EVEN after 40 years of professional experience, when Dr Suresh Goel visits a new country, he says, “It’s always a learning curve for me as I can’t expect the same kind of behaviour as I expect in my own country.” The former Director General of ICCR speaks about what is in store for an aspiring foreign student....

Q: What’s the mission of ICCR?
A: For holistic development, we need mutual friendships and cooperation between countries. And the best way to promote cultural diplomacy is through the younger generation. To make the integration more inclusive, in 1950 we kicked off 20-30 scholarships and today more than 3000 scholarships are offered every year to foreign students under various schemes.

Foreign students from over 120 countries study in different universities – from Delhi University, Osmania University, Pune University to other colleges across country. The subject of study ranges from management, communications, IT, English, Hindi, Indian philosophy to Indian performing arts. Typically, students from Europe, US come primarily to learn performing arts. And students from Africa, Afghanistan take up Basic Sciences, Engineering, Management programmes and other courses.

Q: Any interactions you cherish with ICCR scholars?
A: My interactions are on a very official level, but it’s a heartwarming experience when I meet a foreign dignitary who says “I was an ICCR scholar”. What can be more pleasing than to know that you have friends who will remember India and now are an important part of political and economic structures of their own country today! Some of them have become presidents, prime ministers and politicians.

Q: Some students claim scholarship money is not enough to cover living expenses? 
A: As students you will never be rich! It is a phase to become independent. You should know how to manage resources at the end of the month. I think it’s in the psyche of student that money is not enough. The ICCR amount paid to students is quite comfortable. Keeping in mind the high rental value at metros, we try and make them stay in the university hostel. It charges very nominal fee for hostel facility which provides comfortable set up. For Bachelor students, the amount of scholarship is between Rs. 4000 to Rs. 5000 per month. 

Q: Any governmental measures to enhance capacity in India?
A: The govrnment has decided that ICCR will be a coordinating agency to look after the welfare measures of all international students – both casual and self-financing students. Availability of accommodation at reasonable rates, English language scheme for those who are not good in English – we pay Rs. 10,000 per student to give a crash course on arrival. Recently, as a result of an MoU signed between the Afghanistan Government and Indian Government, ICCR has decided to enhance scholarship for Afghanistan students from Rs. 500 to 1000. 

Q: How do you unite students from different cultures? 
A: I strongly believe everyone needs a channel to express their own culture. So every year we organise International Student Day where students from different countries give performances to represent the culture of their own country. This is one occasion when boundaries get obliterated.

As far as the adoption to our Indian society is concerned we conduct orientation programme post their arrival and talk about Indian society at large - culture, custom, language. We take them out for winter and summer camps – it gives them an opportunity to see the larger part of India, beyond university classrooms and hostels.

 “It’s a heartwarming experience when I meet a foreign dignitary who says “I was an ICCR scholar”. Some of them have become presidents, prime  

Q: During crisis situation where should a student look for support? 
A: Every university with international student population has ISA (International Student Advisor) and that ISA will keep in touch with the ICCR at multiple levels. They can write to us daily. But very often they will try to be in touch with our regional offices in the city where they are located. At the moment we have 20 regional offices at  Pune, Chandigarh, Allahabad, Varanasi, Lucknow, Guwahati, Srinagar, Jammu, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bengaluru and more. Students can also e-mail us directly and detail their problems. 

Q: Your advice to international students enrolled this year?  
A: Many students have come to India for the first time. When you see real India – sometimes it’s not comfortable or comes as a shock. But it’s natural, any new set up or interaction is a mixed bag of reactions.

The academic culture is very competitive in India. In the initial days, don’t worry about getting perfect grades as you will automatically get into the groove. Your priority must be to integrate with the university. Subsequently you will adjust to the culture - you will begin to think and act like the people you see around. I think the dialogue which you will establish in the next three to four years will translate into friendships. One should take everything as a learning experience.  

Q: Should students be inculcated international outlook?  
A:Students must understand that each one in the world belong to a different civilisation. And we must respect each civilisation. You must believe in the values of humanity. Transcend boundaries and mutually understand each other. That is what education is all about! 

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