Going abroad from India still manages to create the same buzz as it did years back. Everyone in the family automatically assumes that the West would be so enticing that you might never come back to India. So, even the ones who have never met you for ten long years would be happy to travel miles to meet you, thinking that this would probably be their last meeting. Adhering to the societal norms, your parents make you visit every possible relative and hold frequent dinners or luncheons so that family members can have enough of you before you leave. Inevitably, you become the celebrity in the family, creating a spectacle which lasts until you finally board your flight, and when you are bound to cut yourself off from all contacts. In my case, this was the flight to London. I remember the last call just before my flight from one of my relatives who said that I should come back soon and they would be waiting for me.
It is amusing when I think how back then, when everyone wanted me to come back soon, I was thinking that masters in London would be the best experience of my life with ultimate independence. Nine months from then, I am in a state where I feel that this one year which I thought would pass in the blink of an eye has been the longest year of my life. Even now when people from India anticipate my dreamy experiences from London, I disappoint them with none. Let me break this to you: each place has its own set of flaws, there is no magical place or experience. For a student like me, masters in London has been a huge investment without substantial returns.
The investment is not just financial but physical, mental and emotional. Coming from India and living in an individualistic society like London is not a cakewalk. There have been days when I kept gazing at the ceiling of my room for hours because I do not have the liberty to be around people, as and when I want. Every time I look around my room, there is no one, just me and my shadow. On days when I couldn’t talk to my parents in India, I didn’t hear my own voice for a whole day or even longer. The very independence and seclusion I wanted for myself had taken a toll on me. It requires a great deal of optimism and motivation to convince yourself that life is great in a foreign land. Interacting with classmates and making friends was difficult, but this time I don’t blame my introvert demeanour. It was people’s unusual level of stress and anxiety that I wanted to escape. I realised that I was encircled by a huge bunch of people who were anxious and stressed, like never before. Some blamed it on the grey London weather, others had serious life crises to resolve. Every group assignment meant dealing with panic attacks of some group members. While I understand it is hard for a lot of people to deal with things and everyone’s life is not as simple as it might seem, for me, this meant boosting myself with twice the amount of optimism that I would require and this was NOT easy. Maybe, it was just me who happened to meet such people, but I tried hard not to lose my grip on life.
When I first entered my student accommodation, I was shocked by the sight of it. Moving to a first world country inevitably entails the expectation of basic modern housing facilities which I realised was wrong. If you are unlucky like me, you might end up in an old construction with dark rooms, smelly carpets unchanged since they were first put, dirty walls, a dim yellow light unsuitable for normal reading conditions. This does not end here. In the bathroom, I have two separate taps for cold and hot water which you have to keep pressing every second because they do not run continuously and the water in the shower goes off every ten seconds just like the one in the basin and also, by no means can I control the temperature of the shower. I was lucky to have taps that continuously run in the kitchen but they were separate for hot and cold water. So, washing your utensils in -2 °C can be real fun.
These are just a few basic infrastructural inconveniences, if I go on with the internet and elevator issues, you will probably think that I lie about living in London. Well, I live in the most well-known area of Central London, paying the standard rent that is same for most student accommodations that are a part of the University of London. But, I guess I was just unlucky.
However, I was just as lucky to have my close friend shift with me to the same country for her master’s. As much as I am grateful, it also involved dealing with a lot of changes for both of us. While you are used to seeing each other in the same class and same setting every day, it is not easy to cope with the change of college, curriculum, social circle among other things. Even before you realise, the subject of conversations, interests and a lot more change. Finding a middle ground and tackling the differences take their own time, so one has to be ready to expect that kind of situation.
Moreover, masters is a very different experience with a course like mine which is purely academic. It involves more self-study than classroom study. Sometimes, I think it is too much about the ‘self’, and I am bored of being all by myself. Being used to more classroom hours in India, it was difficult to imagine just two hours of class in a week per subject in London. My masters is a calculated degree of 20 weeks. People often tell me that it is not just about the academic curriculum, it is about the multicultural experience. I wouldn’t possibly deny if I didn’t come across the biggest lesson of masters being an individual experience where most people prioritise networking over making real bonds.
Moreover, even the best colleges do have a set of not-so-proficient professors. The fact that I am studying in London does not change the sad state of academia. Often the idea of studying abroad blinds us to the ground realities and the possibility of bad experiences, the grass is not always greener on the other side.
However, there have also been some really interesting lessons despite the lack of classroom time. I was intrigued by the knowledge and skills of some of my professors. What I like most is the informal and honest relationship I could share with the professors without being a victim of politics and favouritism, unlike my traumatic experience as an undergraduate student in India. Here, the professors inculcate a culture of no competition within the classroom, enabling us to learn from each other’s experiences. Every individual’s opinion is valued, and above all, we are treated as adults. Each student is made to feel special and capable in his/her own ways leaving no room for value judgement.
I make myself feel close to home by cooking all kinds of Indian food that I can manage here with the limited resources. Visiting Indian shops for monthly grocery shopping has been the most exciting task for me but when I see that a packet of Lay’s Magic Masala has become my life’s luxury, it sure breaks my heart. If I haven’t complained enough, London’s traffic can be pathetic too, and yes people do blow the horn. The underground is no less, people can push you here just like they did in Delhi’s metro and Mumbai’s local trains. Walking on a not-so-busy street at night can be as scary as back home because well, some things don’t change, they just appear different.