseas to the Western World as soon as I could. I had the passion, and the desire; but I really had no clue as to how I was going to make it to the US.

I finally moved to the United States of America as a Graduate student in January 2001. I had secured admission into the Masters Program at the University of Nebraska as a fully funded National Science Foundation scholar. This meant that I was going to get paid to get my degree.

In all honesty, I now feel that I had made it to this point in my life by having a little bit of luck and a small idea of where I was going. I also feel that if I was better informed, I would have been able to do the same a lot more smoothly.

This is my attempt at sharing some of my discoveries over time with other young individuals who may have aspirations to go overseas in pursuit of a dream that lies beyond the horizon that is nurtured.

There are a lot of reasons as to why people choose to study in the United States of America. The common reasons are career opportunities, the sheer choice of quality programs across a diverse nation and access to the most cutting edge academic work in the field of academics that you’re interested in. Other reasons can be as simple as a means to a better life in a nation that offers more opportunities than one’s home country. While reasons may be diverse, and unique to every individual, it is very important to be honest to oneself and know why they seek to study in the United States.

Answering this question primarily is the key to being able to choose the best path of study in the United States. Here are some of the common reasons:

Educational choice and value: The United States has a large selection of some of the best institutes of higher learning, coupled with state of the art facilities, access to cutting edge technology, a wide choice of courses and disciplines, a philosophy of research and learning, and an ideology that no idea or dream is too absurd to be thought through. It isn’t be any accident the largest number of Nobel Prizes and inventions have their origins in the United States. While the access to higher education is available to all, attending such an institute is considered a privilege rather than a birth-right, and graduation is considered a high achievement. Their institutes of higher learning are all backed through research from both public and private funding sources, which is why they can offer such a high quality of higher education.

American degrees are typically recognised all over the world. Hence, successfully completing a stint at a U.S. University can and very often will open one’s prospects for the rest of the world.

Career prospects: Attending University in the United States gives its graduates access to a large number of employers from some of the best and most reputed names in the corporate world, along with access to start-ups. While the economy of the nation has been subject to typical global economic fluctuations, it is still one that offers good career prospects for well-educated and skilled individuals with open minds. Following graduation, a brief stint working for a U.S. employer opens up all sorts of opportunities for young, skilled, driven individuals, no matter where they go.

Quality of life: The United States generally offers a far better standard of living than most of the rest of the world. A common statement is that it is a nation which has the world’s richest poor. This is very true. Every individual in the United States has access to the basics in a nation that is generally safe and mostly free from political, military or civil turmoil.

These are not the only reasons to consider, and every individual has a driver. Before setting foot on this journey, one has to ascertain why they choose to embark upon such a quest. They key thing to remember here though, is that education overseas not merely about earning a degree; it’s about broadening one’s horizons and discovering oneself in the world.

Studying in theUS: How much does it cost

This is one in a series of articles that I wrote to share with young people who might have some of the same dreams that I did at the time, and hope that this helps them realising their own.

How much does education cost in the United States of America. This is a bit of a loaded question, and is a bit like how long is a piece of string. In a nutshell, the cost of education depends on:

  • What you’re studying;
  • Where you’re studying;
  • What level are you at; and
  • Where you are from.

Based on an article posted at The College Board, the average full-time undergraduate degree in the United States at a four year college cost US$35,000 or more per year towards coursework and fees. At two year colleges, the average yearly cost for tuition and fees was $2,713.

There are a few things to consider when calculating the costs.

The first thing to establish is what band you fall in. Each university has a rate at which it charges its students at. It classifies students as Resident (i.e., resident of its home state), and Non-resident (i.e., interstate, and international students).

It is quite normal for Universities to have a higher rate per credit hour for non-resident students. The lower rate for state resident students is as a result of their education being subsidised by the taxes that they pay.

Some Universities have a third band for International Students which is even higher.

There are a range of different options for students in the United States of America.

Community Colleges

Community Colleges offer 2 year programs towards an Associate’s degree.

These are low cost alternatives to Universities, and are an alternative to a lot of students who elect to undertake their first two years of undergraduate instruction here so that they do not incur high costs of tuition before transferring to a University.

Community colleges will typically run about $2,500 to $5,000 per year, but have a very different experience to a 4-year program in a University.

Four Year Undergraduate Programs

Costs can hover from $7,000 per year for residents to $60,000 per year for non-residents, and are determined by whether you are a resident of the state, a US citizen or permanent resident from outside the state, or an International student.

