"I admire India for making the cost of studying a non-issue"
Updated on Jul 3, 2013 - 3:50 p.m. IST by Shiphony Pavithran Suri

Name: Heather Murray
Nationality: USA 
Programme: MA Sociology at Centre for the Study of Social Systems (CSSS)
Year of programme: Second year    
Institute: JNU, Delhi

Heather, a certified child specialist, quit her job in Boston to attend her brother’s wedding in India.  The people, culture, food and magnificence captivated her so much that her few months journey turned into year and a half stint in India. Even after returning back to her homeland (US), her urge to experience India did not end. She chased around different research universities and finally zeroed in on JNU. Read her student experience… 

Q. You could directly apply for a job. Why a Master’s degree?  
A. Yes. I made up my mind to professionally settle here. But after constant job hunting, it became evident that having a MA in India is a plus – it gives you an edge over others for specific jobs. Of course, in the US – MA degree is certainly valuable, but it does not hold that much of a requirement as in India. After researching on different universities, I settled upon submitting an application at JNU – based on good reputation and high accord in US.  

The sociology programme critically engages with the Indian context. The theoretical concepts such as Family & Kinship, Tribal studies in India, Modern Indian Social Thought offers a better understanding of the country. And I can apply it to my previous profession, a hospital which has a global clientele and requires cultural sensitivity.  

Q. Studying in India – Did you get value for money?
A. Comparing US to India is like comparing apples to oranges - they are two different things! My classmates think I am lying when I tell them the cost of a textbook in the US easily begins at a price of $150. As a foreigner, I pay a higher fee than national students. However, it is justifiably so and is a fair amount to ask for (about 32,000 rupees per semester). In the US, universities can easily go up to $50,000 per year - Multiply it by four years and their lies a huge debt before you. I admire India for making the cost of studying a non issue - one can afford to eat, pay for materials, live and enjoy the campus life. I hope JNU continues to provide such access to their students in the coming years and refuses to accept the capitalist model of education that is implemented in the US.

Q. Share us your classroom, campus experience. 
A. JNU atmosphere is very relaxed – professors encourage learning outside the classrooms. We are benefited by the views of guest speakers and other political debates on campus.  My overall experience with Indian students has been very positive. Everyone for the most part is very kind and willing to make you feel included in all that goes on both academically and socially. They belong to diverse backgrounds – Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram, Kashmir, Kenya, Italy, Austria and more. This unique flavour of diversity in the classroom encourages us to be united during any upsetting situation.  

In the US, one has weekly readings and correlating assignments and it is definitely very task-oriented. Whereas at JNU I feel as though you have all the freedom in the world until midterms – students wake up all of a sudden to finish assignments on time. I find this method a bit rushed as I like to plan in advance. I have not adjusted fully to the JNU attendance policy (in which none is required) and I always attend my classes, I have to follow self-discipline as not doing so would fill me with a sense of guilt.

My biggest gripe is with the chaotic administrative process. I have had many moments of near-to-tears frustration when someone sends you running all over campus to get a signature. Foreign students here, jokingly say “why make it simple when you can make it difficult!” I could not understand why it took nearly three days to register for classes and why it was necessary to stand in so many cues to collect hand written signatures? At my home university, this was electronically done in a matter of twenty minutes!   

Q. Do you see any difference in the psyche of Indian students?  
A. Most often it relates to deadlines and time management. I can most definitely say that for my fellow classmates from Italy, Austria, and so-called ‘Western’ countries, doing things at the last minute is a guaranteed stress inducer. I also notice differences in terms of male/female interactions – at some levels I see a lack of mixing together. For me as a US citizen, I have grown up next to males so approaching them is a non-issue.

Q. Would you like to work in India?
A. Gosh, I have yet to figure this out! I have gained so much knowledge from my program at JNU and intend to use it professionally. I am seriously considering moving out of India for some time to secure a job, which offers a competitive salary. My main focus post-graduation will be finding a job so that those loans can be paid off soon.

Q. In times of any nuisance - Where do you seek help from?
A. Delhi is an especially challenging city to live in. I have been groped, grabbed, and harassed in broad day light while fully clothed and I know the situation for Indian women is not any better. For me, the lack of autonomy here as a woman is the most dismaying and upsetting aspect of living and studying in this country. I have called the police to combat such instances, but as women of the city all know, this does not really help with the matter. I find sanctity and support amongst the group of friends I have made. I believe when you notice crass stares and catcalls from men, you must hold your head high and strut past boldly to say ‘I won’t let you bring me down’!

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