Typically, costs for specialised degrees such as Engineering and Medicine are higher than other programs.

Graduate Programs

Costs hover from between $12,000 per year to $120,000 depending on where you’re from, and what you’re studying.

Programs leading to degrees in Business, Law and Medicine are the most expensive. It is quite common for professionals who enrol in such programs to quit their jobs and work their way through their academic programs before returning back to the industry.

Doctoral Programs

These are highly specialised programs, typically pursued by the most passionate of individuals who are more often than note sponsored for their coursework.

When enrolling into such a course, it is important to ascertain that one’s research advisor’s interest align with one’s own, so that the two form a symbiotic relationship that helps fund one’s time through the program.

It is common for coursework in Doctoral Programs to run for 5 years.

It is important to note the number of courses that you would need to take. US visa regulations require International students to remain at a full time load during their fall and spring semesters (typically 12 credit hours for undergraduate students, and 9 credit hours for graduate students), and a part time load (typically 9 credit hours for undergraduate students and 6 credit hours for graduate students) during the summer.

Take for example, the University of Nebraska Lincoln, which has published its rates for 2011-2012 on its website.

Its rate per credit hour for an Undergraduate student in the College of Business Administration is $258.25 for a Nebraska resident, and $764.75 for a Nebraska non-resident (about 296% of Nebraska resident rates).

For a student to be full time, they would need to take 12 credit hours of courses during the fall and spring semesters, and 9 credit hours in the summer (a total of 33 credit hours). Based on this, the cost for tuition alone for an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska for 2011-2012 would be $8,522.25 for a Nebraska resident, or $25,236.75 for a Nebraska non-resident.

In addition to this, there are all the fees that are called out in the schedule that need to be taken into account (usually amounting to between $500 to $1,000 a year).

As a general rule, fees for specialised degrees (Engineering, Law, Business Administration, and Medicine) are much higher than other courses.

While the figures may look daunting, rest assured that there are several ways to pay for your education. Most universities will grant international students a non-resident waiver (i.e., you only pay the home state rate) if they maintain a grade-point average in the top 10% of their class.

There are also a range of student loans, assistantships, internships, and work-study alternatives that can all help pay for one’s education.

The Dubai Metro

Dubai epitomises a brand new city. This Emirate has experienced rapid growth in the past decade, to the extent that locals here can lose their bearings if they leave town for a few months, only to discover a new highway or two, or an entirely new high-rise under construction.

One of Dubai’s biggest additions is its automated train network which it calls its Metro. Made of two lines, the network makes it quick, cheap and easy to get across from one end of Dubai to another, and is a Godsend for tourists and locals alike. The entire network is fully automated, which means that if you’re keen, the front cabin offers an amazing view as one approaches downtown Dubai.

Dubai’s Metro is mostly elevated, though part of it runs underground. The elevated metro stations are brand new, and spotlessly clean. They’re all designed in a golden shell encasing, with overpasses across the 10 lanes of traffic across Sheikh Zayed Road granting access to trains, and providing pedestrians a means to cross the road safely.

An all-day pass on the Dubai Metro will set you back AED22 (about AUD8) which is an absolute bargain for getting around. This will give you access to the general cabin. There are Gold Class cabins which offer plus seats. I don’t know what the premium is to ride these, but the entrance to these cabins is marked out along with warning signs for the penalty for riding in these cabins without the appropriate ticket.

Dubai’s Metro also has designated cabins for women and children. These are also marked out in front of the cabin entrances. Men are not permitted into these areas, and there is a penalty if this is violated.

This might catch a tourist completely by surprise, so it’s worth noting this while trying to catch your train.

Last, but not least, there are the stations. The stations on the elevated section of the red line are all uniformly built. They have a modern design that is covered in a golden cladding that is consistent with the streetscape of Sheikh Zayed Road along which it runs.

The stations on the underground section of the Green Line are somewhat unique. I passed through two of them. Burjumun Interchange has an aquatic theme. Al Gubaiba Station is the entry point to Old Dubai and has a very traditional decor in a modern station.

The Haze

I had heard about it. I had read about it. I had never really seen or experienced it myself. One of the reasons that I chose to move to Singapore as a destination in Asia was because it offered a generally clean and unpolluted atmosphere. Every year, that changes for a few weeks when there are crop fields set ablaze in Indonesia.

Continue reading “The Haze”

The process of moving

Whoo hoo! An overseas assignment!

Yup! That is the initial reaction. But after the euphoria has settled down, reality begins to set in. This is the stage when one gets to take stock of what an international relocation involves.

In 2016, when this relocation to Singapore came around, I was facing my sixth International relocation. The last time I relocated was in 2007 when I moved from the United States to Australia. I had done that on my own. I had no help, but I did have a plan and a timeline which was completely under my control.

This time round was a little different. I had help from my employer in moving, which made things a lot simpler. Nonetheless, there are a few common themes that applied to both.

Make a list.

There are going to be a heap of things that you will need to do. Without a list, you are going to forget something sooner or later. Make sure that you have a list of things that you need to do, and in the order in which you need to do them.

Consider how you are going to deal with your big ticket items.

These will include your home, your car, and any large hobby or lifestyle related items like a grill, sporting goods, furniture items and heirlooms.

Your Home

If you are renting, you’ll need to consider if there is an issue of breaking your lease and timing your departure to minimise the liability, or working with the landlord or landlord’s agent to find someone to take over your lease.

If you’re an home owner, you’ll probably be faced with the options of either selling your home, or putting it on the market for rent.

If you decide on the former, you’ll need to engage a real-estate agent to put it on the market for sale.

If you decide on the latter, you’ll need to engage a property manager to manage the lease and tenants. Make this decision early, and make sure you have great pictures and a write-up to make your property attractive to prospective tenants.

Your Vehicle

If you have a vehicle, first get an assessment from a local car buyer on how much they’ll pay for it. That will establish your bottom line.

You can then list it on a local classifieds site.

Get the car professionally cleaned, and photograph it in the best light before listing it. Never ever mention that you are leaving the country as the reason for your sale. This reveals that you need to sell before leaving and will put you at a disadvantage when it comes time to negotiate. Consider telling prospective buyers that your employer is issuing you with a company car as part of a role change, and that you have no place to park an additional vehicle.

Used cars can be hard to move. When listing your vehicle on a local classified site, allow yourself at least 60 days to sell the vehicle. You can begin from an aggressive starting price, and then gradually drop the price every week. This triggers prospective buyers who have been watching the vehicle to take a closer look, and reach out to get in before another buyer reaches out.

Cull! Cull! Cull!

I’m a minimalist, and do not own anything that I do not need.I have discovered that this lifestyle choice helps in being mobile. I highly recommend disposing anything that you own that you have not used in the previous 12 months, never really liked, or is in need of repair.

Do not ignore your documents

Everyone has a set of documents that cannot be replaced. Deal with these first, and ensure that they accompany you in person. Consider scanning a copy of everything and storing it in the Cloud.


We all accumulate data in this day and age. Whether it’s photographs, home videos, music or documents, after a while, we all have a lot of it. I got asked the question once on how I move large amounts of data. I have a redundant solution. I have an external network drive at home that serves as my NAS, which I sync into the Cloud. That way, I have a physical copy on the device, and a copy in the Cloud that I can access from anywhere. I also make it a point to encrypt my drives, in case they were to be misplaced or lost.

Prioritise Goodbyes

Before relocating, a lot of people will want to meet you to say goodbye. This is natural and is a healthy thing. It is also important to recognise that leading up to an assignment, you are on a finite amount of limited time. Socialising and making time for close friends and family leading up to departure is part of that time and is an important part of that transition. Consider socialising over coffee or drinks and consolidating goodbyes among multiple friends and colleagues. And bear in mind that your friends and family will be a part of your life when you eventually come back… so make it a point to make time for this ritual which is something that I cannot stress enough of the importance of.

Hand things over

When leaving for an overseas destination, very often, you will be asked for favours from individuals who have come to the realisation that you won’t be around, and they need your assistance on an item that they have come to depend on you. Be proactive, and put these in a set of documented work instructions that you provide them. Set the expectation that you’ve provided them everything that they need, and that if they run into an issue, they can reach out to you on a mutually agreeable scheduled time.

These are just a few things that have helped me move smoothly. It helped greatly that my employer had provided relocation assistance. I have discovered that even with being a minimalist and being very organised, relocating internationally does not get any easier with time. Be gentle on yourself, and make sure that you set yourself as the first priority in your life at this very challenging time.